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Mobile phones - best health practice 2011

The following advice on minimising your exposure to microwave/radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (MREMFs) when using wireless (WiFi) devices like mobile and cordless telephones is a synthesis of advice given by several organisations, principally PowerwatchUK.

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  • Avoid mobile phones with an internal aerial/ antenna. These tend to emit higher levels of radiation
  • Use the most efficient mobile phone possible. One indication of efficiency is the phone’s ‘talk time’ - the average amount of talk permitted by one battery charge-up. The longer the ‘talk time’ the more efficient the handset, though this could also indicate a particularly efficient battery. The smallest handsets tend to be less efficient. Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) measurements (the strength of the microwave electromagnetic field emitted by a mobile phone, and soon to be printed on mobile phone handset packages) are a ‘red herring’. The SAR of handsets is assessed when it is operating at full power, taking no account of the efficiency of any given handset. The small differences between handset SAR measurements are more than outweighed by the way you use your phone
  • Use your phone in ‘hands-off’ mode, equipped with a ‘proper headset’ as worn by (e.g.) call centre operators
  • Limit calls to two minutes long whenever possible

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  • When you use your phone indoors make sure that:
    • there are a lot of bars showing. When a phone is used in an area with a weak signal (low bars showing) it needs to power up more to reach the nearest mobile phone mast/base station*, so gives off higher emissions. There is some evidence that mobile phone users living in rural areas are 50% more likely to develop a brain tumour than city-dwelling users
    • your phone’s aerial/antenna is as far as possible from your head and hand. If you cannot see it, your phone has an internal aerial/antenna, which tends to be at the back rather than the front of the phone. Phones with an internal aerial/antenna tend to expose the head to higher levels of radiation
    • you stand as close as possible to an open window, where the signal strength can be up to ten times greater than in the centre of the room
    • you always hold the handset on the window side of your head to minimise the number and strength of the signals passing through your head on their way to and from the phone mast
  • Hold your phone as far away from your ear as practical. Even half an inch (15 millimetres) gap makes a huge difference in the strength of the microwave/radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (MREMFs) penetrating into your body. Instead, turn up the volume or turn on the loudspeaker if necessary
  • Never place any fingers behind the earpiece to press it to your ear as:
    • this will channel more of the radiation into your head and arm
    • the handset is forced to operate at a much higher transmitter power
  • When you switch your mobile phone on or right off, or dial out, it emits bursts of signal that can be hundreds even thousands of times higher than the signal strength used during a conversation or text message send. Hold your phone away from your body:
    • before pressing the dial key and until you hear the respondent pick up
    • for a few seconds after switching off your phone completely. You may think that it is off, but it is telling the network (at full blast) that it is shutting down

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  • Switch your mobile phone right off rather than leave it on stand-by. In stand-by it frequently powers up to check where the best phone mast/base station is, then tells it (at full blast) where it is. The weaker the signal from the mast/base station, the more frequently the phone powers up to do this
  • Do not hold your phone when sending a text. Place the phone on a flat surface, press the ‘Send’ key. Withdraw your hand immediately
  • Do not use your mobile phone when travelling. MREMFs can be both screened by, and amplified by the metal in cars, buses, coaches and trains. You will also irradiate the people sitting near you with those amplified fields. One piece of research found that 30 people using their mobile phones in a carriage seating 151 people exposed all 151 to microwave radiation levels above international safety standards. If you have to make a call when travelling open a window and stand/sit as near to it as possible
  • Beware operators advertising “unlimited weekend minutes; talk time of up to 200 minutes and standby up to 180 hours.” The temptation to ‘get your money’s worth’ can prove irresistible, yet potentially very damaging healthwise
    And, for non-users ...
  • Never stand or sit close to someone else using a mobile phone. The closer you are, the higher your exposure level. Powerwatch UK has measured exposures of over six Volts per metre (V/m) at the head of passengers in a train sitting in the row behind a phone user!

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Minimising the damage

The areas of the body most vulnerable to the MREMFs emitted by mobile phones are the eyes, the breasts, the testicles, the ovaries, the kidneys, the liver, and the abdomen of a pregnant woman.

  • Always use a mobile phone ‘hands-free’. Not only are your eyes very near your ears, many people’s heads are accumulating metallic or metal- containing objects that can pick up and amplify MREMFs. These include glasses, ear-rings, amalgam fillings, dental braces, hair accessories, facial piercing, head implants or pins (e.g. following an operation) and cochlear implants. Joó et al. found that both adults and children using mobile phones who wore metal-rim glasses or had metallic implants could be exposed to SARs above the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) limits. Remove as many metal items from your head as possible before making a call.
  • If it is important to you to keep your mobile phone switched on the whole time:
    • do not carry your phone in the breast pocket of a blouse, shirt, or jacket. Men can get breast cancer as well as women. The incidence of both female and male breast cancer is increasing.
      Clipping your phone to a rucksack shoulder strap will irradiate you in the same way - put it in a rear rucksack pocket, instead
    • do not wear an ‘underwired’ bra where the wire is made from metal. All metallic objects can pick up MREMFs, amplifying the signal around vulnerable breast tissue. Use an ‘underwired’ bra where plastic reinforcers are used
    • do not carry your phone on a belt or in a bag that places it at waist or hip height. Not only will this irradiate your sexual organs, kidneys and liver or womb, most phones need to power up higher at waist height than at head height in order to contact the nearest mast/base station. Levi Strauss, the US jeans maker, once offered a line of trousers fitted with ‘anti- radiation pockets’ for mobile phones, aimed at teenagers and 20-somethings, costing as much as £100 a pair. Perhaps they were simply cashing in on young people’s fears, as some accused? Perhaps they really understood the health risks? The safest place to carry your phone is in a long- strapped bag that places the phone below mid- thigh
  • If you have no choice but to carry your phone on your body, ensure that:
    • its face is next to your body (meaning that its antenna is facing away)
    • it is carried in a mid-thigh or lower trouser pocket

In the context of mobile phones and Wi-Fi, a base station is a permanent structure that links (e.g.) a mobile phone to a wireless server’s network (e.g. Orange, O2). It can be a dedicated tower or an antenna fixed to or inside a building or tall structure (e.g. school roofs, church steeples, street lamps). There are even ‘stealth’ base stations, disguised as (e.g.) a fire alarm on the side of a house or an artificial tree in a neighbour’s front garden.

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Dr. Joseph Mercola (9.8.08) reported that the August 2003 edition of The Daily Hazard online newspaper had provided the following advice:

  • The angle of the handset is important. Mobile phones transmit signals most efficiently when held in a vertical position. If a phone is laid horizontally (e.g. using while lying in bed) it needs to emit significantly more radiation to communicate with the nearest mast/base station
  • Try not to obstruct the antenna, as this will cause the phone to power up
  • Enclosed spaces tend to trap and amplify radiation. If you are in a train or car, open a window and point the phone towards it
  • If you wear metal rimmed glasses take them off before using your mobile. The metal can increase radiation exposure to the eyes by 20% and to the head by 6.3%. If you are wearing metal-rimmed earrings, remove those too

click here to read more articles about exposure to MREMFs


(15038) Nick Anderson. Green Health Watch Magazine 1.6.11