Chapter 1 cover

Chapter 1

What is mobile phone radiation

Mobile phones are considered a necessary electronic device, so it is important to understand how they emit radiation

About radiation

All electronic devices contain information which warns against keeping your device in direct contact with your head or body. 1 Few people are aware of this and even fewer follow the instructions provided.

By reading this online guide you will learn about mobile radiation and its adverse effects on both health and the environment, as proven by worldwide scientific research.

Non-ionizing (electromagnetic) radiation or NIR is omnipresent. Mobile phone users in particular should be aware that electronic devices emit non-ionizing radiation, which may have some negative effects on their health. 2

More information about radiation and the impact on human health can be found in our sections on health effects and the state of research. This guide is not a deterrent, we don’t want you to stop using electronic devices or WiFi connections. Our aim is to help you understand the kind of radiation you are exposed to every day. We simply hope to encourage a more conscious use of electronic devices.

Lower frequency radiation

Lower frequency radiation is generated by a laptop's internal parts, such as the hard drive.

Higher frequency radiation

Higher frequency radiation is emitted by the transmitters of the laptop when it tries to connect with a WiFi network, wireless devices or Bluetooth receivers.

Non-ionizing radiation

Non-ionizing radiation is located at the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum and is a form of low-energy radiation. This kind of radiation is also known as extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation. Non-ionizing radiation differs from ionizing (IR) radiation because non-ionizing radiation doesn’t carry enough energy to break molecular bonds and ionize atoms, ionizing radiation does.

What the expert says:

We are in the midst of a paradigm shift when it comes to our understanding of the biological effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic frequencies generated by our use of electricity, electronics and wireless technology. Ionizing radiation (IR) has enough energy to break chemical bonds and is known to cause cancer. However, because nonionizing radiation (NIR) lacks this energy, it was assumed that these lower frequencies cannot be carcinogenic. This concept is based on a flawed assumption. NIR can and does cause cancer not by increasing the production of free radicals but by interfering with the repair mechanisms that neutralize free-radicals. While the mechanisms differ, the consequences of both NIR and IR are the same–oxidative stress resulting in cellular damage including cancer. 3

Dr. Magda Havas, 2017,
Associate Professor of Environmental & Resource Studies at Trent University

People are exposed to ELF radiation emitted by natural (e.g. sun, soil) or artificial sources (e.g. mobile phones, laptops). All of these electronic devices emit radio frequency radiation.

It is common knowledge that radiation has always been a natural part of the environment. 4, 5, 6, 7 Radiation is energy that comes from a specific source and is able to penetrate various materials. The sources of radiation are divided into two main categories: natural and man-made.

All living things on Earth are exposed to a background level of radiation from naturally occurring substances both on Earth and in space. For example, we can name terrestrial radiation (which can be found in soil) and cosmic radiation, from the Sun (and other sources).

Man-made radiation has been emitted for about 150 years since the inventions of the industrial revolution went into widespread use, now we’re part of the digital revolution. Artificial sources of radiation are claimed to be responsible for about 21% of the total exposure. An even higher level of exposure (50%) may affect industrialized countries due to the more widespread access to technology. 8

Radiation in your home

Households are filled with electronic devices that emit radiation, e.g. mobile phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, microwaves and wireless routers. Smartphones are considered to emit the largest amount of electromagnetic radiation. 9

Radiation on the street

Electromagnetic radiation is also present outdoors. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun is not the sole source of radiation. 10 The widespread use of mobile phones and wireless networks made it necessary to build all kinds of transmission towers, including AM, TV and cell towers. The omnipresence of WiFi (in offices, coffee shops, restaurants etc.) is also increasing the level of your radiation exposure outdoors.

What the expert says:

Radio frequency energy is another word for microwave radiation. If people understood that they were holding a two-way microwave-radiating device next to their brain or next to their reproductive organs, they might think differently about it. 11

Dr. Devra Davis, 2012,
(American epidemiologist, co-founder of the Environmental Health Trust)

What is the SAR value of your phone?

Electronic devices emit non-ionizing radiation which can be measured to determine a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). SAR shows the amount of radio frequency (RF) energy that is absorbed by your body. Each smartphone has a specified SAR value. Information about its level can be found in a device user manual, in the mobile phone’s settings or in the online SAR database.

While talking on the phone, we are exposed to NIR radiation. It is generated by the transmission of signals between the mobile phone and the mobile base station. Your phone needs to use high-frequency electromagnetic fields to transmit voice and data. While talking on a mobile phone, some of the energy from these fields penetrates the head.

Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) shows how much radiation was emitted by the phone and absorbed by the tissues; it shows the degree of warming that occurred. SAR refers to the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed by the human body when using a mobile phone. It is the speed with which the radiation emitted by the smartphone is absorbed by the body. The lower the SAR value, the better.

How do we measure the SAR value?

Mobile phones are required to be tested for their specific absorption rate (SAR) before going on sale. In the USA, the maximum level allowed by the FCC is 1.6 watts per one kilogram of bodyweight. In Europe, the SAR limit recommended by the Council of the European Union (EU) is 2.0 W/kg. 12, 13, Variations of scales in the USA and the EU appear because of the slightly different ways of measuring SAR levels.

Specialists use a standardized or phantom model of the human head and body to measure SAR values. The phantom body parts are filled with liquids which simulate the radio frequency absorption characteristics of the human tissues. The fluids are frequency-dependent, so a standardized fluid for a measurement at 1800 MHz will be different to a measurement at 900 MHz.

Mobile phones are placed in various positions next to the model of a head or body. The mobile phones operate on the highest power level. Simultaneously, the electric field is measured by a robotic probe at specific locations. The radiofrequency energy penetrating the phantom is monitored by probes which measure the SAR in watts per kilogram of tissue. The highest SAR values for each frequency band are included in the final results.

Measuring mobile phone radiation

The method of measuring SAR values is controversial because the positioning of the model mobile phone could never truly reflect real life. The tested mobile phone is placed at a distance of 15-25mm to the phantom which does not resemble the actual manner of holding a mobile phone during use. 14 Each phone is designed to use the minimum power required to reach the network so the actual SAR level of the mobile phone should be below this value.

In order to demonstrate compliance with the FCC rules 15 it is required to use the appropriate measurement methods. They are specified in a section of the FCC website. The same is true when it comes to meeting the requirements of other organizations in different countries, e.g. the European Union. There are many companies who specialize in measuring SAR. Using up to date and ever improving technology is crucial. Even the newest solutions are based on international standards. Measurements are provided for the frequencies between 150 MHz and 6 GHz but with some systems it can start at 30 MHz. 16

  1. Samsung (2014) Check the SAR value [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 11.07.2018)

  2. Khazaei, S. et al. (2016) The Relationship Between Mobile Phone Use and the Risk of Cancer [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 30.01.2018)

  3. Havas, M. (2017) Carcinogenic effects of NonIonizing Radiation: A Paradigm Shift [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 06.02.2018)

  4. Siemens Healthcare GmbH (2018) Radiation Sources [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  5. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2008) Natural Background Sources [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  6. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (2011) Natural and Man-Made Radiation Sources [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  7. Mirion (2014) Man-Made Sources of Radiation [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  8. Medical Radiation (2012) Man-made radiation [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 22.08.2017)

  9. Burrell, L. (2010) ElectricSense: How To Measure Radio Frequency (RF) Radiation In Your Home [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  10. Moskowitz, J. M. (2017) Cell Tower Health Effects [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  11. Mercola, J. (2012) Dr. Mercola Interviews Devra Davis on the Dangers of Cell phones [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  12. FCC (2016) Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) For Cell Phones: What It Means For You [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  13. Samsung (2014) Check the SAR value [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  14. FCC (2016) Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) For Cell Phones: What It Means For You [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 26.07.2017)

  15. FCC (Unknown) Equipment Authorization - Measurement Procedures [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 09.08.2017)

  16. Verkotan (Unknown) Accredited SAR Testing for CE mark and FCC certification [Online] "/>
    (Accessed: 09.08.2017)