EWG is calling on the FCC to update its testing guidelines to take account of the widespread use of smartphone cases. Such action is critical because mounting scientific studies have raised serious questions about the safety of cell phone radiation exposure over the short and long term. In the absence of meaningful action by the Commission, EWG offers consumers tips on how to reduce their exposure to cell phone radiation.
Transmitters, including cell phones, emit radio signals on more than the assigned frequency. These other signals on other frequencies are “harmonics” and/or “noise” and/or “dirty” signals from less than optimal transmitters, antennae, and/or resonating frequencies emitted from metallic objects in close proximity to the transmitter, like the other components of the cell phone.
In December, 2006, an epidemiological study on cell phone dangers published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute sent the media into a frenzy.10 Newspaper headlines blared: “Danish Study Shows Cell Phone Use is Safe,” while TV newscasters proclaimed, “Go ahead and talk all you want—it’s safe!” The news seemed to be a holiday gift for cell phone users. But unfortunately, it’s a flawed study, funded by the cell phone industry and designed to bring a positive result. The industry’s public relations machine is working in overdrive to assure that the study get top-billing in the media worldwide.
We tested a variety of cellphone cases and garment shielding products including the Safe Sleeve, Defender Shield, RF Safe cellphone “flip” cases, and the Pong cellphone case which does not have a cover over of the face of the phone. We also tested the Belly Armor blanket, nursing cover and boxers as well as an anti-radiation tank top sold by OurSure on Amazon.
We also spoke to experts and searched government reports to try to find any other high-quality evidence that may not have been published in an academic database. We included the National Toxicology Program’s animal studies, since they are considered some of the most important animal research that was funded by the government to help answer the question of whether cellphones cause cancer. We also included research on the fertility effects of cellphone radiation, since that was a concern many researchers in the field had.
Another animal study, in which rats were exposed 7 days per week for 19 hours per day to radiofrequency radiation at 0.001, 0.03, and 0.1 watts per kilogram of body weight was reported by investigators at the Italian Ramazzini Institute (35). Among the rats with the highest exposure levels, the researchers noted an increase in heart schwannomas in male rats and non-malignant Schwann cell growth in the heart in male and female rats. However, key details necessary for interpretation of the results were missing: exposure methods, other standard operating procedures, and nutritional/feeding aspects. The gaps in the report from the study raise questions that have not been resolved.
EWG urges the FCC to include third party-produced cases and accessories in its cell phone testing policies to ensure that they do not compromise cell phone function and do not prevent a cell phone from complying with the Commission’s exposure limits. Manufacturers should publish the radiation data for a given phone when used directly next to the body and when used with the cases most commonly sold for a specific model.
As a result, stories about a single nuclear meltdown or possible link between cellphone radiation and cancer will be amplified much more than news about the nine people who probably died today in the US from distracted driving. “This possible health effect from radiation is pretty esoteric at this point. If there is anything there, it seems to me like it’s going to be very, very small,” says Kenneth R. Foster, a bioengineering professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been investigating whether there are biological effects from radio waves since the 1970s. “Driving and texting, people get killed doing that — but it’s not a very exciting risk to worry about.”
Pong’s research indicates that badly designed cell phone cases can partially block a phone’s antenna, making the device work harder to transmit signals. Due to gaps in the FCC’s cell phone regulations, a phone worn right next to the body and enclosed by a case that obstructs the antenna could expose the user to more radiation than the FCC’s legal limit.
The cellular phone industry was born in the early 1980s, when communications technology that had been developed for the Department of Defense was put into commerce by companies focusing on profits. This group, with big ideas but limited resources, pressured government regulatory agencies—particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—to allow cell phones to be sold without pre-market testing. The rationale, known as the “low power exclusion,” distinguished cell phones from dangerous microwave ovens based on the amount of power used to push the microwaves. At that time, the only health effect seen from microwaves involved high power strong enough to heat human tissue. The pressure worked, and cell phones were exempted from any type of regulatory oversight, an exemption that continues today. An eager public grabbed up the cell phones, but according to Dr. George Carlo, “Those phones were slowly prompting a host of health problems.”
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people speculate, joke, or jokingly speculate that their cellphone might be giving them cancer. It comes from a very reasonable place of discomfort — few people understand how radiation works, we put our phones right beside our brains all the time, and technology in general often feels like it ought to be causing some sort of societal ill.
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The CERENAT study, another case–control study conducted in multiple areas in France from 2004 to 2006 using data collected in face-to-face interviews using standardized questionnaires (18). This study found no association for either gliomas or meningiomas when comparing regular cell phone users with non-users. However, the heaviest users had significantly increased risks of both gliomas and meningiomas.