Life & Style

Our cellphones emit radiation—it’s important to know just how much and how to minimise exposure

- Pratima Adhikari, Kathmandu

Feb 5, 2019-

In 2008, the UK Post Office commissioned a survey to evaluate the effects of mobile phones on young people. The survey found that more than half of the people surveyed suffered from some kind of anxiety when they were without their smartphones. This anxiety was termed ‘nomophobia’ after ‘no-mobile phone phobia’, although its classification as a phobia has been contested.

This anxiety might not technically be a phobia but it is apparent in our everyday lives. We spend every day with our phones. It’s understandable, because in many ways smartphones are driving our lives. But in many other ways, we are consumed by our devices. Smartphones make our lives easier—we are more connected and better informed with smartphones in our hands. But at the same time, they are fuelling our addiction, so much so that we even sleep with our smartphones by our bedside.

But something we might not know is that smartphones are sources of radiation. Every phone manufactured for commercial sale has a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value, which determines how much radiation one is exposed to while using their smartphones. Radiation is not visible to the naked eye and long-term exposure to radiation can lead to health complications.


What exactly is an SAR value?

Smartphones use electromagnetic waves to communicate with cellular towers on a spectrum of radio waves. SAR is the rate at which a body absorbs energy when exposed to electromagnetic waves, like the ones that are radiated by smartphones. A SAR value is calculated in units of watts per kilogram but are measured in one gram or 10 grams of body tissue and then averaged out.

All governments of the world have established their SAR limits in order to determine what levels are safe for their citizens. This value differs from country to country. In the US, mobile phones should have 1.6w/kg or below whereas in Europe, the limit is 2w/kg; in India, it is 1.6 w/kg, which is being considered to be increased to 2w/kg.

SAR value is also affected by a number of things, like the usability of smartphones.  The older the smartphone gets, its SAR value surges. Also, it is affected by how frequently we use our devices as well. SAR value is also affected by how good the signal area is. For instance, a smartphone with lower SAR value emits more radiation when used in poor signal areas than a smartphone with high SAR value when used in normal conditions. But, in general, we consider phones with lower SAR value to emit less radiation than a smartphone with higher SAR value, with conditions applied of course.

However, it must be noted that SAR measures non-ionising radiation, which is different from cancer-causing ionising radiation that comes from x-rays and cosmic rays. According to the United States’ National Cancer Institute, “there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk in humans.” However, it doesn’t hurt to be safe.

How to check the SAR value

You can find various websites that list the SAR value of different handsets. It’s also inside the user guide of your device. So, maybe next time you get a new smartphone, turn the pages of your user manual and check how much radiation you will be exposed to. The information is also there on the website of your smartphone manufacturer. Similarly, in some phones, it’s right there in the settings menu, inside the ‘About phone’ section.

However, the bigger concern that remains is that as attached as we are to our smartphones, how can we protect ourselves from exposure to radiation? Although it’s impossible to completely wash out radiation, but there are certain activities that which we can minimise exposure and its consequences.

What can be done?

The first thing to do is to use smartphones that have lower SAR values, which you can easily check using the internet. Second, as radiation affects tissues in the brain, increasing the chances of cancer, the best remedy is to keep your smartphone away from your head as much as possible. This may seem impractical, given that smartphones are primarily used to make calls, but we can always switch to using headphones or going hands-free.

Also, very importantly, you should keep your smartphones at a considerable distance while sleeping. It’s better if you switch off your cellular devices or maybe put it on airplane mode. Its a common practice to place smartphones under our pillows during bedtime but that is exactly what we should not do.

Keep your phone away from your body as much as possible, carry it in your purse or in your bag and avoid carrying it in your pockets.

One unusual solution would be to just make fewer calls. One can switch to texting and make calls only when absolutely necessary. And as mentioned earlier, you should try not to make calls while your device is in weak signal areas. This is because while searching for network, the antennas of your smartphones keep producing radiation in order to get proper reception. And while you may not get better reception, you will certainly be exposed to a lot more radiation.

So, it’s vital to keep checking what our devices are doing to us, rather than just going on about usability. It is a common behavior for one to check the specifications or to compare on the basis of price, but it’s strange that we are not very concerned about the radiation levels of our phones.

Published: 05-02-2019 08:36

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