Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Smartphone Radiation: iPhones Emitting Double Reported Levels

Health + Wellness
Smartphone Radiation: iPhones Emitting Double Reported Levels
Pexels

By Brian Krans

  • Using accredited lab tests that mimic human tissue, reporters from The Chicago Tribune tested smartphone radiofrequency radiation emitted by 11 models of popular cell phones.
  • They found most of the phones exceeded the legal limit set by the FCC of 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over 1 gram of tissue.
  • Radiofrequency radiation exposure from the iPhone 7 — one of the most popular smartphones ever sold — measured over the legal safety limit and more than double what Apple reported to federal regulators from its own testing.
  • The FCC is currently investigating the reported findings.

A recent investigation has reignited debate over the safety of cell and smartphones. It's also spurred class-action lawsuits and has activists calling on federal regulators to reassess the limits of radiation allowed to seep out from radio-emitting mobile devices that are now a part of daily modern life.


The Chicago Tribune recently released findings of its own investigation into radiofrequency radiation emitted by popular smartphones, including several variations of the iPhone.

Overall, Tribune reporters, using accredited lab tests that mimic human tissue, tested 11 models from four companies: Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and BLU.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) — which regulates cell phones, among other things, in the U.S. — has set radiation standards for cell phones at 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over 1 gram of tissue. Most of the phones the Tribune tested well exceeded that amount at 2 millimeters, or the distance your phone would be in your pocket.

"Radiofrequency radiation exposure from the iPhone 7 — one of the most popular smartphones ever sold — measured over the legal safety limit and more than double what Apple reported to federal regulators from its own testing," the Tribune reported.

Radiofrequency (RF) radiation is of a concern because, according to the FCC, "It has been known for many years that exposure to very high levels of RF radiation can be harmful due to the ability of RF energy to heat biological tissue rapidly."

Essentially, it operates the same way a microwave cooks food, and organs like the eyes and testes are particularly vulnerable because there's not enough blood flow to cool them down.

But there are larger concerns over how much radiation the U.S. federal government allows cell phones to emit, especially after the Tribune's reporting found they often were in excess of that.

The FCC's standards were set in 1996 and reflected the typical amount of use during that time and on a 200-pound man.

But phones back then were just that — phones.

Now with unlimited games, applications, and social media, the average time spent on smartphones is now 3 hours and 10 minutes per day. And that's from people of all ages, sizes and genders. Some of that use borders on addiction Trusted Source.

A Cause for Concern?

Ellie Marks, executive director of the nonprofit California Brain Tumor Association, is "not at all surprised by" the Tribune's findings and is happy to see class-action lawsuits being filed following its publication. She has testified before Congress on the issue, as her husband developed a brain tumor they believe was due to long-term cell phone use.

She's been arguing for the FCC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reassess their guidelines for radiation from cell phones, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently announced they would be keeping the guidelines as they currently stand. This even as the country currently looks to expand its 5G coverage across the country, which would expose more people to even more radiofrequencies.

"This cannot be left to FCC or FDA to investigate," Marks told Healthline. "The collusion and corruption between the FDA, FCC and telecom is out of control."

Marks and other advocates who have wanted regulations changed argue the FCC is too beholden to private interests to address the issue.

"The industry, FDA and FCC keep repeating the mantra that there is no evidence of harm. That is a blatant lie, but they need to do this for liability reasons," Marks said. "There is extensive research proving cell phone radiation is causing DNA damage and cancer — not just brain, but salivary gland, thyroid, breast, damage to fetuses, damage to sperm, miscarriages, bone cancer and more."

Last November, Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, released a statement Trusted Source saying "the current safety limits for cell phone radiofrequency energy exposure remain acceptable for protecting the public health."

Dr. Santosh Kesari, a neuro-oncologist and chair of the department of translational neuro-oncology and neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California, said that statement was based on tests on rats, which is hard to extrapolate to humans.

"There have been many studies over the decades in animal models that show some effect on cancer incidence, however all the studies slightly differ, and again, the dose exposure is more than humans are exposed to, so the relevance to the human situation remains unclear," Kesari told Healthline.

What You Can Do to Reduce Exposure

To be safe, experts suggest the following practices to limit unnecessary exposure to radiation from mobile devices:

  • Unplug from your usual device usage as much as possible.
  • Don't keep your phone next to your body, such as in a pocket.
  • Use speakerphone or a headset when making calls.
  • Don't sleep next to your phone or other devices.
  • Keep the phone on airplane mode when you're not using it.

There are some products aimed at reducing radiation, such as SafeSleeve device covers that claim to block over 99 percent of RF and 92 percent of extremely low frequency radiation.

The company was founded by Cary Subel and Alaey Kumar, who began studying electromagnetic radiation as engineering students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo a decade ago.

"Just because you can't feel, see, smell, or hear it, does not mean that the emissions from your electronics are harmless," Subel said, who added there is "strong evidence" that the FCC's limits for RF exposure levels are far too high.

While activists wait for federal regulators to address allowed radiation from cell phones, Marks continues to work with cities and states across the United States that want to give consumers information about devices' safety at the point of sale, which is often followed with lawsuits from industry saying that violates their company's First Amendment rights.

Berkeley, California, passed an ordinance that took effect in 2016. It requirs retailers of cellular devices to carry a warning: "If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation."

CTIA, trade group of devices retailers, fought the ordinance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The city eventually prevailed and the warnings remain at cell phone retailers.

"Yes, we need new safety guidelines and experts have suggested them to no avail," Marks said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.

Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds, like this inland silverside fish, can pass on health problems to future generations. Bill Stagnaro / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Brian Bienkowski

Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declares victory during the Labor Party Election Night Function at Auckland Town Hall on Oct. 17, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. Hannah Peters / Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister who has emerged as a leader on the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, has won a second term in office.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?

Read More Show Less
A woman holds a handful of vitamin C. VO IMAGES / Getty Images

By Laura Beil

Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."

Read More Show Less
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

Support Ecowatch