Does mobile phone use increase the risk of brain cancer? Possibly, concluded the International Agency for Research on Cancer – part of the World Health Organization – in a headline-grabbing report in 2011. And the jury is still out.
While there is no clear evidence that mobile phones are a health hazard, it can’t hurt to take steps to reduce your radiation exposure, according to German radiation expert Jan Henrik Lauer, since “risks from long-term use of wireless devices cannot be ruled out at this time.”
Mobile phones use radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields to send and receive voice and text messages. Though they don’t notice it, users absorb this energy at a rate known as the specific absorption rate (SAR).
In most countries, these values must be listed on every mobile phone and tablet computer. Two values are usually listed: the SAR when the phone is held against the head, and when it’s carried on the body.
Modern phones are lower in RF emissions than older devices, “partly due to their design,” explains Lauer. “Because of their larger displays, there’s more space between the SAR sensor and the antenna, which is often built into the lower part of the casing. This lowers the measured SAR value.”
Although manufacturers of some mobile phone cases and covers claim they shield users from RF emissions, “these accessories cause the phone to increase its transmitting power in order to hold the connection, resulting in higher emissions,” says Bernd Theiss, chief tester for connect, a German tech magazine.
Some simple measures can significantly reduce RF exposure. The main thing is to have a mobile phone with as low an SAR rating as possible. Devices under 0.6 W/kg are regarded by experts as having low emissions. About 55 per cent of mobile phones currently on the market fit into this category.
Lauer suggests minimizing RF exposure by using a landline instead of a mobile phone as often as possible.
When in operation, the antenna should be kept as far from your head as possible, so it’s advisable to use a headset. And when you’re not using the phone, you shouldn’t carry it on your body.
“Every time you double your distance from the antenna, you reduce your radiation exposure to a quarter of what it was,” Theiss says.
So it’s not a good idea to place a device on the nightstand next to your pillow. And if you use the phone as an alarm, the experts recommend that you activate flight mode.
Since mobile phones reach their maximum radiated power in areas where reception is poor, you should avoid phoning or using the internet in such areas – for example in a car or train going through a tunnel.
And if you can, use a wireless connection via WLAN or Bluetooth – these have much lower radiation than a normal wireless connection.