The World Health Organisation recently announced it found no evidence – in 15 years of scientific studies – that exposure to radio frequencies from transmitters (such as mobile phone towers) increased a person’s cancer risk. It has also said “present scientific information does not indicate the need for any special precautions for use of mobile phones”.
This is encouraging. The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (www.amta.org.au) considers all mobile phones equally safe if they are under the independently tested Australian safety limit of two watts a kilogram (averaged over 10 grams), yet working on the premise that less is best, I prefer to choose one that’s lower in emissions.
What do these emissions mean? Randal Markey, the association’s communications manager, says “comparing SAR values is not like comparing, for example, energy efficiency stars on electrical appliances. A phone’s maximum SAR is always below safety standards, but varies widely during everyday use, whereas the energy efficiency of electrical appliances is largely stable.
“Mobile phones automatically adjust to the minimum power level needed to successfully connect and maintain a quality call. This allows them to operate more efficiently to preserve battery life, increase talk time and reduce network interference. Generally, the closer you are to a base station, the lower the output of the phone and studies have shown this is the most significant factor in real-life SAR levels.”
Kelly Parkinson, a SAR expert within AMTA, says a study in Paris showed the mobile was mostly operating at only 1 per cent of full power – in which case “you can be sure that the SAR will be very low”.
He says SAR is not the best measurement for safety, noting that the World Health Organisation recommends the hands-free kit as the best way to reduce emission exposure.
“For every unit of distance [the aerial is] away from your head the emission level drops off twice as much,” he says. “So distance is a very critical factor.”
For most people, this would be enough to make them comfortable with buying whichever phone takes their fancy. If, however, you’re still paranoid like me and want that lower SAR rating, you’ll need to do a bit of legwork.
Once you’ve selected your mobile provider – or have decided you don’t want to change – make a short list of phones that best suit your needs and budget. With any luck, there won’t be more than two or three different makers involved.
Websites such as SAR Shield (www.sarshield.com), which sells radiation shields for mobile phones, and the Mobile Manufacturer’s Forum (www.mmfai.org) detail the level of emissions from a wide range of phones. However, our newer mobiles take a little while to get listed on these overseas sites.
Don’t waste time on mobile phone company websites looking for SAR information. It’s usually there somewhere, but it’s faster to phone the companies direct. Nokia, for example, has a separate web address devoted to SAR results (www.sar.nokia.com/sar/index.jsp) – you select the model number and are given the details immediately. Motorola, Samsung and Sony Ericsson are also able to produce information.
For further information, see the Mobile Telephones and Health Effects page of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (www.arpansa.gov.au/is_phone.htm).