If you want to minimise your radiation exposure, keep your Apple iPhone 11 Pro away from your body
RF Exposure Lab in San Marcos, California, has found that the iPhone 11 Pro produces more than double the FCC’s permissible radiofrequency radiation safety limit from a cell phone. The testing builds on the Chicago Tribune’s previous investigative work, which also found an iPhone 7—and other smartphones— overflowing federal radiation levels. It all points to how old the test standards of the FCC for radiofrequency radiation are — as they are and should be updated much older than our smartphones.
The lab discovered the smartphone exposes users to a specific rate of absorption — how much a human body absorbs the radiofrequency energy. — of 3.8 watts per kilogram. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has meanwhile set a maximum exposure rate of 1.6 watts per kilogram.
This is cause for concern, considering that since 2011 the World Health Organization has identified RF radiation as a potential carcinogenic to humans. In animal studies, the National Institutes of Health have found “clear evidence” that RF radiation causes cancer. Besides, the exposure was associated with headaches, sleeping, memory, behaviour, learning, vision, and lower sperm counts.
Why the Differences? Okay, for one thing, mobile phone testing is self-regulated, meaning that “the manufacturer sends a phone for testing to an independent laboratory, and if the phone passes, the FCC approves the release device,” said Ryan McCaughey, CTO of Penumbra Brands’, who funded the research, in a prepared statement. “However, when we bought an iPhone ‘off-the-shelf’ and tested it the same way, RF Exposure Lab found it fails the FCC’s safety limit,” McCaughey further added.
Such is the case of an investigation into the Chicago Tribune before August 2019, which inspired the study sponsored by Penumbra. The Tribune found that the iPhone 7 similarly doubled the radiation rate the FCC considers safe for use, and other smartphone manufacturers, such as Motorola and Samsung, also exceeded the safety limit.
The real reason behind the conflicting results likely is that the FCC guidelines for setting safe radiofrequency levels are old.
“FCC limits are more than twenty years old,” McCaughey told IEEE Spectrum. “Some might argue that the cap is antiquated at this level.” About 25 years ago, he said, the FCC set its radiofrequency radiation guidelines well before smartphones were even a thought.
The Specific Absorption Rate at the heart of the problem is not an accurate reflection of how people are using their smartphones. The FCC sets the measurement at five millimetres from the body, which may seem similar, but only two millimetres from your skin is a mobile phone in your pocket. That means that tests carried out on devices from a distance of five millimetres in practice could be considerably inaccurate.
The FCC doesn’t necessarily recommend that you burn your new iPhone to protect yourself and trade it in for another device. After all, most phones will not always run at their highest power potential, so measurements of radiation are somewhat unpredictable.
Instead, if you want to minimise your radiation exposure, keep your Apple iPhone 11 Pro away from your body (especially your head) by using the speaker while talking, or some other hands-free device, such as AirPods. On top of that, don’t hold your mobile phone in your pocket, and if you’re in a low service area and have, say, one service bar, wait until later to make a call— your device will use more power to try and reach reception, raising the radiation production.