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Thinking out Digital Loud

Some years back, singer Sheryl Crow, during an interview on syndicated talk show hosted by Katie Couric said that she “suspects that the benign brain tumor she has may have been caused by her cell phone.” She did admit that no doctors would confirm it.

Concerns about radiation are not limited to mobile phones and certainly not something new. For decades the high tension power lines that crisscross countryside in many parts of the world have concerned some about the potential impact of long-term exposure to radiation emanating from the wires.

Fast forward to these days where our bodies are constantly exposed to some form of radiation, outside of the sun and the office lights – yes light is a form of radiation. The one that you are I should be aware of are the low-frequency radiation emanating, also called ow-dose electromagnetic field (EMF) from Wi-Fi routers in the office, home and many public places, as well as our mobile devices and the service providers that connect us to others and the internet.

Surveys suggest that the mobile device is now the indispensable accessory we bring everywhere we go (even the toilet but I guess not the shower). Years ago there were concerns raised about the radiation that each phone emits and receives – remember a smartphone has a number of antennas built into the device emitting and receiving radio signal of some frequency.

The Statista infographic shows the phones that emit the most radiation when held to the ear while calling. According to the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz) the record holder for highest level of radiation – can I say radioactive? – is the 5T from OnePlus. Nine of the 15 smartphones are from Chines brands. Should I wear “radiation-shield underwear” given I use the Huawei Mate 8? Apple fanboys shouldn’t be celebrating since their gadgets, iPhone 7 and 8, are also on the top.

Statista’s Mark Armstrong writes that “while there is no universal guideline for a 'safe' level of phone radiation, the German certification for environmental friendliness 'Der Blaue Engel' (Blue Angel) only certifies phones which have a specific absorption rate of less than 0.60 watts per kilogram. All of the phones featured here come in at more than double this benchmark.”

Figure 1: Phones emitting most radiation

Source: German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, Statista 2018

So what am I suggesting here? If you are concerned about EMF radiation and its long-term effects on our bodies, you have two options: reduce your phone usage. Would buying protective anti-radiation gear help? The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), citing World Health Organization report on persistent anti-radiation scams, does offer a few tips for concerned people.

The FTC warned that devices that reduce exposure to these EMF emissions “may interfere with the phone's signal, cause it to draw even more power to communicate with the base station, and possibly emit more radiation.”

So will I give up my Huawei Mate 8? I doubt it! Will I switch off the Wi-Fi router at home? Hell no! Should I take any precaution about low level EMF? Just some sensible precaution perhaps – like not sitting all day next to a Wi-Fi router.