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Cell Phone Radiation Series - Part 5: Buy smart

Thursday, December 17, 2009


"More public information can only be positive." So says Renee Sharp, director of EWG's California office, in response to news that San Francisco might become the first U.S. city to require retailers to label cell phones with information on their radiation levels.

It's what we've been saying all along, and it's why EWG created a searchable database of cell phone radiation levels. We think consumers have a right to information that will help them choose the phone with the lowest potential radiation emissions.

While the research isn't settled on just how dangerous cell phone radiation is to your health, there's enough troubling evidence that we suggest you take precautions to reduce your exposure.

Radiation emissions vary A few weeks ago we talked about SAR values - the measure of how much radiation a phone emits. The gist is that how much radiation a phone gives off depends on the design of the phone, what network you're on and how you're using the phone.

Since emitted radiation values vary, you can make easy, daily choices to reduce your exposure - but you can also find a lower-emitting phone to start with.

Curious about your phone's radiation level? Cell phones certified for use in the US must have SAR values within the limits set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). However, manufacturers have not exactly been eager to disclose these levels to consumers.

If you still have your phone manual, you might find the SAR number there. Or not. You might also find the SAR for your phone on the manufacturer's website. Or not. There is one central repository of SAR values - a database of cell phones that FCC has maintained since 2000. So then it should be easy - just log on and look up your cell phone to see how much radiation it emits, right?

Not quite. To find your phone's radiation level on the FCC website, you need its FCC ID number, which is conveniently located in the user manual (probably stuffed in that drawer with 6 manuals for your laptop, your iron's warranty and directions for the last 2 cameras you bought) or on the phone itself (generally under the battery, so you might need a small screwdriver and nimble fingers to get at it).

Once you find the ID number, plug it in on the FCC website, and you get links to all of the documentation that the phone manufacturer submitted to the FCC. After picking one of six rounds of submissions, each with 20 links to various documents, I found a 45-page pdf, with sections like "Liquid Test Parameters" and "Output Power Verification," that included the results from five different tests of my phone's SAR levels. (Is your head spinning yet?)

Oh, and don't forget - you can't even go through all of this rigamarole if you don't have the phone's FCC ID number. And since you can only get that from the user manual or the phone itself, you can't use the FCC site to check out a phone's SAR value before you buy it. So consumer friendly! EWG's database makes it easier That's where EWG's comprehensive cell phone database comes in. We combed through user manuals & manufacturer websites to create an easy tool that lets you to enter the name of your phone to find out its SAR value.

Go ahead, use our handy widget to search by model, network or manufacturer. We'll tell you the phone's listed SAR value, as well as how it compares to other phones.

Consumers have a right to know As much as we at EWG like helping you make safe and healthy lifestyle choices, shouldn't it really be the cell phone retailers and manufacturers providing this information directly to consumers? Data on cell phone SAR values should be available at the point of sale, so purchasers (that's you) can use it as one factor in making a decision on which phone to buy.

San Francisco is leading the way to do just this: newly proposed legislation would require retailers to put a phone's SAR values right next to its price. Phone manufacturers object on the grounds that cell phone radiation hasn't been proven harmful. But as the Financial Times notes, if phone manufacturers are so sure about their products' safety, shouldn't they be willing to disclose information on radiation emissions? What you can do Tell the FCC and FDA that you want to know about SAR values before you buy! Use EWG's easy form to send them a message asking for mandatory disclosure requirements and more research on cell phone radiation safety.

And don't forget - use EWG's tips to reduce your exposure to radiation, even without buying a new phone. If you're in the market (especially if you're buying a gift for a younger person, who may be more at risk for health effects from radiation), be sure to use the EWG database or widget to find the lowest-emitting phone that satisfies your needs.

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