Radiation is like the wind: Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. And in the case of microwave radiation, like the kind found in smartphones, it’s literally everywhere you look. Because our eyes can only see a select amount of frequencies like color, the radiation from our phones appears invisible. As anyone living in today’s hyper-connected society can tell you, however, the effects are anything but.
But all benefits tend to come with drawbacks, and phone radiation is no exception. Too much radiation is dangerous for human health, so as a result, the federal government published safety standards on the acceptable amount a human body can tolerate. This means manufacturers must adhere to these standards for every product they make, or risk putting customers at risk.
Despite the letter of the law spelling out how much radiation is legal for phones to emit, researchers and journalists have discovered some of the most popular brands on the market are not adhering to federal safety standards. If you use any of these phones in your daily life, here’s what you need to know about their effects on your health and well being.
Multiple popular phones bypass FCC radiation limits
According to an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, several phones released by major manufacturers like Apple and Samsung in the last three years are not adhering to safety standards published by the FCC for radiation.
The FCC ranks microwave radiation by a measurement called a “Specific Absorption Rate” or SAR, and after performing tests with the help of a radiation lab in California, the Chicago Tribune found that five out of the 11 phones they tested showed radiation leakage far higher than the FCC’s allotted amount.
The 11 phones tested included both iPhones and Samsung Galaxy models. Of the phones tested, the iPhone 7 was the worst offender with a SAR nearly four times higher than what the FCC allows. Other models with poor scores included three recent Samsung Galaxy units, with the S8 showing the highest levels of absorption from inside of a pants pocket.
In response to the tests, both Apple and Samsung claimed that the Chicago Tribune tests are not up to the same standards as their own laboratory tests and that the results are invalid. They insist their products adhere to FCC standards and dispute the claims made by the Tribune.
Should I dump my phone to be safe?
Before donning a hazmat suit and encasing your smartphone in a concrete sarcophagus, there are a few things you need to know about the FCC radiation standards as they apply to smartphones. The FCC sets its limit intentionally low in order to provide a buffer for manufacturers and customers.
According to the FCC, adverse health effects can only be seen when radiation is around 50 times higher than the current safety standards. The worst performers of the Tribune’s tests only leaked radiation about four times higher, putting it clearly outside of the danger zone.
Even still, the fact that a journalistic outlet discovered these products we use every day aren’t meeting government standards is a bit sobering. In fact, the FCC has vowed to perform tests of its own in the coming years and is even considering revising the safety standard to a more manageable number for both consumers and manufacturers.
Sadly, the diverging consensus from phone makers and journalists isn’t too comforting. If you are still concerned about your phone’s radiation levels, turning your device off when not in use is a great way to give yourself peace of mind. If the device isn’t powered on, it can’t emit radiation by design.
Thankfully, nobody seems to have sprouted extra limbs from using an iPhone in the past decade, so we’re probably on the safe side for now. Thank goodness for that buffer zone, FCC.
Perhaps action from the government will be enough to wake up manufacturers so they’ll prioritize consumer safety over minor yearly product releases. Especially in light of 5G, which is an even higher frequency signal, this kind of oversight is long overdue.