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Why Are Cell Phones Using the Wrong Safety Standards?

Why Are Cell Phones Using the Wrong Safety Standards?

Story at-a-glance -

  • The FCC’s existing cell phone certification process is designed by industry and uses a plastic model of the head based on a large adult male, which greatly underestimates radiation absorption for smaller mobile phone users, including children
  • Under the industry-designed process for evaluating radiation exposure from cell phones, children may absorb double the radiation in their heads, three times the radiation in their brain’s hippocampus, and up to 10 times the radiation to their bone marrow compared to adults
  • A superior computer simulation certification process with many times the resolution of the crude plastic head radiation assessment methodology has been approved by the FCC but is not used to certify cell phones, according to a new report
  • Using a cell phones carries proven health risks, including brain cancer; tips included below to help protect your family, including your children, from cell phone radiation risks

By Dr. Mercola

Over 5 billion people worldwide, about 80 percent of the world's population, now has a cell phone.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determines maximum allowed exposures from cell phone radiation, a determination that has the potential to impact public health on a massive scale, especially in light of increasing evidence that exposure to such radiation may cause cancer, brain changes and other health problems.

That the FCC is in charge of this regulation is in and of itself perplexing, considering the FCC states:

" … the FCC's primary jurisdiction does not lie in the health and safety area, and it must rely on other agencies and organizations for guidance in these matters."

Well, according to a new report by Om Gandhi, PhD, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Utah and colleagues, "Exposure Limits: The Underestimation of absorbed cell phone radiation, especially in children," the FCC standards are based on a one-size-fits-all-model that seriously underestimates RF exposures to those most vulnerable, including children.

Children Using Cell Phones May be Exposed to Double the FCC's RF Exposure Limit

According to the new report, absorbed cell phone radiation is seriously underestimated, particularly in children. This is because the cell phone certification process uses a plastic model of the head called the Specific Anthropomorphic Mannequin (SAM), representing the top 10% of U.S. military recruits, on which to base its measurements. Unfortunately, one mannequin head is not sufficient to represent an entire population, as obviously we all have different head sizes, especially children, and the model does not allow for variations in absorption among different tissues.

According to a press release about the study by one of the study's authors, Devra Davis, PhD of the Environmental Health Trust:

"The existing process is based on a large man whose 40 brain tissues are assumed to be exactly the same. A far better system relies on anatomically based models of people of various ages, including pregnant women, that can determine the absorbed radiation in all tissue types, and can account for the increased absorption in children. It allows for cell phones to be certified with the most vulnerable users in mind—children—consistent with the "As Low As Reasonably Achievable" (ALARA) approach taken in setting standards for using radiological devices."

As you might suspect, a head mannequin based on an adult male is going to yield different results than one based on a child, and this is what is so concerning. As is the fact that the method is based on a plastic head when a better method that better simulates actual biology impact is available -- See discussion of the FDTD (Finite Difference Time Domain) SAR assessment methodology which uses MRI-scans of a set of real human beings in different body sizes to determine the amount of radiation absorbed in every tissue (not just the brain) when exposed to a given phone at

According to the new report by Gandhi et al:

"The existing cell phone certification process … greatly underestimat[es] the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for typical mobile phone users, especially children. A superior computer simulation certification process has been approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) but is not employed to certify cell phones.

… Radiofrequency (RF) exposure to a head smaller than SAM will absorb a relatively higher SAR. Also, SAM uses a fluid having the average electrical properties of the head that cannot indicate differential absorption of specific brain tissue, nor absorption in children or smaller adults. The SAR for a 10-year-old is up to 153% higher than the SAR for the SAM model. When electrical properties are considered, a child's head's absorption can be over two times greater, and absorption of the skull's bone marrow can be ten times greater than adults.

Therefore, a new certification process is needed that incorporates different modes of use, head sizes, and tissue properties. Anatomically based models should be employed in revising safety standards for these ubiquitous modern devices and standards should be set by accountable, independent groups."

Alvaro Augusto de Salles, Ph.D., Professor, Electrical Engineering Dept., Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil and one of the paper's authors, says:

"The higher risk of tissue damage from common cell phone use demonstrated in this study, using the computer simulation method of SAR assessment, suggests prudent public health policies, globally, would call for cell phones to be manufactured without the ability to use the phone against the head, nor with a speakerphone, but only allow communication with a wired headset. This would dramatically lower risk of biological, and genetic, damage to the population, and to children and other especially vulnerable populations, such as pregnant women, by keeping the radiation, thereby, away from both the head and body."

In an interview with Camilla Rees of, de Salles said the reason a headset is preferable to using a speaker phone is because the battery uses more power when in speakerphone mode, increasing exposure to the battery's magnetic fields.

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Children Should Not Use Cell Phones

This new information reinforces the importance that children need to be protected from cell phones, not allowed to use them on a regular, or even limited, basis. If you are not yet aware of the increased risks to children from cell phones, I suggest viewing the following image, used with permission from the book Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side of the Wireless Revolution, which clearly shows the differences in depth of penetration between adults and young children.

cellphone radiation

This shows quite clearly that electromagnetic fields are likely to penetrate the brain far more deeply for children than adults. In fact, due to their thinner skulls, smaller brains and softer brain tissue, children are FAR more susceptible to damage from cell phone use than adults.

An excellent new report on risks to children was recently published by the Mobilewise charity in the UK, "Mobile Phone Health Risks: the case for action to protect children."  It includes a chart of more than 200 peer-reviewed studies from a range of research institutions that link mobiles to serious health problems. These include brain tumors and impact on fertility, genes, the blood-brain barrier and melatonin production, as well as other biological effects thought to have a role in the development of cancer. Endorsed by a number of prominent doctors and scientists, the Mobilewise report on the public health issue related to the impact on children highlights the body of evidence that has been "obscured in the debate over these risks," according to Vicky Fobel, Director of Mobilewise.

We encourage you to read this report, and to print the list of studies with summaries and links to the cited research, and to share these with your communities.

The powerful Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly has also echoed the warning I have been making for years now and concluded that evidence is strong enough to warrant immediate action to protect children and others from the potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation emitted by wireless devices:

"… non-ionizing frequencies, be they sourced from extremely low frequencies, power lines or certain high frequency waves used in the fields of radar, telecommunications and mobile telephony, appear to have more or less potentially harmful, non-thermal, biological effects on plants, insects and animals, as well as the human body when exposed to levels that are below the official threshold values.

One must respect the precautionary principle and revise the current threshold values; waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof can lead to very high health and economic costs, as was the case in the past with asbestos, leaded petrol and tobacco."

The European Council has taken the exemplary step of recommending that mobile phones and wireless networks be banned in classrooms and schools. They note, correctly, that young people and children are most vulnerable to emissions of electromagnetic fields and suggest the following:

  • " … develop within different ministries (education, environment and health) targeted information campaigns aimed at teachers, parents and children to alert them to the specific risks of early, ill-considered and prolonged use of mobiles and other devices emitting microwaves
  • " …ban all mobile phones, DECT phones or WiFi or WLAN systems from classrooms and schools, as advocated by some regional authorities, medical associations and civil society organizations"

Why You Need to be Careful With Your Cell Phone

I'm the first to acknowledge that the technology behind cell phones has changed the way many conduct business and interact with their friends and family on a daily basis. It's an incredibly convenient and useful technology, which is why it has exploded the way it has …But I'm also convinced, and suspect you'll agree, that these benefits are in no way worth it if they end up sacrificing your life or health to a brain tumor or other disorder!

Devra Davis, PhD of the Environmental Health Trust has written a new book - Disconnect - in which she exposes research showing that radiation from cell phones has been linked to:

DNA damage

Memory loss

Alzheimer's disease


Breakdown of your brain's defenses

Reduced sperm count

Even more revealing in Davis' book is her assessment of the "dark side" of the cell phone industry, and their attempts to keep cell phone dangers quiet. As TIME magazine reported:

"As Davis argues in some of the best passages of Disconnect, it could be that we haven't established the dangers of cell phone use because we haven't asked the right questions—and that might be on purpose.

"If you don't want to know the answer," Davis says, "don't ask the question." Much of the research into the biological effects of cell phone radiation has been underwritten by the... cell phone industry, and you don't have to be a raging paranoiac to wonder whether that money might have an impact on the conclusions of those thousands of studies."

It's worth remembering that the telecommunication industry is much larger than the medical industrial complex, and they have far more influence than the drug companies. They're also mirroring many of the same tactics as the tobacco industry to pedal their wares. This includes attempting to discredit researchers who publish unfavorable cell phone studies.

TIME reported:

"Davis shows that independent studies on cell phone radiation found dangers at more than twice the rate of industry-funded studies—though because the cell phone industry is the source of much of the funding of cell phone studies, there are far more of the latter.

… Time and again, she [Davis] shows the way that industry has been able to twist science just enough to stave off the possibility of any regulation—and finds that researchers are afraid of challenging the status quo, lest they find themselves suddenly out of a job, denied the lifeblood of research money.

Most of the few brave researchers who challenge the prevailing wisdom on cell phone radiation—like the electrical engineer Om Gandhi or the bioengineer Henry Lai—are senior scientists, secure in their positions and their tenure. But a young researcher just starting out is far more vulnerable to industry pressure. Science isn't as pristine as we imagine it."

As Cell Phone Dangers Become Apparent, Warnings Have Already Been Issued

Despite what you may have heard, the link between cell phone use and brain tumors is well substantiated and backed by more than 100 scientific studies. In 2008, Dr. Vini Gautam Khurana, a Mayo Clinic-trained neurosurgeon with an advanced neurosurgery fellowship in cerebral vascular and tumor microsurgery, concluded:

"There is currently enough evidence and technology available to warrant industry and governments alike in taking immediate steps to reduce exposure of consumers to mobile phone-related electromagnetic radiation and to make consumers clearly aware of potential dangers and how to use this technology sensibly and safely."

Several countries, including Finland, Israel and France, have already issued guidelines for safer cell phone use. The FCC, while distancing itself from any claims that cell phones cause health problems, also recently released steps you can take to reduce your exposure to radiofrequency energy from cell phones. However, it is important to note the FCC has not updated its consumer advice since the World Health Organization classified the radiation as a Class 2B Possible Carcinogen in May 2011.

The FCC requires cell phone manuals to contain guidance on how far away a cell phone should be from your body so the phone's radiation does not exceed federal 'thermal' (only) safety limits. This guidance is in small print and little known. It will surprise most users of cell phones to know that cell phones should not touch your body, but should be held some distance away from your ear or other body parts.

In San Francisco, meanwhile a Fact Sheet at the point of sale, titled "You can limit exposure to Radio-frequency (RF) Energy from your cell phone" may be required.The Fact Sheet, which was approved in San Francisco but is now being contested in court by the CTIA, and under injunction, includes recommendations on:

  1. Limiting cell phone use by children
  2. Using a headset, speakerphone or text instead
  3. Using belt clips and purses to keep distance between your phone and body
  4. Avoiding cell phones in areas with weak signals (elevators, on transit etc.)
  5. Reducing the number and length of calls

On October 4, 2011, however, the wireless industry association, the CTIA, filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the enforcement of San Francisco's "Cell Phone Right to Know" Ordinance, claiming the Ordinance "is barred under the First Amendment and conflicts with federal law governing the safety of wireless devicess" The City of San Francisco is now preparing to defend the legislation.

Andrea Boland, the Maine State Representative, also wanted warnings especially for children and pregnant women to keep cellular devices away from their head and body, but unfortunately a Maine legislative committee rejected her proposal, for now, citing "inconclusive studies" and a concern about "raising fear in people."

Boland said:

"Our cell phone warning label bill passed the Maine House of Representatives…

The Senate Majority Leader worked aggressively to defeat it, and succeeded … Clearly the choice was whether to protect the industry or the consumers."

The issue over what government agency truly has ultimate responsibility for assuring protective safety guidelines—the FCC or the FDA—is one that will surely come to a head, in due course. For now, what are known to be greatly inaccurate safety guidelines, based on the known biological effects, are what are being used to influence courts, at the expense of our health. 

Probing questions published by on this topic include:

  • If the FCC says it relies on the safety expertise of the FDA, and states it considered opinions from the FDA in setting its safety guidelines, but the FDA officially does not review the safety of radiation-emitting consumer products such as cell phones and PDAs before they can be sold, as it does with new drugs or medical devices, then where is the responsibility for assuring safety actually domiciled?
  • Has responsibility for ascertaining consumer safety potentially fallen through the cracks between these two agencies, resulting in a situation were proper protection of consumer health interests is not taking place?
  • On what basis does the FCC, a communications commission charged with regulating interstate and international communications, not a health agency, have authority to ascertain safety and establish safety guidelines, such as the SAR limit for cell phones, in the first place? On what basis has the FCC assumed this responsibility?
  • If the SAR value is a measure of the power or heating effects from a phone, and is a physics measure unrelated to biology, what regulatory agency is looking at the biological effects? This would include biological effects from all forms of radiation being emitted by a cell phone, including 1) the heating effects (that the SAR attempts to reflect), 2) the non-heating effects from the frequencies and modulation, and 3) the low frequency (ELF) fields emitted by the devices.
  • Why then do the present guidelines not address the non-thermal biological effects? Or the ELF Fields from the batteries?
  • What public health expertise, if any, exists at the FCC and who specifically set the current standards and what was their background in biology?
  • Research has shown source of scientific funding in this field influences outcomes. In determining SAR safety guidelines for cell phones, how much does the FCC rely on telecom industry funded science, as opposed to independent science where there would not be a commercial conflict of interest?
  • Given evidence exists showing that in certain amplitude windows a lower SAR value can result in greater brain effects than a higher SAR value (increased neuron death and blood brain barrier permeability, for example), suggesting some biological effects do not occur in a linear, dose-response manner. Thus, the SAR may be a wholly inadequate measure of safety on these grounds. Given this, and the fact that the SAR does not reflect either the non-thermal biological effects, or the ELF effects, why is the SAR used as a measure of safety?
  • Experts say a true biological standard for cell phone radiation exposure should be set, especially for children, elderly and vulnerable populations, instead of relying on estimates of safety based on a physics measure that only measures the heating effect. Is either the FCC or the FDA working on biologically based guidelines or even studying biological effects? What scientific experts with backgrounds in EMF effects on biology are Advisors to the FCC and FDA?
  • How is it that the FCC can state, "There is no scientific evidence to date that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer or a variety of other health effects, including headaches, dizziness or memory loss", when there is voluminous amounts of evidence showing that people are experiencing these problems as well as evidence of biological change at the molecular, cellular, organ, neurological and immunological levels? Is the FCC relying on telecom industry advisors in formulating the above statement who may perhaps have a commercial conflict of interest and not want the biological effects to be known?
  • Have the economic benefits to the U.S. government, in the forms of telecom industry corporate income tax, user taxes and fees, employment and social security taxes, jobs and job growth, employee income taxes, income taxes from landlords agreeing to place antennas on their property, spectrum license fees and more, unduly influenced government officials such that they have sacrificed public health to give the appearance of a stronger economy, when in fact the health consequences from cell phones and wireless technologies may ultimately burden the economy more than the short-term economic benefits?

We join and many other advocacy groups in calling on Congress to delve into the issue of FCC/FDA responsibility and accountability on matters of cell phone safety and to act to protect the public's health.

Use a Cell Phone? Here's How to Stay Safe

All the evidence points to the fact that our current safety standards are completely inadequate, so it's up to you to take measures to protect yourself and your children. While you can't completely avoid radiation in today's wireless world, you can at least minimize your exposure by heeding the following advice:

Children Should Always Avoid Using Cell Phones: Barring a life-threatening emergency, children should not use a cell phone, or a wireless device of any type. Children are far more vulnerable to cell phone radiation than adults, because of their thinner skull bones.

Reduce Your Cell Phone Use: Turn your cell phone off more often. Reserve it for emergencies or important matters. As long as your cell phone is on, it emits radiation intermittently, even when you are not actually making a call.

Use a Land Line at Home and at Work: Although more and more people are switching to using cell phones as their exclusive phone contact, it is a dangerous trend and you can choose to opt out of the madness.

Reduce or Eliminate Your Use of Other Wireless Devices: You would be wise to cut down your use of these devices. Just as with cell phones, it is important to ask yourself whether or not you really need to use them every single time.

If you must use a portable home phone, use the older kind that operates at 900 MHz. They are no safer during calls, but at least many of them do not broadcast constantly even when no call is being made.

Note the only way to truly be sure if there is an exposure from your cordless phone is to measure with an electrosmog meter, and it must be one that goes up to the frequency of your portable phone (so old meters won't help much). As many portable phones are 5.8 Gigahertz, we recommend you look for RF meters that go up to 8 Gigahertz, the highest range now available in a meter suitable for consumers.

Alternatively you can be very careful with the base station placement as that causes the bulk of the problem since it transmits signals 24/7, even when you aren't talking. So if you can keep the base station at least three rooms away from where you spend most of your time, and especially your bedroom, they may not be as damaging to your health. Another option is to just simply turn the portable phone off, only using it when you specifically need the convenience of moving about while on a call.

Ideally it would be helpful to turn off your base station every night before you go to bed.

You can find RF meters as well as remediation supplies at But you can pretty much be sure your portable phone is a problem if the technology is DECT, or digitally enhanced cordless technology.

Use Your Cell Phone Only Where Reception is Good: The weaker the reception, the more power your phone must use to transmit, and the more power it uses, the more radiation it emits, and the deeper the dangerous radio waves penetrate into your body. Ideally, you should only use your phone with full bars and good reception.

Also seek to avoid carrying your phone on your body as that merely maximizes any potential exposure. Ideally put it in your purse or carrying bag. Placing a cell phone in a shirt pocket over the heart is asking for trouble, as is placing it in a man's pocket if he seeks to preserve his fertility. (See's Letter to Parents on Fertility and Other Risks to Children from Wireless Technologies)

Don't Assume One Cell Phone is Safer Than Another: There's no such thing as a "safe" cell phone.

Keep Your Cell Phone Away From Your Body When it is On: The most dangerous place to be, in terms of radiation exposure, is within about six inches of the emitting antenna. You do not want any part of your body within that area.

Respect Others Who are More Sensitive: Some people who have become sensitive can feel the effects of others' cell phones in the same room, even when it is on but not being used.

If you are in a meeting, on public transportation, in a courtroom or other public places, such as a doctor's office, keep your cell phone turned off out of consideration for the 'second hand radiation' effects. Children are also more vulnerable, so please avoid using your cell phone near children.

Use Safer Headset Technology: Wired headsets will certainly allow you to keep the cell phone farther away from your body. However, if a wired headset is not well-shielded -- and most of them are not -- the wire itself acts as an antenna attracting ambient information carrying radio waves and transmitting radiation directly to your brain.

Make sure that the wire used to transmit the signal to your ear is shielded.

The best kind of headset to use is a combination shielded wire and air-tube headset. These operate like a stethoscope, transmitting the information to your head as an actual sound wave; although there are wires that still must be shielded, there is no wire that goes all the way up to your head.

I strongly urge you to take the above precautions to reduce your risk and the risk to your children, who are even more vulnerable to long-term damage. I also invite you to help raise awareness by sharing this information with your loved ones.