My friend who is the father of two little boys told me the other day over lunch how he constantly worries about his children being glued to his mobile phone. ‘I wonder the effect it is having on them.’ He tells me with a worried face.
Is my friend just being a paranoid father? If I didn’t know better I would have thought so too. But as he ate his lunch, he told me that a salesperson at a store gave him the ‘magical mantra.’ I looked at him with a questioning glance and asked him what the ‘magical mantra’ was.
He suggested that I buy a low SAR value mobile phone. While I was impressed with the sales person’s knowledge, I did not have the heart to tell my friend that his ‘magical mantra’ was flawed and would not work.
After getting back home, I went straight to my computer to put together the first sentences of this blog post that would walk through all the important things you need to know about SAR value. So let’s go!
Understanding the basics: SAR Value? What’s that?
The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value is the amount of radio frequency energy that the human body absorbs when it comes in touch with devices such as mobile phones. Most people out there (like my friend) believe that it is the amount of radiation the device emits which is harmful for health. This is a misconception.
The SAR value is measured in watts/kilogram. All mobile phones are tested for SAR value to meet national and international guidelines, which in the US is 1.6 W/kg and in Europe is 2.0 W/kg. India, currently, abides by the US standard.
How is it measured for mobile devices?
The SAR value of a mobile phone is measured in a laboratory with specialized equipment. A human phantom, radio frequency sensors, mobile phone holder and a precision robot are used to test a mobile phone for its SAR value. The device is put against the head of the human phantom and turned to its maximum power as in the picture below.
Source: EMF explained series website
Why is SAR value important to me?
All mobile devices emit electromagnetic radiations that are harmful for the human body. These radiations can have thermal effects (due to the heat produced by these radiations) and non-thermal effects (like fatigue, sleep disturbances, dizziness and loss of mental attention to name a few.)
Most of the reputed smartphone manufacturing companies take care of the thermal effects by reducing the SAR of the device (which means the device will generate low heat). But does it protect you from the adverse health effects of these radiations?
Does a low SAR value mean that you are protected against radiation?
Though my friend thought so, but it is not true. The SAR value of a mobile device controls the heat the device generates but does not protect you from the adverse health effects on the human body that are caused by the nature of these radiations. Additionally, the SAR level can vary according to the reception you receive on your cell phone.
According to the Berkeley city ordinance “If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is on and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation.”
Are you reading into the SAR value too much?
The SAR guidelines were published in 1996, based on studies in the 1980’s and have not been changed since. In today’s world where we have constant exposure to cell phones, are these limits still valid? Professor Henry Lai of the University of Washington says “It is surprising to me that the FDA and FCC have not changed their acceptable limits. They need to look at the literature.” He also adds “What we really need to know is at what level we begin to see biological effects? And there are several published studies suggesting it’s at much lower levels than what the FDA or FCC says is safe.”
Olga Nadenko, a senior scientist from the Environmental Working Group points out that the studies are flawed in other ways too as they only measure the effect of short term exposure to radiation and do not look at the impact that constant exposure to radiation has. She still believes that consumers should look at the SAR rating and minimize their exposure levels.
How can I protect myself?
The good news, however, is that you can still protect yourself from the harmful effects of these radiations by following the simple steps mentioned below.
- Keep the device away from your body at all times (5 to 25 mm – distance prescribed differs by manufacturers and models of devices).
- Use a wired headset while using the device.
- Limit the length of mobile calls (As per calculations given while calculating SAR, this works out to not more than 6 mins per hour!).
- Text more than you talk, whenever possible.
- Use a landline (wired) phone, not a mobile phone.
- When Phone is ON, don’t carry it in Shirt or Trouser Pocket.
- Let the call connect before putting the handset on your ear and start speaking / listening as more power is radiated during call connection.
- Avoid using a mobile device while wearing metal framed glasses or having wet hair as metal and water are good conductors of radio waves.
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