|Hidden health risk in mobiles: Phone giants accused
of burying warnings in small print
Mail | October 9, 2010
Mobile phone firms have been accused of concealing warnings about the health risks of using their handsets.
A warning that Apple’s popular iPhone should be kept at least 15mm away from the body is buried deep inside the manual.
BlackBerry goes even further, saying customers should use their devices hands-free or keep them an inch from the body ‘including the abdomen of pregnant women and the lower abdomen of teenagers’. Again, this advice is hidden in the instruction booklet.
All other manufacturers, including Nokia and HTC, carry similar small-print warnings despite insisting that holding mobiles against the ear and head is harmless.
Health campaigners and politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are calling for clear warnings to be put on handset boxes.
They are also demanding a public education campaign, starting in schools, to advise on the safe use of the devices.
Alasdair Philips, of Powerwatch, an independent group which investigates the safety of mobile phones, said: ‘Most people have no idea about these warnings.
‘The safety advice should be included on the boxes and far more prominently
in the “getting started” section of user guides and not just in the detail
at the back that hardly anyone reads.
The safety advice in manuals is designed to limit so-called Radio Frequency
exposure. This is said to heat body tissue and some – inconclusive – research
suggests it is linked to tumours in the brain.
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and keep at least 0.98in (25mm) from your body when turned on and connected
to the wireless network. Reduce call time.
Apple iPhone: When using near your body for voice calls or for wireless network data, keep iPhone at least 15mm (5/8in) away from the body and only use accessories that do not have metal parts. Again maintain at least 15mm separation from the body.
Nokia C6: Maintain a normal use position at the ear at least 15mm (5/8in) away from the body. Any accessory should not contain metal and should position the device the above-stated distance from the body.
Most RF exposure comes from the antenna and it can increase when a phone is kept in a pocket because phones increase their power output when a network signal weakens.
Men who carry handsets on their belt or in their pockets with the keypad facing outward will suffer higher exposure because the antenna, which is always at the back, is close to the body.
SAR – Specific Absorption Rate – is the standard industry measurement for the amount of RF energy the body absorbs.
Mr Philips said: ‘When a phone has to power up, it sends high SAR power into the trunk and towards the kidneys and liver. It can be the testicles if in a trouser pocket.
‘Some girls carry them in chest bags which hang just below their breasts. Breasts, eyes and testicles absorb external RF energy the most. Blood-rich organs, such as the liver, kidneys and heart are among the top energy absorbers.
‘The ovaries and foetus are relatively well protected by the trunk, but it obviously makes sense to keep the handset away from those areas, especially the foetus in the first six months. Many later-life causes of ill health are increasingly being recognised as having their roots in foetal exposure to chemicals, hormones, radiation of various sorts.’
He said most handsets also put out pulsed ELF magnetic fields which travel further into the body than RF signals. These are associated with childhood leukaemia and some adult cancers.
Caroline Lucas, Green Party leader and MP, said: ‘Greens have never said don’t use mobile phones, but we have always said that as with any other technology, we need to make people aware of any potential risks and give clear guidance regarding the safest possible use, so we can get the maximum benefit from the technology with the least possible risk.’
Mobile phone firms are legally required to advise customers on how to minimise RF exposure and use their manuals to do so.
Michael Milligan of the Mobile Manufacturers Forum said: ‘A mobile phone can always be used up against the head without the need for this separation, because phones are designed to have the antenna far enough away from the head when making a call.
‘Every mobile phone model is tested to make sure they meet national and international exposure limits for exposure to Radio Frequency emissions, before they can be sold in the UK or elsewhere.’
However, many new phones are so slim, antennas will be closer to the head than distances recommended by many manufacturers.