Cellphones

Are there health risks from cellphones?

Most research has investigated whether cellphone users have a higher risk of brain tumours.  Overall, the results show no increased risks in people who have used cellphones for up to fifteen years.  Some studies suggest that people who have used cellphones a lot for longer periods may have an increased risk, but the researchers warn that this finding might just be due to biases in the data rather than a real effect.  Brain tumour rates have not shown any obvious increases since cellphones were first used, and laboratory studies show no clear effects on cancer.  Recent reviews of the research generally conclude that the possibility of there being any risk is getting weaker as more research is carried out.  

How can I reduce my exposure to RF fields from a cellphone?

Apart from the obvious measures, such as using a conventional phone and limiting the length of time spent on calls, large reductions in exposures can be achieved very easily:
  • Use a hands-free kit or speakerphone, and keep the phone away from your body
  • Use a phone which connects to the network using 3G/UMTS/XT or 4G technology (note: you may need to adjust the settings on Vodafone or 2degrees phones so they always do this). 
Be wary of stick-on patches which claim to reduce exposure, as none has yet been found to do so.

Cellphones do not transmit unless they are on a call, except for very brief transmissions a few times an hour or when you travel, to keep in touch with the network.  Some data services (for example, automatically checking emails from time to time) also require brief transmissions.

Always check the user manual and follow any safety instructions about minimum separation distances between the phone and the body to ensure that exposures comply with recommended limits.

Should I let my children use a cellphone?

This is a decision that only you can make, but you could consider the following:
  • The maximum exposure to a child’s head is the same as for an adult (and complies with exposure Standards), but children do have higher exposures than adults in parts of the head close to the phone.
  • While only limited research has been carried out on the effects of exposures on children, results to date give no obvious indication that there are any ill effects.
  • Typically, the power output from a phone using 3G/UMTS/XT or 4G technology is lower than from a cordless phone.
  • There may be advantages in your child having a phone (eg contact in case of emergencies) and there may be disadvantages (eg “text bullying”).
How can I find the exposure from my cellphone?

Exposures from a cellphone are quantified as the Specific Absorption Rate - SAR - the amount of power absorbed when the phone transmits at full power.  It is not a good indicator of exposure when the phone is in use, because the phone automatically reduces its power so as to be just sufficient to maintain its link to the nearby base station (cellsite).  The mobile phone network you connect to may have a bigger influence on your exposure than the SAR of the phone.  Phones operating in 3G/UMTS/XT mode typically transmit at around 1% of the power at which SAR tests are made, so the exposure will be one one-hundredth of the SAR figure reported.  

Having said that, SAR information  should normally be given in the phone manual, with other safety information. Otherwise you could look at the manufacturer's website.  The SARtick website, which is run by the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, has links to several sources, as well as some manufacturer's websites.    

Other areas of this site with relevant information are:
Last updated: 10 April 2015