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Is Your Smartphone Radioactive?

Megan Hayes | News Editor

SAR Testing with Model Human Head and Smartphone. / Dekra, 2019

On Tuesday, September 12th of 2023, the Apple iPhone 12 was pulled from the French market due to so-called “non-compliance” with European Union radiation standards. This occurred when the France National Frequency Agency (or ANFR), deemed that the device’s radiofrequency levels exceeded safety standards, and thus were unsafe to continue being sold. The specific measurement, known as the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), is measured on any electronic equipment that contains parts that radiate close to a human body, such as medical devices, implants, and smartphones – including any long-use wireless device. For the Apple iPhone 12, this measurement was outside of predetermined safety levels. The ANFR demanded that Apple take immediate action to fix this issue, and a recall has been offered for consumers with an Apple iPhone 12. The ANFR, which is responsible for routine monitoring of public safety and human exposure to electromagnetic fields through technology, found that the iPhone 12 measured 5.74 watts per kilogram in simulated tests of radiofrequency, while the limit from the EU is to be under 4.0 watts per kilogram.

To dig deeper into the specific criteria of what a device being pulled off the shelf for “non-compliance" means, it is crucial to look at what specifically this SAR testing entails. According to the Federal Communications Commission (ARCEP in France), SAR testing for devices is conducted with a model human head and body that contains liquids that replicate the consistency of human tissues. The devices, which emit radiofrequency (RF), are tested at their highest power level next to this fake body (in positions similar to how we typically hold phones), to see how much of this non-ionizing radiation is absorbed by the body. A probe is then used to take copious measurements of the specific radiofrequency levels within the electric field (wherever it is near the human dummy), which is then recorded and submitted to the Federal Communications Commision so the device can get approval to be sold. To speak on the dangers of radiofrequency, it is not a matter of immediate and deadly damage, similar to what many think when the term “radiation” is involved. Exposure to radiofrequency in humans is a matter of the temperature rising in biological tissue, which could theoretically cause tissue damage, like burns. With the uncertainty surrounding technology and the role it has in our life, this is why there are organizations deployed (like the FCC) to measure what effect technology can have on humans, physical health wise. Although the measurements recorded by the FCC only consider the highest record of operating capacity for the device when approving the device, it still tells us that these devices are safe. However, this does not account for inconsistencies and differences in device usage, location, frequency of use of the device, and where the device is held near the body, leaving room for misinformation and fear when looking at how safe our technology really is.

This discovery has caused a major amount of fear to swell, as Apple, an American made and worldwide sold company holds a crucial part in many of our lives. This fear, which is understandably founded, has swamped news outlets and social media – are our trusted devices actually radioactive? To calm the storm, on Wednesday September 13th, Apple disputed these claims by saying that all of their technology was well under safe limits. All produced apple devices have been reportedly tested by multiple international companies to be within safe radiation standards, the company claimed. Then, on Friday, September 15th, a spokesperson of Apple released a statement to Reuters, AFP and Euronews, promising that Apple will issue a software update immediately to ensure safety and hopefully soothe the dispute with France, allowing the iPhone 12 to continue being sold on shelves. Additionally, it was stated that the dispute was no cause for a concern of safety, and the update is simply related to a “specific testing protocol used by French regulators” (Reuters). Although this information has caused an uproar and a swell of fear within many Apple consumers, the update has been issued for the usage of this technology to continue being safe.


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