EWG's Guide to Safer Cell Phone Use
Back in 1996, when the Federal Communications Commission set a legal maximum on cell phone radiation, Motorola was touting its tiny $2,000 StarTac, the first clamshell phone and an early adopter of -- texting!
Sixteen years later, cell phones -- with 6 billion subscriptions worldwide and counting -- have revolutionized how we communicate. The technology that powers them has changed just as dramatically. Today’s smartphones vibrate, rock out, show high-def movies, make photos and videos, issue voice commands, check email, go underwater, navigate with global positioning systems and surf the web in 3-D. They sport dual core processors and batteries that let you – or your kid -- talk for close to 20 hours. (The StarTac maxed out at just 3 hours.)
We doubt it.
Studies conducted by numerous scientific teams in several nations have raised troubling questions about possible associations between heavy cell phone use and serious health dangers. The World Health Organization has declared that cell phone radiation may be linked to brain cancer. Ten studies connect cell phone radiation to diminished sperm count and sperm damage. Others raise health concerns such as altered brain metabolism, sleep disturbance and behavioral changes in children.
These studies are not definitive. Much more research is needed. But they raise serious questions that cast doubt on the adequacy of the FCC rules to safeguard public health. The FCC emissions cap allows 20 times more radiation to reach the head than the body as a whole, does not account for risks to children’s developing brains and smaller bodies and considers only short-term cell phone use, not frequent calling patterns over decades.
The FCC’s safety standards for cell phone radiation were based on studies conducted in the 1980s, These studies have long since been rendered obsolete by newer research. Yet for years the FCC refused to update or even review its standards. Instead, the federal agency simply sat on its hands while cell phones became ever more powerful and ubiquitous.
The agency is finally moving to meet the realities of the 21st century and the Information Age. On June 15, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a proposal to his four fellow commissioners calling for formal review of the 1996 regulations. To advance, his plan must be approved by a majority of the commissioners. If they agree, the FCC could take the long overdue step of modernizing its safety standards. But the pace is likely to be glacial.
Americans need new, more protective cell phone standards that reflect the current science and society’s heavy dependence on mobile communications.
Consumers need -- now more than ever -- real-world, relevant data on how much radiation their phones emit under various circumstances. The FCC does not require the cell phone industry to disclose these data. One important study showing that certain networks could expose consumers to 30 to 300 times more radiation than other networks was hidden from the public until the information was dated to the point of irrelevancy.
Given this appalling lack of information in the face of a cell phone market where just about anything goes,
the Environmental Working Group is suspending publication of the EWG guide to cell phones until the FCC makes the responsible decision to require cell phone makers to generate and disclose data about device and network emissions under real-world conditions. We strongly believe that as cell phones become more powerful and ubiquitous, it is critical that people have a right to know how much radiation they can expect their cell phones to generate. As things now stand, the FCC’s cell phone safety rules are as obsolete as the StarTac.
In the meantime, EWG recommends that consumers take steps to reduce their exposures to cell phone radiation by holding phones away from their bodies, using earpieces and following and other simple tips in EWG’s updated Guide to Safer Cell Phone Use.
Legal Disclaimer: EWG's cell phone database is dynamic, which means that the cell phone ranking numbers may change based on evolving science, new information on SAR radiation exposures, market conditions, or other factors. Please be advised that EWG does not recommend that companies create marketing materials based on the EWG rating system, given that the rankings may change as the database is updated. EWG makes no representations or warranties about any of the products rated on this site. EWG hereby disclaims all warranties with regard to the products on the site, including express, statutory, implied warranties of merchantability, or fitness for a particular purpose.
More than 4 billion people around the world use cell phones (ITU 2009). Because cell phone technology has been around for just two decades, scientists do not yet fully understand long-term health risks from cell phone radiation. But recent research has prompted serious concerns about exposure to wireless emissions.
Prior to 2003, studies of cancer risk and cell phone use produced conflicting results. FDA told consumers that scientists had found no harmful health effects from exposure to cell phone emissions. (FDA 2003).
But FDA's assurances were based on studies of people who had used cell phones for just 3 years, on average (FDA 2003), not long enough to develop cancer. At that time, studies had not addressed the risks of longer-term cell phone radiation exposures.
Recent studies link cell phone radiation to:
Brain cancer: Two research groups independently analyzed all data from 25 original studies of cell phone users, and identified a 50 to 90 percent increase in risk for two types of brain tumors: glioma and acoustic neuroma (Hardell 2009, Kundi 2009).
Salivary gland tumors: An Israeli study found an increased risk of 50 to 60 percent for salivary gland tumors among people with highest cell phone use (Sadetzki 2008).
Behavioral problems: A study of 13,159 Danish children showed 80 percent elevated risk for emotional and hyperactivity problems among young children who use cell phones and whose mothers also used cell phones during pregnancy (Divan 2008).
Migraines and vertigo: A study of 420,095 Danish adults showed that long-term cell phone users were 10 to 20 percent more likely to be hospitalized for migraines and vertigo than people who took up cell phones more recently. (Schuz 2009).
The research gap is closing. Scientists around the world have recently associated serious health problems with using cell phones for 10 years or longer:
- A joint study by researchers in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom found that people who had used cell phones for more than 10 years had a significantly increased risk of developing glioma, a usually malignant brain tumor, on the side of the head they had favored for cell phone conversations (International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) 2008; Lahkola 2007).
- French and German scientists reported an increased risk of glioma for long-term cell phone users (Hours 2007; Schuz, Bohler, Berg 2006). Analysis of all published cell phone-brain tumor studies found that people who had used a cell phone for 10 or more years, the overall risk for developing a glioma on the cell phone side of the head increased by 90 percent (Hardell 2009; Kundi 2009).
- Cell phone use for 10 years and longer has been also associated with significantly increased risk of acoustic neuroma, a type of benign brain tumor, on the primary side of cell phone use (IARC 2008; Schoemaker 2005). An extensive review of published studies of acoustic neuroma found that long-term cell phone users had a 60 percent greater risk of being diagnosed with the disease (Hardell 2009; Kundi 2009).
- A study from Israel reported an association between frequent and prolonged mobile phone use and parotid (salivary) gland tumors (Sadetzki 2008). Scientists analyzing data from Sweden and Denmark combined found that people who had used cell phones for at least 10 years ran an increased risk of benign parotid gland tumors (IARC 2008; Lonn 2006).
- Multiple studies reported that the brains of young children absorb more radiation than those of adults (de Salles 2006; Gandhi 1996; Kang 2002; Martinez-Burdalo 2004; Wang 2003; Wiart 2008), potentially rendering them more vulnerable to brain tumors (NRC 2008b). Researchers in Sweden found the highest risk of brain tumors among people who started using cell phones during adolescence (Hardell 2009).
Scientists have known for decades that high doses of the radiofrequency radiation emitted by cell phones can penetrate the body, heat tissues, trigger behavioral problems and damage sensitive tissues like the eyeball and testicle (Heynick 2003; IEEE 2006).
Yet when cell phones went on the market in the 1980s, federal regulators did not require manufacturers to prove they were safe (GAO 1994).
Recent studies raise particular concerns about the impact of cell phone emissions on children. The National Research Council (NRC) has observed that "with the rapid advances in technologies and communications utilizing [radiation in the range of cell phone frequencies], children are increasingly exposed... at earlier ages (starting at age 6 or before)" (NRC 2008b). The NRC called for "investigation of the potential effects of RF fields in the development of childhood brain tumor" (NRC 2008b).
- Research by France Telecom scientists showed that under standard conditions of use, twice as much cell phone radiation would penetrate a child's thinner, softer skull than an adult's (Wiart 2008). These results confirm earlier findings that children's heads absorb more radiofrequency radiation than adults (Gandhi 1996; Kang 2002; Wang 2003).
- Children will be exposed to cell phone radiation for more years and therefore in greater total amounts than the current generation of adults (NRC 2008b).
Government actions: radiation standards and public education
Health agencies in six nations — Switzerland, Germany, Israel, France, United Kingdom, and Finland — have recommended reducing children's exposures to cell phone radiation.
In 2008, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging member countries to develop lower radiation emission limits for cell phones. Legislation introduced in the French Senate would ban marketing and sales of phones for children under age 6.
Brussels, Belgium; Salzburg, Austria; and Christchurch, New Zealand have proposed strict local cell phone radiation standards. Toronto has issued guidance to parents on reducing children's cell phone use.
Few research studies have focused on the health hazards of children's cell phone use, even though the youth market is growing. But one recent study of 13,159 Danish children showed that young children who use cell phones and whose mothers also used cell phones during pregnancy are 80 percent more likely to suffer emotional and hyperactivity problems (Divan 2008).
In response to the growing debate over the safety of cell phone emissions, government agencies in Germany, Switzerland, Israel, United Kingdom, France, and Finland and the European Parliament have recommended actions to help consumers reduce exposures to cell phone radiation, especially for young children.
In contrast, the two U.S. federal agencies that regulate cell phones, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), have all but ignored evidence that long term cell phone use may be risky.
The FCC adopted radiation standards developed by the cell phone industry 17 years ago. These standards, still in use, allow 20 times more radiation to reach the head than the rest of the body. They do not account for risks to children.
While compiling a database of radiation emitted by more than 1,000 cell phones sold in the U.S., the Environmental Working Group has found that emissions can vary by a factor of up to 8 from one phone to another.
The cell phone industry has reported 270 million wireless subscriptions by the end of 2008, equivalent to 87 percent of the U.S. population (CTIA 2009, ITU 2009). This number is only expected to grow. Consumers need — at a minimum — easy access to cell phone radiation information so that they can make informed purchasing decisions and protect themselves and their families from potential health concerns.
Studies: Cell phone radiation may cause tissue damage
Cell phones communicate via electromagnetic waves. During signal transmission, a comparable amount of radiation travels outward, towards the base station, and inward, towards the ear or head of the cell phone user. (IEGMP 2000).
Cell phone waves are in the "radiofrequency" range. They lack the penetrating energy of X-rays and radioactivity. Scientists are still exploring how cell phone radiation may cause the harmful effects that some studies have described.
Cell phones, radios and TV transmissions emit non-ionizing radiation that has a longer wavelength, lower frequency and lower overall energy per photon than UV light, X-rays and gamma rays (a form of radioactivity), which are known as ionizing radiation because they have enough power to eject an electron from its orbit and leave behind a charged ion that can damage cells and tissues.
Scientific research conducted over the past decade has associated cell phone radiation with increased risk of developing brain and salivary gland tumors, neurological symptoms such as migraine and vertigo, and neurodevelopmental effects observed as behavioral problems in young children (BioInitiative 2007; Divan 2008; Kundi 2009; Sadetzki 2008; Schuz 2009).
The National Research Council has reported that exposure to cell phone radiation may affect the immune, endocrine and nervous systems, fetal development and overall metabolism (NRC 2008b). Children are likely to be more susceptible than adults to effects from cell phone radiation, since the brain of a child is still developing and its nervous tissues absorb a greater portion of incoming radiation compared to that of an adult (Gandhi 1996; Kang 2002; Kheifets 2005; Schuz 2005; Wang 2003; Wiart 2008).
FCC radiation standards have little margin of safety
The FCC's cell phone radiation standards closely follow the 1992 recommendations of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) (FCC 1997). These standards allow 20 times more radiation to penetrate the head than the rest of the body and do not account for risks to children.
FCC standards limit the radiation absorbed by a cell phone user's brain and body to a specific absorption rate, or SAR, measured by the amount of the phone's radiation energy (in watts, W) absorbed per kilogram of tissue (W/kg).
Current FCC regulations permit SAR levels of up to 1.6 W/kg for partial body (head) exposure, 0.08 W/kg for whole-body exposure, and 4 W/kg for exposure to the hands, wrists, feet and ankles (FCC 1997, 1999).
The FCC standards are based on animal studies conducted in late 1970s and early 1980s (Osepchuk 2003). FCC, on the recommendation of the IEEE, adopted SAR level of 4 W/kg as the point of departure for determining legal SAR limits for cell phones. In contrast to the FCC decision, an independent analysis by the EPA scientists concluded, on the basis of the same body of data, that biological effects occur at SAR levels of 1 W/kg, 4 times lower than the SAR level chosen by IEEE (U.S. EPA 1984). Exposure to radiofrequency radiation at these SAR levels induces tissue heating that leads to behavioral alterations in mice, rats, and monkeys, that may be a "potentially adverse effect in human beings" (IEEE 2006).
Current FCC standards fail to provide an adequate margin of safety for cell phone radiation exposure and lack a meaningful biological basis.
For example, the FCC standard for the head is just 2.5 times lower than the level that caused behavioral changes in animals. The standard that applies to hands, wrists, feet, and ankles has no safety margin whatsoever.
The FCC adopted IEEE's proposal to allow 20 times more radiation to the head than the average amount allowed for the whole body, even though the brain may well be one of the most sensitive parts of human body with respect to radiofrequency radiation and should have more protection.
To receive the FCC approval for selling a cell phone in the U.S. market, manufacturers typically conduct the phone's SAR tests themselves or contract with the private industry. Private industry organizations (Telecommunication Certification Bodies) are also actively involved in all steps of determining the compliance of cell phones and other wireless devices with the FCC rules (FCC OET 2008f).
SAR testing of cell phones is carried out on a mold in the shape of an adult torso or head which is filled with a viscous fluid mixture selected to simulate the electrical properties of human tissue (GAO 2001). To determine SAR, a cell phone is placed next to the outer surface of the mold and turned on to transmit at the maximum power while a probe is inserted into the viscous inner mixture at various locations, measuring the radiofrequency energy that is being absorbed (GAO 2001).
FCC, the cell phone industry, and the academic community all acknowledge that SAR measurements have significant precision problems (Cardis 2008; FCC OET 2008e; GAO 2001; Wiart 2008). Studies by scientists in academia and the cell phone industry demonstrate that SAR is significantly influenced by the age, shape of the head, and tissue composition (Conil 2008; Wang 2003; Wiart 2008).
The greatest debate is whether the current methods for SAR measurement is adequate for assessing radiation absorption in children's brains (Gandhi 1996; Wang 2003). Recent research on SAR in test models for children's brains and bodies indicates that SAR levels in children would be much higher than in adults (Conil 2008; de Salles 2006; Gandhi 1996; Martinez-Burdalo 2004; Wang 2003; Wiart 2008).
Cell phone standards ignore children
Scientists in a number of countries agree that the head and brain of a child absorb significantly more radiation than those of an adult (de Salles 2006; Gandhi 1996; Kang 2002; Wang 2003; Wiart 2008). Yet U.S. cell phone emission levels and federal standards are based on radiation absorbed by adults and fail to account for children's higher exposures and greater health risks.
In general, as head size decreases, the percentage of energy absorbed by the brain increases,(Martinez-Burdalo 2004). Moreover, children's tissues have higher water and ion content compared to adult tissues (Peyman 2009). Both factors increase radiation absorption, acccording to researchers from the U.S., the Finnish cell phone company Nokia, Institute of Applied Physics in Spain and the U.K. Health Protection Agency (Gandhi 2002; Keshvari 2006; Martinez-Burdalo 2004; Peyman 2009).
All these data, taken together, suggest that when a child uses a cell phone that complies with the FCC standards, he or she could easily absorb an amount of radiation over the maximum allowed radiation limits defined by the federal guidelines. FCC standards give adults only a slim margin of safety over emission levels that harm animals. For children, the margin is much slimmer – if one exists at all.
Consumers have a right to full information on cell phone radiation levels
Cell phone manufacturers opposed SAR disclosure (Lin 2000) until 2000, when the FCC began posting cell phone SAR values on its web site. After the FCC decision, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) began requiring manufacturers to disclose cell phone SARs.
According to CTIA guidelines, a mobile phone SAR value must be listed in the user manual or on a separate sheet. The trade association does not require listing the SAR value on the box or the phone itself (Microwave News 2000).
Cell phone radiation levels are rarely available at retail locations. Consequently, consumers cannot easily identify low-radiation phones.
FCC maintains a database of mobile phone SAR values for devices currently on the market, but it is difficult to use. With significant effort, a consumer can navigate the FCC website to find the SAR value for a specific phone.
To search the FCC database, the consumer needs the mobile phone's FCC ID number, located on a sticker underneath the phone's battery. The first three characters of the FCC ID is the Grantee Code; the remaining numbers and letters of the ID are a product code that can be entered into the online FCC ID Search Form (http://www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid), to pull up five to seven data entries. Consumers must scroll manually through each of the data entries to locate the document that lists the SAR value for the specific mobile phone.
In contrast to this cumbersome process, the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) maintains a detailed, open directory of information on mobile phones available in the German market (BfS 2008b). Such a publicly available database greatly facilitates consumers' access to SAR data, enables informed purchasing decisions and encourages phone manufacturers to offer lower-SAR phones.
The U.S. government should require phones to be labeled with their radiation emissions at the point of sale, so consumers can make informed decisions about the phones they buy.
The cell phone industry should offer consumers phones that operate with the least possible radiation, and should make each phone's radiation emissions available at the point of sale.
Cell phone users can protect themselves and their families by buying low-radiation phones. Look for currently available low-radiation options in the EWG's cell phone radiation buyer's search tool that lists radiation output of more than 1,000 cell phones.
Cell phone users can also reduce radiation exposures by using their phone in speaker mode or with a headset. [see all safety tips]
And please help us tell the government to update its cell phone standards. Current standards provide 40 times less protection than typical government health limits for environmental exposures.
Cellphone Radiation Research
November 2013 – Cell Phone Radiation Depends On Wireless Carrier
A series of studies quietly published over the last five years show that cell phone network technologies affect radiation exposure as much as the phone design itself. These studies, mostly overlooked by the press, indicate that users of the same mobile device can absorb starkly different amounts of radiofrequency emissions, depending on which carrier serves them. Read More
June 2012 – EWG Science Review – 10 Studies Find Cell Phone Radiation Damages Human Sperm
EWG scientists have analyzed 10 scientific studies documenting evidence that cell phone radiation exposure leads to slower, fewer and shorter-lived sperm. The studies raise concerns for men who carry their phones on their belts or in pants pockets. Read more.
March 2011 - Government Softened Advisory on Cell Phones
Federal website dropped cautionary language on radiation levels after officials met with industry, documents obtained by Environmental Working Group show. Read more.
February, 2011 - Cell phone radiation alters brain activity
A team led by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, a pioneering brain imaging scientist who heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has reported that cell phone radiofrequency radiation alters human brain activity. The study, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first investigation to document changes in brain glucose metabolism after cell phone use. Read more.
September 2009 — Science Review on Cancer Risks and Children's Health
EWG's comprehensive, 10-month science evaluation of the hazards of cell phone radiation analyzes data from more than 200 peer-reviewed studies, government advisories, and industry documents, to provide you with the latest information on cell phone safety. Read more.
Cell Phone Radiation Damages Sperm, Studies Find
EWG Science Review
Cell Phone Radiation Damages Sperm, Studies Show
Phones Carried on Belt or in Pants Pocket May Harm Reproductive Health
Although most scientific and public attention on the issue of the safety of cell phone radiation has focused on evidence suggesting an increased risk of brain tumors (Baan 2011), a little-noticed but growing body of research points to a new concern – sperm damage (La Vignera 2012).
In a comprehensive review of the published scientific literature, the Environmental Working Group found 10 human studies that have identified a startling variety of changes in sperm exposed to cell phone radiation. In the most striking findings, men who carried their phones in a pocket or on the belt were more likely to have lower sperm counts and/or more inactive or less mobile sperm. These findings accord with similar results in laboratory animals.
Collectively, the research indicates that exposure to cell phone radiation may lead to decreases in sperm count, sperm motility and vitality, as well as increases in indicators of sperm damage such as higher levels of reactive oxygen species (chemically reactive molecules containing oxygen), oxidative stress, DNA damage and changes in sperm morphology (see summary below).
Many men who talk on a cell phone using a Bluetooth device or other headset keep the phone in a pants pocket or clipped to a holster. This exposes their reproductive organs to cell phone radiation, and several studies have found lower sperm count and/or poorer sperm quality in men who use their phones this way than in those who do not.
Scientists have yet to identify a mechanism by which cell phone use might cause such effects (Makker 2009). However, the research appears to rule out the possibility that the changes are caused by simple heating, which is considered to be a possible source of some radiofrequency radiation-related health problems (De Iuliis 2009; Volkow 2011).
The findings are particularly significant in light of the fact that infertility affects approximately 15 percent of couples of reproductive age, and nearly half of these cases are linked to male fertility (Sharlip 2002). The number and consistency of the findings raise the possibility that cell phone radiation could be contributing to this significant public health problem and demand further investigation.
Studies linking cell phone exposure to harmful effects on sperm have been done in the United States, Australia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Turkey and South Africa, using diverse methodologies. In some, scientists compared sperm counts and sperm health in men who wore cell phones on the hip with those who carried them elsewhere on the body or did not use cell phones at all. In others, researchers exposed sperm to cell phone radiation under laboratory conditions. In still others, scientists examined whether there was a correlation between sperm health and the intensity of cell phone use among men undergoing evaluation for infertility.
Among the findings:
- Men who carried a phone in a hip pocket or on the belt had 11 percent fewer mobile sperm than men who kept a phone elsewhere on the body (Kilgallon 2005).
- Men who carried a cell phone on the belt and used it intensively during a five-day test period had a 19 percent drop in highly motile sperm from their previous levels (Davoudi 2002).
- Men who talked on the phone for more than an hour a day had 17 percent fewer highly motile sperm than men who talked less than 15 minutes a day (Fejes 2005).
Laboratory studies on the effects of cell phone radiation on rats, rabbits and other animals have found similar effects on reproductive health (Kesari 2011; Mailankot 2009).
All these studies found statistically significant correlations between cell phone radiation and sperm health, and many found that the adverse changes increased with the amount of radiation exposure. Opinions differ as to the possible mechanism by which cell phone radiation might produce these changes (Falzone 2010).
A number of research papers include unambiguous statements on the potential of cell phone radiation to affect men's reproductive health:
- “Keeping the cell phone in a trouser pocket in talk mode may negatively affect spermatozoa and impair male fertility” (Agarwal 2009).
- “Use of cell phones decreases the semen quality in men by decreasing the sperm count, motility, viability and normal morphology. The decrease in sperm parameters was dependent on the duration of daily exposure to cell phones and independent of the initial semen quality” (Agarwal 2008).
- “These findings have clear implications for the safety of extensive mobile phone use by males of reproductive age, potentially affecting both their fertility and the health and wellbeing of their offspring” (De Iuliis 2009).
- “Overall, these findings raise a number of related health policy and patient management issues that deserve our immediate attention. Specifically, we recommend that men of reproductive age who engage in high levels of mobile phone use do not keep their phones in receiving mode below waist level” (De Iuliis 2009).
- “Our results showed that cell phone use negatively affects sperm quality in men… Men with poor sperm quality planning for pregnancy should be advised not to use cell phones extensively” (Gutschi 2011).
- “The results show that human spermatozoa exposed to RF-EMR have decreased motility, morphometric abnormalities and increased oxidative stress, whereas men using mobile phones have decreased sperm concentration, motility…, normal morphology, and viability. These abnormalities seem to be directly related with the length of mobile phone use” (La Vignera 2012).
Given the backdrop of increasing infertility rates (Swan 2006), the research findings should be a wake-up call to male cell phone users who are trying to have children or may want to in the future.
Even as scientists continue to gather new data on health risks from cell phone radiation, the findings underscore that consumers should practice simple, precautionary safe-cell-phone-use habits, such as keeping the phone away from the body, in order to protect their health and fertility. Men, in particular, should avoid carrying a cell phone on the belt or in a pants pocket when in use.
What About Women's Health?
There are no published studies examining the effect of cell phone radiation on reproductive health in women. Such studies are much more difficult to carry out, since they often require invasive techniques. However, several recent articles suggested that cell phone radiation might be harmful to the developing fetus. For example, a 2009 study in Turkey found that after pregnant rats were exposed to cell phone radiation for 15 minutes twice a day during the entire gestation period, their female pups had fewer ovarian follicles (Gul 2009). A 2012 study by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine found that mice exposed to cell phone radiation during gestation were hyperactive and had impaired memory (Aldad 2012).
There have been similar findings in two human studies. UCLA researchers reported that cell phone exposure during pregnancy and after birth was associated with behavioral problems in young children (Divan 2008; Divan 2012). This line of research is just beginning, but a recent review article emphasized that cell phone radiation might impact reproduction and development in both men and women (Merhi 2011).
Table: Peer-reviewed studies of the effects of cell phone radiation on male reproduction
|Type of exposure
|Davoudi M, Brossner C, Kuber W. 2002. The influence of electromagnetic waves on sperm motility. Journal für Urologie und Urogynäkologie 19: 19-22.
|Semen analysis for 13 male volunteers who carried a cell phone on the belt and actively used it for 5 days.
|Compared to a period of cell phone use on the belt by the same volunteers, cell phone use was associated with decreased sperm motility. The percentage of highly motile sperm (classified as "rapid progressive sperm") dropped from a mean of 32% to a mean of 26% after the exposure.
|GSM phone; study participants used phones for at least 6 hours/day.
|Fejes I, Zavaczki Z, Szollosi J, Koloszar S, Daru J, Kovacs L, et al. 2005. Is there a relationship between cell phone use and semen quality? Arch Androl 51(5): 385-93.
|Semen analysis for 371 men who attended an infertility clinic in 2002-2004.
|Low-volume cell phone users (less than 15 minutes a day) had a higher percentage of rapid progressive motile sperm (48.7%) than high-volume (more than one hour a day) cell phone users (40.6%).
|Pattern of use identified by a questionnaire, including duration of phone possession and frequency of daily use.
|Kilgallon SJ, Simmons LW. 2005. Image content influences men's semen quality. Biol Lett 1(3): 253-5.
|Analysis of sperm samples from 52 healthy men aged 18-35.
|Men who carried a cell phone in a hip pocket or on the belt had lower sperm motility (49.3% motile sperm) than men who did not use a cell phone near the hip (55.4% motile sperm).
|Questionnaire responses identified men who carried a cell phone in a hip pocket or on the belt, non-users and those who kept a phone elsewhere.
|Erogul O, Oztas E, Yildirim I, Kir T, Aydur E, Komesli G, et al. 2006. Effects of electromagnetic radiation from a cellular phone on human sperm motility: an in vitro study. Arch Med Res 37(7): 840-3.
|Semen samples collected from 27 men exposed to cell phone radiation under laboratory conditions.
|Exposed specimens had a decrease in rapid progressive sperm from 13% to 9%; a decrease in slow progressive sperm from 44% to 34% and an increase in immotile sperm from 36% to 51%.
|Test specimens were exposed for 5 minutes to GSM cell phone radiation at 900 MHz.
|Wdowiak A, Wdowiak L, Wiktor H. 2007. Evaluation of the effect of using mobile phones on male fertility. Ann Agric Environ Med 14(1): 169-72.
|Sperm parameters examined in a group of 304 males enrolled at an infertility clinic in 2004-2006.
|16.7% of regular cell phone users had normal semen morphology, compared to 55.6% of non-users. In 35% of frequent cell phone users, sperm motility dropped by up to a half; only 9% of non-users had comparable decreases in sperm motility.
|Based on questionnaire responses, 99 participants were classified as cell phone non-users; 157 had used GSM phones sporadically for 1-2 years; and 48 had used cell phones regularly for more than 2 years.
|Agarwal A, Deepinder F, Sharma RK, Ranga G, Li J. 2008. Effect of cell phone usage on semen analysis in men attending infertility clinic: an observational study. Fertil Steril 89(1): 124-8.
|Sperm parameters examined in 361 men undergoing infertility evaluation in 2004-2005
|Patients who used cell phones more than 4 hours a day had a 42% lower sperm count and 33% lower sperm motility than non-users. The percentage of sperm with normal morphology in high-level users was half that of non-users. Rates of normal morphology were decreased with greater levels of cell phone use.
|Based on questionnaire responses, cell phone exposure was classified in four groups: no use; less than 2 hours/day; 2-4 hours/day; and more than 4 hours/day.
|Agarwal A, Desai NR, Makker K, Varghese A, Mouradi R, Sabanegh E, et al. 2009. Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic waves (RF-EMW) from cellular phones on human ejaculated semen: an in vitro pilot study. Fertil Steril 92(4): 1318-25.
|Semen samples collected from 23 normal healthy donors and 9 infertile patients were exposed to cell phone radiation under laboratory conditions.
|Semen samples exposed to cell phone radiation showed a significant drop in sperm motility (52% to 49%) and viability (59% to 52%); nearly doubled production of reactive oxygen species levels; and a decrease in total antioxidant capacity, a measure of oxidative stress.
|Samples exposed for 1 hour to radiation from GSM cell phone in talk mode at 850 MHz frequency.
|De Iuliis GN, Newey RJ, King BV, Aitken RJ. 2009. Mobile phone radiation induces reactive oxygen species production and DNA damage in human spermatozoa in vitro. PLoS One 4(7): e6446.
|Purified human sperm from 22 healthy donors were exposed to cell phone radiation under laboratory conditions.
|Exposed sperm samples showed lower sperm motility and vitality, production of reactive oxygen species and DNA fragmentation. At SAR of 1.0 W/kg sperm, motility decreased from 86% in unexposed sperm to 68%; vitality decreased from 89% to 65%.
|Samples were exposed to 1800 MHz radiation at a range of SAR values from 0.4 W/kg to 27.5 W/kg for 16 hours, at a constant temperature of 210C to rule out thermal effects.
|Falzone N, Huyser C, Becker P, Leszczynski D, Franken DR. 2011. The effect of pulsed 900-MHz GSM mobile phone radiation on the acrosome reaction, head morphometry and zona binding of human spermatozoa. Int J Androl 34(1): 20-6.
|Purified human sperm collected from 12 healthy volunteers were exposed to cell phone radiation under laboratory conditions.
|Cell phone radiation exposure appeared to affect sperm's fertilization potential. Exposed sperm's head area dropped by 50%. Sperm-oocyte interaction was decreased by 28% compared to unexposed controls.
|Samples were exposed for 1 hour to 900 MHz GSM mobile phone radiation at SAR of 2.0 W/kg.
|Gutschi T, Mohamad Al-Ali B, Shamloul R, Pummer K, Trummer H. 2011. Impact of cell phone use on men's semen parameters. Andrologia: 43(5): 312-6.
|Analysis of semen samples from 2,100 men seen at an infertility clinic in 1993-2007.
|68% of the sperm from cell phone users had pathological morphology, compared to 58% of sperm from non-users. Abnormal sperm morphology diagnosed in 45% of cell phone users versus 27.7% of non-users.
|Retrospective study compared 991 cell phone users and 1,119 non-users identified via questionnaire responses.
FCC Dropped Cell Phone Caution Opposed by Industry
The Federal Communications Commission revised its online advice to consumers about cell phone safety in September to parrot the industry’s position following a series of private meetings with an industry lobbying group and company representatives, internal FCC documents show.
The website changes deleted previously posted language noting that “some parties’” recommend taking precautions such as buying phones that release less radiation. Instead, the new wording echoes the industry’s position that differences in phones’ emission levels have no bearing on health concerns.
An FCC official said it made the changes on its own initiative because of “public confusion” on the issue but acknowledged that an industry trade group had separately asked the agency “to review the same pages.”
The internal documents (see links below), obtained by Environmental Working Group through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that in early to mid 2010 FCC officials met three times – in January, June and July – with representatives of industry groups and corporations, including the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), Nokia, AT&T and Motorola. The association also represents other major cell phone providers including Verizon, Sprint, TMobile, Cricket and U.S. Cellular.
One focus of these meetings, the documents show, was the issue of the “specific absorption rate” or SAR value of each cell phone model, a measure of the amount of radiation the body absorbs from the device. The FCC set a limit on SAR values in 1996 based on industry recommendations, but cell phone makers have recently suggested that the limit should be raised to accommodate feature-laden smart phones. They have also strenuously opposed regulatory efforts to call public attention to the differences in SAR values among phones and have disputed suggestions that using lower SAR models could minimize any health risk.
The issue of whether cell phone use, especially by children, may increase the risk of some kinds of head and brain tumors remains unresolved, but EWG and others recommend as precautionary measures that consumers seek out lower-SAR cell phones and use headsets or speakers to avoid holding the phone against the head. Research to date has not produced conclusive results, but several large epidemiological studies have pointed to an increased risk for people who have used cell phones the longest.
Participants at the June 2010 meeting among industry and agency represents, including some of the FCC’s top attorneys, received print-outs showing the language about cell phone safety that was then on the FCC website on a page titled “Wireless Devices and Health Concerns.” The page included a section headlined “What You Can Do” that included the statement:
“Buy a wireless device with lower SAR.”
That sentence, which had been on the website since Nov. 5, 2009, disappeared when the page was updated on Sept. 20.
The new text includes statements that dismiss concerns of public health and consumer advocates about cell phone radiation:
- “Accordingly, some parties recommend taking measures to further reduce exposure to [radiofrequency] energy. The FCC does not endorse the need for these practices.” (Boldface type in original.)
- “Some parties recommend that you consider the reported SAR value of wireless devices. However, comparing the SAR of different devices may be misleading.”
This is the language that disappeared from the FCC website when it was revised in September.
This is the language that FCC added for the first time after a series of meetings with industry.
(Consultant and former FCC engineer Michael Marcus explores the changes in detail on his website.)
Other documents distributed at the June FCC meeting included a draft of San Francisco’s first-of-its-kind ordinance requiring that cell phone retailers provide consumers with easy-to-find information on each phone’s radiation output at the point of sale. The industry has sued to block implementation of the ordinance, arguing that highlighting SAR values in this way falsely implies that there could be a health risk from cell phones that meet the current federal standard. In other FCC meetings revealed in the documents, the industry representatives lobbied FCC officials to take their side in the San Francisco suit and before other local government bodies weighing proposals similar to the San Francisco ordinance.
In response to a separate EWG Freedom of Information request, Julius P. Knapp, chief of FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET), wrote that agency staff “initially became aware of the public confusion on this issue as a result of news stories and inquiries from reporters” covering the San Francisco controversy. He continued:
“As a result, OET staff reviewed the pages and determined that clarifications were appropriate, and initiated that effort. During the course of that effort, OET staff was advised that the CTIA had asked another [FCC] Bureau to review the same pages.”
Until the FCC changed its website, its advisory was closer to the language of several European governments that take a more precautionary approach to the issue. The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, for instance, urges:
"When buying a mobile phone, make sure it has a low SAR."
And Germany’s Federal Office for Radiation Protection advises (approximate translation):
“To minimize individual exposure: in situations where a landline is available, use a landline; use phones with low SAR value (<0.6 Watts per kilogram); make shorter calls or avoid making calls when reception is poor; use headsets; or send a text message instead.”
A number of other foreign governments have issued similar cautions.
The FCC has not made public a transcript of its officials’ meetings with industry representatives. Many questions remain unanswered about whether industry pressure succeeded in persuading government regulators to soften their position on cell phone radiation safety.
This much is certain. Agency officials met at least three times with industry. Public health and consumer representatives were not invited. After the third session, the FCC shifted its position to omit any mention of safety concerns about cell phones’ emissions level, as the industry has advocated.
Coincidence? You be the judge.
FCC documents obtained by EWG:
- FCC FOIA Response Letter
- FCC FOIA Response Documents #1
- FCC FOIA Response Documents #2
- FCC FOIA Response Documents #3
Cell phone radiation alters brain activity
Brain activity accelerates near cell phone antenna
Volunteer's brain scans, normal (LEFT) and after 50 minutes with an active cell phone on right ear, (RIGHT) show increased metabolic activity near phone's antenna. (ARROW) A team led by Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, used advanced imaging technology to monitor glucose consumed in the brain. Conclusion: weak cell phone emissions visibly changed brain activity. More studies are needed to determine health implications. Image source: JAMA
Washington, D.C. – A team led by Dr. Nora D. Volkow, a pioneering brain imaging scientist who heads the National Institute on Drug Abuse,has reported that cell phone radiofrequency radiation alters brain activity in human subjects.
The study, published by the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first investigation to document changes in brain glucose metabolism after cell phone use. In a video accompanying the report, Volkow said the team focused on how the brain consumes glucose because "It's a very sensitive marker to indicate if there are changes in brain activity that may be driven by a given stimulus, which in this case was the cell phone."
The conclusion, according to Volkow: "Even though the radio frequencies that are emitted from current cell phone technologies are very weak they are able to activate the human brain to have an effect."
"This research offers an important insight into potential effects of cell phone radiation on the human brain," Renee Sharp, director of the Environmental Working Group California office said. "It joins the growing list of studies that have raised concerns about cell phone use and the brain."
Cell phone radiation can change brain activity
Video produced by the Journal of the American Medical Association features Dr. Nora Volkow, a pioneer in the field of brain imaging, explaining how she and a team from the National Institutes of Health and Brookhaven National Laboratory investigated the impact of cell phone radiofrequency emissions on the brain. "We really know relatively little about the potential effects that cell phone technologies may have on how the brain works," Volkow says. To find out, researchers fixed cell phones to 47 volunteers' heads, then made PET scans of metabolic shifts in their brains. See the experiment here. Video source: JAMA
The study's authors, who are affiliated with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Brookhaven National Laboratory, wrote that "these results provide evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of RF-EMF [radiofrequency-modulated electromagnetic fields] from acute cell phone exposures." Volkow is recognized for using imaging to explore changes in the brain linked to addictive drugs, obesity, attention-deficit disorder and aging.
The research team explored the impact of cell radiation on the brain by placing cell phones on both ears of 47 healthy volunteers. The volunteers, seated in a darkened room, were directed to keep their eyes closed and remain still for 50 minutes. On the first day, both phones were turned off. On the second day, one was turned on.
The volunteers' brains were subjected to positron emission tomography, commonly known as PET scans, a medical imaging technology, to measure glucose metabolism. "Compared with no exposure, 50-minute cell phone exposure was associated with increased brain glucose metabolism in the region closest to the antenna," the study said.
The exact mechanism underlying these metabolic effects and their human health significance are still under investigation. Volkow and her colleagues theorized that the changes they observed could be due to "cell membrane permeability, calcium efflux, cell excitability, and/or neurotransmitter release." Significantly, they rejected the hypothesis that the changes were caused by tissue heating. This finding places them at odds with the cell phone industry, which acknowledges no effects but heating when the brain absorbs cell phone radiation.
While scientists continue investigating the question, EWG recommends cell phone users limit their exposure to cell phone radiation by taking easy steps such as getting a headset, using speaker-phone mode, keeping the phone away from their body, and looking for low-radiation phone models. Click for more tips https://www.ewg.org/cellphoneradiation/8-Safety-Tips
Link to full study: http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/305/8/808.short Volkow ND, Tomasi D, Wang GJ, Vaska P, Fowler JS, Telang F, Alexoff D, Logan J, Wong C. 2011. Effects of cell phone radiofrequency signal exposure on brain glucose metabolism. Journal of the American Medical Association 305 (8), in press.
5 Safety Tips for Cellphone Use
USE A HEADSET OR SPEAKER
Choose either wired or wireless. If you go wireless make sure to take your headset out of your ear when you’re not on a call. Use your phone in speaker mode.
WHEN IN USE, HOLD PHONE AWAY FROM YOUR BODY
Why? The amount of radiation absorbed by your head and body decreases dramatically with even a small distance. Don’t put the phone in your pocket or clip it to your belt, even when using your headset..
TEXT MORE, TALK LESS
Phones emit less radiation when sending text rather than voice communications.
CALL WHEN THE SIGNAL IS STRONG
Fewer signal bars mean the phone must try harder to broadcast its signal. Research shows that radiation exposure increases dramatically when cell phone signals are weak.
Don’t store your phone in your pocket (or under your pillow)
When a phone is on and not in use, it still sends out an intermittent signal to connect with nearby cell phone towers, which means radiation exposure is still happening.
Washington, D.C. -- After years of neglecting to update its scientific statements on cell phone radiation, the Federal Communications Commission, in an about-face, launched a review of its safety standards.
The Environmental Working Group has been calling for this basic step to ensure adequate public health protection since 2009.
The rules now in force for cell phone radiation were developed in 1996, based on research from the 1980’s. New research has rendered those studies obsolete.
“The FCC has been wearing a blindfold for more than a decade, pretending that while cell phones were revolutionizing how we communicate, the agency didn't have to take a hard look at what this meant for its so-called safety standards,” said Renee Sharp, director of Environmental Working Group’s California office and senior scientist. “This review is long overdue. It is impossible to imagine how the FCC will be able to retain its current standards, which allow 20 times more radiation to reach the head than the body as a whole, do not account for risks to children’s developing brains and smaller bodies and consider only short-term cell phone use, not frequent calling patterns over decades.”
In May of last year, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified cell phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use.
The WHO joins other scientific research bodies in raising concerns about the radiation from the devices, which have also been linked to sperm damage and other health effects.
In addition to calling for updated standards, EWG has lobbied for greater transparency in cell phone radiation exposure to consumers, supported right-to-know initiatives and recommended simple steps cell phone users can take to decrease their individual exposure, such as using a headset and texting rather than talking.
EWG, Public Citizen Back San Francisco Cell Phone Law
CONTACT: EWG Public Affairs 202-667-6982; [email protected]
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 2012
The Environmental Working Group and consumer advocate Public Citizen have filed a brief supporting San Francisco’s decision to require cell phone vendors to provide consumers with a one-page factsheet about potential health risks from cell phone radiation and advice on safer cell phone use.
CTIA-The Wireless Association, the cell phone industry’s leading trade group, is suing the city to prevent the law, enacted in July 2011, from being enforced. CTIA sued San Francisco over an earlier version of the law, enacted in July 2010, which the City subsequently amended.
EWG and Public Citizen’s brief argues that San Francisco can — and should — require cell phone companies to distribute cell phone radiation safety information to consumers at the point of sale. Recent scientific research shows a potential link between long-term cell phone use and increased cancer risks and other adverse health effects.
CTIA contends the ordinance violates the First Amendment — that cell phone companies should not have to disclose information they want to withhold — and disrupts a national regulatory framework overseen by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure cell phone safety. In October 2011, a district court judge ruled that the fact sheet, with a few minor changes, did not breach the companies’ First Amendment rights. The judge rejected the industry claim that San Francisco’s factsheet conflicts with federal law. Other provisions were struck down such as requirements that retailers place informational stickers on cell phones and informational posters in their stores.
CTIA appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is expected to hear the case in May or June.
EWG and Public Citizen have entered the lawsuit on behalf of San Francisco because of the organizations’ longstanding interest in using the power of information to protect public health. The Ninth Circuit’s decision could have potentially huge implications for future right-to-know laws regarding cell phone safety. EWG and Public Citizen contend that lawmakers should be able to require disclosure of basic facts about how to use consumer products safely, particularly when the public’s health is at stake.
- First Amendment not violated. Requiring retailers to distribute San Francisco’s factsheet about cell phones does not violate their right to free speech. San Francisco’s factsheet reflects accurate information about cell phone safety. Nothing in the ordinance requires retailers to agree with the content of San Francisco’s factsheet nor prevents them from distributing their own, possibly contrary views about cell phone safety. Existing case law allows the government to impose disclosure requirements that provide factual information about commercial products, particularly possible health and environmental effects are implicated.
- Federal law permits San Francisco’s actions. Neither Congress nor federal regulators have barred cities from passing laws requiring retailers to disclose basic information about potential risks from cell phone radiation and ways to reduce exposure. Although the FCC oversees federal regulation of cell phones, including setting their technical specifications, it is not a public health agency, nor does it pretend to be. San Francisco’s ordinance merely requires distribution of basic cell phone information in the interest of public health. Nowhere does it require that cell phones meet radiation standards more stringent than those set by the FCC. Therefore, San Francisco’s ordinance poses no conflict with federal cell phone regulations.
EWG and Public Citizen’s brief is available here.
EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C. that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. https://www.ewg.org
Frequently Asked Questions about Cell Phones
- What needs to be done to protect people from cell phone radiation, and how can I help?
- Do cell phones cause cancer?
- Does cell phone radiation lower sperm count?
- Are cell phones safe for children?
- Is cell phone radiation the same as radiation from an X-ray or a nuclear power plant?
- Is cell phone radiation the same as radiation from a microwave?
- Do cordless home phones give off radiation?
- Where is the EWG cell phone database?
- What are the best ways to reduce my exposure to cell phone radiation?
- Does radiation from cell phone transmission towers harm health?
- Are wireless or wired headsets better for reducing cell phone radiation exposures?
- Does the government regulate cell phone radiation?
- Would a radiation shield help reduce my exposure to cell phone radiation?
- Do cell phones emit radiation when they are on but not being used to text or talk?
- Can radiation emitted from one person's cell phone affect people nearby?
- Will using my phone in speaker mode reduce my exposure to its emissions?
- Does texting emit as much radiation as talking?
What should the government do? EWG recommends that the Federal Communications Commission update its regulations based on the latest scientific understanding of cell phone radiation risks. It should provide cell phone users with clear information about ways to reduce their cell phone radiation exposure.
Recent studies suggest that cell phones may cause health problems. Concerns about cancer and other health problems have spurred government agencies in six countries to issue warnings to consumers to reduce cell phone radiation exposures, especially for children. Yet the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, two U.S. government agencies charged with oversight of radiation-emitting devices, have not kept up with recent research on cell phone radiation. The FCC issued its cell phone regulations setting maximum radiation limits back in 1996, based on recommendations offered several years prior to that by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, an industry group. Those regulations hail from an era when people used mobile devices infrequently and when few children had access to cell phones. FCC rules are based on outdated safety assessments that considered short-term, not life-long, exposure to cell phone radiation. They do not calculate the extra risks to children, whose brains are still developing and whose skulls are thinner than those of adults.
The FCC and FDA should ensure that cell phone radiation limits protect children and others who are most vulnerable.
What should cell phone manufacturers and retailers do? The cell phone industry should test each phone’s radiation in real-life scenarios, with different providers and radiation frequencies, at varying distances from cell phone towers and during different forms of use – texting, making phone calls, surfing the Internet. This information must be disclosed to the public.
Independent researchers and scientific institutions must address the questions of cell phone radiation exposure and risks it may cause, so that society is not dependent on the limited data industry decides to release.
What can cell phone users do? You can protect yourself and your family by adopting straightforward precautionary steps to reduce exposures to cell phone radiation. The simplest step is to use your phone in speaker mode or with a headset. And please help us tell the FCC to update its cell phone radiation limits.
Last year, the World Health Organization classified cell phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer that the multinational INTERPHONE cancer study has associated with long-term cell phone use. Some studies have suggested an association between frequent, long-term cell phone use, salivary gland tumors and acoustic neuromas, tumors of the nerve that links the ear to the brain.
The WHO classification is based on the opinion of a panel of 31 scientists from 14 nations, convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The panel did not make a categorical judgment but took the existing data as serious warning signs and called for more research. “The conclusion means that there could be some risk,” explained panel chair Jonathan Samet, M.D., chairman of the preventive medicine department at the University of Southern California and an international authority on environmental causes of disease. “And therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.”
Not all studies have discerned health problems among cell phone users. Shorter studies, involving less than five years of cell phone use, typically have not reported elevated cancer risk. In contrast, studies that have looked at cell phone use over seven years or more have reported a risk. These results make sense. Cancer, particularly brain cancer, takes a long time to develop, often 20 years or more from the time a person is first exposed to something that may cause cancer. People began using cell phones about 20 years ago, so if cell phone radiation can cause cancer, studies may only now be able to detect the disease among long-time cell phone users.
Children may face even greater risks than adults, since their brains are still developing. Childhood exposure to carcinogens has been associated with cancer development later in life. There have not been any long-term studies of children’s exposure to cell phone radiation published to date.
Ten human studies conducted in the U.S., Australia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, South Africa and Turkey link cell phone radiation to significant decreases in sperm numbers, motility and viability. Learn more in EWG's report on the issue. More research is essential, but in the meantime, EWG advises men not to keep a cell phone in a pants pocket or on a belt while talking. The possible effects of cell phone radiation on women's reproductive health are not yet known; however, research on laboratory animals and studies on children whose mothers actively used cell phones during pregnancy suggest that caution is warranted.
Research groups around the world have concluded that current cell phone radiation limits may not protect children. These concerns have prompted the governments of Switzerland, Germany, France, Finland, Israel and U.K. as well as the European Parliament to recommend limiting children's cell phone use. They encourage children to keep phone calls short and to text instead of talk.
In 2008 the National Academy of Sciences published a comprehensive review of available studies on biological effects of cell phone radiation, asserting that the question of cancer was paramount. It recommended a study of childhood brain tumors, "owing to widespread use of mobile phones among children and adolescents and the possibility of relatively high exposures to the brain."
Children may be at greater risk from cell phone radiation because their bodies are still developing. Researchers in the U.S., France and Japan have reported that children's brains and bodies can absorb more radiation than those of adults. There have not been any long-term studies of children's exposure to cell phone radiation published to date.
Cell phones, X-rays machines and nuclear waste all emit electromagnetic radiation — energy in the form of electric and magnetic waves that travel together. The high-energy waves of X-rays and certain nuclear waste emissions can tear apart the body's molecules, including cellular DNA. The damage from this "ionizing radiation" leads to cancer and other illnesses if doses are high enough. Cell phone radiation is different. Its lower energy waves, called "non-ionizing," penetrate the body but lack the energy to break apart molecules. Scientists do not fully understand why cell phone emissions would cause cancer and changes in the body such as altered brain metabolism and damage to reproductive organs. Some hypothesize that the body may be damaged by cell phone radiation's ability to produce free radicals that can kill cells and cause disease. More research is needed to pinpoint how cell phone radiation could damage the body.
Microwave ovens use the same form of radiation as cell phones. Most microwave ovens operate at a frequency of 2.45 gigahertz. Bluetooth devices and many cordless phones use the same frequency range. Some radiation always escapes from microwave ovens during operation, although recent models emit less.
Your exposure to radiation from cell phones is very different from that experienced using a microwave oven. A person typically holds a cell phone next to his ear or in a pocket. Radiation is absorbed directly into the head, brain or soft tissue. In contrast, even when you stand near a microwave oven, there are inches or a foot or more between your body and the oven. Radiation weakens significantly across that air gap.
Distance matters. That's why EWG recommends you hold the cell phone away from your body when talking, whether with a headset or in speaker mode.
Cordless home phones give off radiation. Just as a cell phone communicates with a tower, a cordless home phone handset emits signals to the base station in your home. Like a cell phone, the cordless phone handset emits peak levels of radiation during a call. Some base stations emit radiation continually when the phone is off the base, whether you're making a call or not. Scientists have not yet determined the potential health implications of exposures to these sustained signals.
Cell phone network technology is rapidly changing, and that has a significant effect on user’s exposure to cell phone radiation. Yet the Federal Communications Commission does not require cell phone makers and service providers to make public data that accurately and comprehensively measure emissions by type of cell phone, network hardware and software, the user’s distance from a cell phone tower and other factors that come into play in the real world. The FCC’s inaction makes it impossible for EWG to present a cell phone database that accurately reflects how consumers are using today’s phones today.
EWG's researchers have developed six simple safety tips to help you reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation. Among the most important — use your phone in speaker mode or with a headset, hold the phone away from your body when you're using it, and make phone calls only when the connection is good.
Cell phones communicate via radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation. Cell phone towers send high-power signals that travel hundreds of meters to establish contact with individual cell phones. These signals essentially bathe the user's body in low levels of sustained radiation. Risks from these whole-body exposures may be very different from risks associated with concentrated, intermittent cell phone radiation that penetrates a small area of the head or another area of the body. Scientists do not yet understand the effects of long-term exposure to cell phone tower radiation because the necessary studies have not been completed.
The jury is out — but either type of headset is preferable to a phone held to the ear.
The governments of Switzerland, Germany, Israel and Finland and the European Parliament all recommend using a headset or an earpiece as a precautionary measure. But expert advice differs on the type — some recommend wired, some wireless.
A wireless headset such as one incorporating Bluetooth technology uses radiofrequency radiation to communicate with a cell phone. This is the same form of radiation emitted by cell phones. But the signal travels only inches from the Bluetooth headset to the phone, so wireless headset emissions are lower than emissions from a cell phone, which transmits to a distant tower.
Some wireless headsets emit continuously, even when you're not on a call. EWG recommends that if you use a wireless headset, take it off between calls.
Multiple research teams have found that corded headsets reduce the overall radiation exposure to the head. But some scientists report that the wire of a corded headset can act as a secondary antenna, transmitting some small amount of radiation toward the head of a user.
Whether you choose a wired or a wireless headset, don't keep an actively transmitting phone near the waist (such as in a front pocket or clipped to a belt.) In this case, radiation will be transmitted towards the torso and absorbed by internal organs. Ten studies now connect cell phone radiation to declines in sperm count and impacts to sperm health. The possible effects of cell phone radiation on women’s reproductive health are not yet known; however, research on laboratory animals and studies on children whose mothers actively used cell phones during pregnancy suggest that caution is warranted.
The Federal Communication Commission is responsible for cell phone certification, which means ensuring that cell phones on the market comply with the radiation limits established by the FCC in 1996. Yet, these limits have never been updated, even though a significant body of data indicates that they may not fully protect the public from radiation risks.
Government agencies in Germany, Switzerland, Israel, United Kingdom, France and Finland, the European Parliament, and multiple national and international organizations and scientific expert groups have recommended adopting a precautionary approach by taking steps to decrease exposures to cell phone radiation, especially for young children.
Radiation shields such as antenna caps or keypad covers reduce the connection quality and force the phone to transmit at a higher power with higher radiation. At the moment, public health agencies in the U.S. and other countries unanimously recommend against the use of such devices since they are untested and don't undergo government review.
When a phone is on and not in use, it send outs an intermittent signal to connect with nearby cell phone towers. The phone’s “check in” communication with the tower is significantly lower than the level of radiation used for actual conversation, but it never falls to zero. Because of this, EWG recommends against keeping a cell phone on the body. A handbag, briefcase or a nearby surface is probably a better place for a cell phone in the "on" position.
Yes, someone standing next to a person who is speaking into her phone is exposed to some radiation. The dose is significantly smaller than that to which the user is subjected.
Using the speaker mode is a good option for reducing radiation exposure. In general, holding the phone away from the head and torso is a safer choice. EWG recommends against holding a phone against the ear, in a pocket or on the belt where nearby tissues would absorb radiation.
Cell phones use less power and emit less radiation when they send text rather than voice signals. Texting keeps radiation away from your body.
Where is EWG's Cellphone Database?
The Environmental Working Group has decided to suspend its publication of Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) values of cell phones in light of rapidly transforming mobile technology and the cloak of secrecy around it.
When EWG published its ground-breaking 2009 report on cell phone radiation, publicly available data supported our view that a government-mandated measurement called the Specific Absorption Rate for individual phones was an important factor that influenced the user's radiation exposure. This finding was based on multiple studies conducted around the world – and multiple national health services that advised consumers to buy low SAR phones, even though experts recognized that SAR values are just one of the factors determining radiation exposure.
As EWG pointed out, in 1996 the cell phone industry persuaded the Federal Communications Commission that for local exposure, such as at the head, people could safely absorb up to 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg) of body weight of cell phone radiation. The FCC's decision was based on short-term exposures, usually less than an hour in duration. Moreover, the FCC's method for measuring SAR allowed 20 times more radiation to reach the head than the body as a whole and did not account for risks to children's smaller bodies.
In those days, people didn't spend much time on mobile phones, because the devices were pricey, airtime was exorbitant and texting was virtually unknown. Few people were thinking about the potential long-term impacts of children's cell phone use when a new phone cost $2,000. Times have changed. But the FCC's regulations have not. They have never been updated to reflect the new reality of frequent daily cell phone use that for most people would last for decades and cell phone use by children and teenagers.
In addition to SAR, other factors that could affect the intensity and duration of emissions to which a person is exposed include frequency at which the phone operates, connection strength and distance between cell phone and the user's body. Yet FCC does not require cell phone manufacturers to conduct real-life SAR measurements and to disclose this information. Consequently, cell phone users and independent researchers do not have reliable information about cell phone radiation under specific conditions of use.
Industry research that has belatedly become public has shown that a consumer using the same phone on two different 2G (second generation) network technologies – GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) vs. CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) – could be subjected to radiation levels differing by a factor of 30 or even 300 (Kelsh 2011). This study, conducted by the cell phone industry in 2005 and 2006 but released only in 2010, demonstrated that network differences were the key factor determining the user's exposure to cell phone radiation.
CDMA-based technologies, including the original CDMA and its variations such as UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunication System, 3G technology in mobile telecommunications) result in much lower user exposure to radiation (Georg 2006; Kühn 2009; Swiss Federal Office of Public Health 2011). In contrast, GSM, historically the world's most common 2G technology, is a higher-radiation technology (Ardoino 2004). According to studies that specifically focused on GSM, phones using this technology can emit the highest level of radiation during nearly half of the call time. In a multi-national study that involved more than 500 volunteers and 60,000 calls using GSM network technology, the average output power was 50 percent of the phones' maximum power level and ranged from 35 to 70 percent, depending on the country (Vrijheid 2009).
Yet despite these provocative finding, neither the industry nor other institutions followed up with published research on radiation levels in the next-generation network protocols that industry describes with a catchy title of Long Term Evolution, or LTE.
Cell phone makers are caught up in a race to produce faster, more powerful mobile devices – and no one is asking hard questions about the unintended consequences for human health of seemingly limitless growth of the wireless industry.
In the face of multiplying uncertainties, with virtually no data on network-dependent radiation levels, EWG has decided not to continue publishing its cell phone radiation guide. EWG intends this action as a statement of protest at the absence of authoritative, credible data that could help consumers make informed choices about the mobile communications devices they bring into their homes, schools and workplaces.