Hidden within your cellphone’s manual is a little-known warning that advises you to keep the device at a certain distance from your body — typically 5 to 15 millimeters — to ensure you don’t exceed the federal safety limit for radiofrequency (RF) exposure.
Cellphone testing by the Chicago Tribune reveals several popular cellphones emit far higher levels of RF radiation than legally permitted, which has led to the filing of at least one class-action lawsuit.
In the U.S. and Canada, the SAR limit for mobile devices used by the public is 1.6 W/kg per 1 gram of head tissue. SAR is a measure of how much RF energy your body will absorb from the device when held at a specific distance from your body.
At a distance of 5 mm from the body (the distance used by Apple), the iPhone 7 was found to emit anywhere between 2.5 and 3.46 W/kg, which is 1.6 to 2.2 times the legal limit. At 2 mm from the body, the distance of carrying the phone in your pocket, levels were even higher.
The three Samsung Galaxy smartphones tested were all within the legal limit at 10 to 15 mm from the body (the distance used by Samsung), but RF radiation levels skyrocketed at 2 mm from the body, raising serious questions about the safety of keeping a Galaxy phone in your pocket.
Popular Cellphones Emit Illegal Levels of RF
As mentioned, recent independent SAR testing paid for by the Chicago Tribune5 reveals several popular cellphones emit far higher levels of RF radiation than legally permitted. One bestselling cellphone, the iPhone 7, emitted more than double the legal SAR limit. As reported by the Chicago Tribune:6
“The Federal Communications Commission, which is responsible for regulating phones, states on its website that if a cellphone has been approved for sale, the device ‘will never exceed’ the maximum allowable exposure limit. But this phone, in an independent lab inspection, had done exactly that.”
In all, Chicago Tribune tested 11 cellphone models from four manufacturers. Because of the surprisingly high level of radiation obtained from the first iPhone 7 tested, four iPhone 7s were tested, using a standard test and a modified test based on manufacturers feedback. While results varied from one device to another, all four exceeded the FCC’s limit.
At a distance of 5 mm from your body (the distance used by Apple), the iPhone 7 was found to emit anywhere between 2.5 and 3.46 W/kg, which is 1.6 to 2.2 times the legal limit.
At a distance of 2 mm from the body — which mimics carrying your phone in your pocket — the results ranged from 3.5 W/kg on the low end to 4.69 W/kg on the high end, which are 2.2 to 2.9 times above the legal limit.
The three Samsung Galaxy smartphones tested, Galaxy S9, S8 and J3, were all within the legal limit at 10 to 15 mm from the body (the distance used by Samsung), but RF radiation levels skyrocketed at 2 mm from the body, raising serious questions about the safety of keeping a Galaxy phone in your pocket.
The Galaxy S9 came in at 3.8 W/kg at 2 mm from the body, while the S8 registered a whopping 8.22 W/kg (more than five times the legal limit) and J3 registered 6.55 W/kg. Based on these test results, the FCC has vowed to conduct its own testing in the near future, the Chicago Tribune reports. FCC spokesman Neil Grace told the Tribune:7
“We take seriously any claims on non-compliance with the RF (radiofrequency) exposure standards and will be obtaining and testing the subject phones for compliance with FCC rules.”
Safety Standards Leave Lots of Wiggle Room
How could these cellphones exceed the legal limit by such a significant margin? Part of the problem, the Tribune explains, is that manufacturers need only get a passing grade for a single cellphone in order to allow them to put millions on the market. They’re also allowed to select their own testing lab, which could give rise to discrepancies.
As noted by the Tribune, Apple disputed the results, saying the lab used by the Tribune “had not tested the phones the same way they do,” although the company did not specify what the problem was.
Motorola also disputed the results obtained for its Moto e5 Play, saying the Tribune’s test might not have triggered the phone’s proximity sensors — sensors that are supposed to detect when the device is in close proximity to your body and lower the phone’s power output accordingly. The Tribune writes:
“Motorola … would not answer questions about its power sensors. ‘Our power management techniques and expertise provide Motorola with a significant competitive advantage in the marketplace, and are therefore highly confidential,’ the company’s statement said.
‘The Chicago Tribune’s third-party lab was not privy to the proprietary techniques from Motorola necessary to elicit accurate results’ … When the Tribune asked Motorola to explain how it tests its phones, the company declined. It also would not share its lab reports.”
While the Tribune’s lab had conducted the testing according to FCC standards, the feedback from Motorola led the Tribune to retest the Apple and Motorola phones using a modified test “aimed at activating sensors that would reduce power.”
And, while the modified testing did allow some cellphone models to pass — suggesting proximity sensors in some phones may not work properly under certain conditions — the iPhone 7 still failed to meet the FCC standard. The Tribune writes:8
“When informed of the new results, Apple officials declined to be interviewed and requested the Tribune put its questions in writing. The newspaper did, submitting three dozen, but Apple did not answer any of them.”
Safety Standards Do Not Match Real-World Exposure
Another problem is that SAR testing companies are allowed to position the cellphone as far as 25 mm (0.98 inches, or nearly 1 inch) away from the body to meet the FCC standard. Today, few people consistently keep their phone at least a quarter of an inch to an inch away from their body, which means overexposure is chronic.
In 2012, the Government Accountability Office stated that because cellphone radiation is not measured under real-world conditions, against the body, the FCC should reassess its limits and testing requirements. In August 2019, the FCC finally announced that “the existing standard sufficiently protects the public and should remain in place,” the Tribune writes.9
Clearly, the Tribune’s independent testing suggests otherwise. As the Tribune points out, 68% of American teenagers take their cellphones to bed with them and 29% sleep with them,10 often next to or under their pillow. Children are also exposed to RF starting in utero. Never before has an entire generation been exposed to this amount of RF from cradle to grave. The Chicago Tribune writes:11
“When cellphones hit the market in the 1980s, authorities focused on setting an exposure limit to address only the heating risks of cellphones. Scientists found that animals showed adverse effects when exposed to enough radiofrequency radiation to raise their body temperature by 1 degree Celsius.
Authorities used this finding to help calculate a safety limit for humans, building in a 50-fold safety factor. The final rule, adopted by the FCC in 1996, stated that cellphone users cannot potentially absorb more than 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over one gram of tissue.
To demonstrate compliance, phone makers were told to conduct two tests: when the devices were held against the head and when held up to an inch from the body.
These testing methods didn’t address the anatomy of children and that of other vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, said Joel Moskowitz, a cellphone expert at the University of California at Berkeley. ‘It was like one-size-fits-all.’ Plus, he said, ‘I don’t think anyone anticipated the smartphone and how it would become so integral to our lives.’”
‘This Could Be the Chernobyl of the Cellphone Industry’
In the wake of the Tribune’s report, the class-action law firm Fegan Scott has announced it will launch an investigation.12 In a BusinessWire press release,13 managing partner Beth Fegan stated:
“This could be the Chernobyl of the cellphone industry, cover-up and all. If we found that produce sold in grocery stores contained twice the levels of pesticides as the law allows, we would be up in arms, demanding the products be pulled from the shelf — this is no different.
In this case, we know the cellphone radiation is dangerous, but the terrifying part is that we don’t know how dangerous, especially to kids’ brain development.
The fact that the Chicago Tribune can convene a group of experts and develop such convincing findings shows that the phone manufacturers may be intentionally hiding what they know about radiation output.”
According to MacRumors,14 Fegan Scott has not provided any additional information about its investigation or what kind of legal action it might pursue. Those wanting to learn more about the investigation and/or to receive updates are urged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
That said, at least one class-action lawsuit has already been filed.15 August 23, 2019, a dozen individuals filed a class action complaint16 against Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics America Inc., saying excessive RF radiation has placed them at increased risk for cancer, cellular stress, genetic damage, learning and memory deficits and neurological disorders.
As noted by Tech Wellness,17 the lawsuit stresses that while the cellphone industry used to warn against holding your cellphone against your body, people are now encouraged to carry their phones in their pockets rather than a bag.
Tech Wellness also notes that,18 “Both Samsung and Apple have commercials showing people lying in bed with their phones and Samsung shows a pregnant woman holding the phone to her belly,” which presents the false perception that these devices are safe even when in direct contact with the body.