Top-rated cell phones also rank high in radiation emissions

Environmental activist group lists popular cell phones that emit high levels of RF radiation

An environmental activist group has issued its latest list of popular cell phones that emit comparatively high levels of RF radiation, though all are within federal limits.

The press release and full report on new 2010 cell phones by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), based in Washington, D.C., are intended in part to highlight the fact that technology writers and product reviewers rarely evaluate radiation emissions when rating cell phones.

The press release singles out four recent, well-reviewed cell phones: Motorola Droid, Blackberry Bold 9700, LG Chocolate Touch and HTC Nexus One by Google.  “EWG has found that all four phones’ emissions are pushing the edge of radiofrequency radiation safety limits set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),” according to the group’s press release. A separate document, “Cell Phone Radiation Science Review,”  charges, among other things, that “Current FCC standards fail to provide an adequate margin of safety for cell phone radiation exposure and lack a meaningful biological basis.”

EWG has prepared a list of low-emission cell phones, contrasting it with a list of the top-rated cell phones and their corresponding emission levels.

Some phone manufacturers have extensive, accessible online information about phone emissions, such as Nokia, while others have sparser or less accessible data. But emissions data on all cell phones in the U.S. are maintained in a public database by the Federal Communications Commission. It’s a cumbersome, two-part query and you need to have the “FCC ID” number that’s on the phone. Often, this means removing the battery cover or even the battery pack itself.

The FCC safety limits are based on what’s called the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which the agency defines as “the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone.” It measures the energy in watts, per kilogram (of body weight).  The FCC has a SAR Webpage, and a link there to the searchable database. EWG has created its own listing of currently available U.S. cell phones, and their SAR data.

According to the FCC, “Any cell phone at or below these SAR levels (that is, any phone legally sold in the U.S.) is a ‘safe’ phone, as measured by these standards. The FCC limit for public exposure from cellular telephones is an SAR level of 1.6 Watts per kilogram (1.6 W/kg).”

Using the FCC’s data, EWG finds that the four phones (others are listed in the press release) have SAR levels close to the FCC maximum: Droid, 1.50 W/kg; Nexus One, 1.39; Bold 9700, 1.55, and LG Chocolate Touch, 1.46.

As recently as September 2009, the CTIA, a group of wireless industry vendors, reiterated its position that several government and other groups have sifted the evidence and “have all concluded that the scientific evidence to date does not demonstrate any adverse health effects associated with the use of wireless phones.”

Another industry group, the Mobile Manufacturers’ Forum notes on its SAR Web page that SAR testing is done in laboratory conditions using the maximum power of the phone. “However, the actual SAR level of the phone while operating can be well below this value,” MMF notes.  “This is because the phone is designed to use the minimum power required to reach the network.  Therefore, the closer you are to a base station, the more likely it is that the actual SAR level will be lower.”

According to EWG, “Scientists around the world are conducting studies to address the outstanding questions on human health effects of radiofrequency radiation. In the meantime, EWG recommends that cell phone users buy phones with low emissions.”

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