Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR – FCC Cell Phone Radiation Exposure Limits

Looking how to find the Specific Absorption Rate of your Smartphone? It doesn’t get any easier than this, simply enter your FCC ID below (include dashes when applicable)

Enter Phone’s FCC ID:

FCC radiation standards have little margin of safety

The FCC’s cell phone radiation standards closely follow the 1992 recommendations of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) (FCC 1997). These standards allow 20 times more radiation to penetrate the head than the rest of the body and do not account for risks to children.

FCC standards limit the radiation absorbed by a cell phone user’s brain and body to a specific absorption rate, or SAR, measured by the amount of the phone’s radiation energy (in watts, W) absorbed per kilogram of tissue (W/kg).

Current FCC regulations permit SAR levels of up to 1.6 W/kg for partial body (head) exposure, 0.08 W/kg for whole-body exposure, and 4 W/kg for exposure to the hands, wrists, feet and ankles (FCC 1997, 1999).

The FCC standards are based on animal studies conducted in late 1970s and early 1980s (Osepchuk 2003). FCC, on the recommendation of the IEEE, adopted SAR level of 4 W/kg as the point of departure for determining legal SAR limits for cell phones. In contrast to the FCC decision, an independent analysis by the EPA scientists concluded, on the basis of the same body of data, that biological effects occur at SAR levels of 1 W/kg, 4 times lower than the SAR level chosen by IEEE (U.S. EPA 1984). Exposure to radiofrequency radiation at these SAR levels induces tissue heating that leads to behavioral alterations in mice, rats, and monkeys, that may be a “potentially adverse effect in human beings” (IEEE 2006).

Current FCC standards fail to provide an adequate margin of safety for cell phone radiation exposure and lack a meaningful biological basis.

For example, the FCC standard for the head is just 2.5 times lower than the level that caused behavioral changes in animals. The standard that applies to hands, wrists, feet, and ankles has no safety margin whatsoever.

The FCC adopted IEEE’s proposal to allow 20 times more radiation to the head than the average amount allowed for the whole body, even though the brain may well be one of the most sensitive parts of human body with respect to radiofrequency radiation and should have more protection.

To receive the FCC approval for selling a cell phone in the U.S. market, manufacturers typically conduct the phone’s SAR tests themselves or contract with the private industry. Private industry organizations (Telecommunication Certification Bodies) are also actively involved in all steps of determining the compliance of cell phones and other wireless devices with the FCC rules (FCC OET 2008f).

SAR testing of cell phones is carried out on a mold in the shape of an adult torso or head which is filled with a viscous fluid mixture selected to simulate the electrical properties of human tissue (GAO 2001). To determine SAR, a cell phone is placed next to the outer surface of the mold and turned on to transmit at the maximum power while a probe is inserted into the viscous inner mixture at various locations, measuring the radiofrequency energy that is being absorbed (GAO 2001).

FCC, the cell phone industry, and the academic community all acknowledge that SAR measurements have significant precision problems (Cardis 2008; FCC OET 2008e; GAO 2001; Wiart 2008). Studies by scientists in academia and the cell phone industry demonstrate that SAR is significantly influenced by the age, shape of the head, and tissue composition (Conil 2008; Wang 2003; Wiart 2008).

The greatest debate is whether the current methods for SAR measurement is adequate for assessing radiation absorption in children’s brains (Gandhi 1996; Wang 2003). Recent research on SAR in test models for children’s brains and bodies indicates that SAR levels in children would be much higher than in adults (Conil 2008; de Salles 2006; Gandhi 1996; Martinez-Burdalo 2004; Wang 2003; Wiart 2008).

Cell phone standards ignore children

Scientists in a number of countries agree that the head and brain of a child absorb significantly more radiation than those of an adult (de Salles 2006; Gandhi 1996; Kang 2002; Wang 2003; Wiart 2008). Yet U.S. cell phone emission levels and federal standards are based on radiation absorbed by adults and fail to account for children’s higher exposures and greater health risks.

In general, as head size decreases, the percentage of energy absorbed by the brain increases,(Martinez-Burdalo 2004). Moreover, children’s tissues have higher water and ion content compared to adult tissues (Peyman 2009). Both factors increase radiation absorption, acccording to researchers from the U.S., the Finnish cell phone company Nokia, Institute of Applied Physics in Spain and the U.K. Health Protection Agency (Gandhi 2002; Keshvari 2006; Martinez-Burdalo 2004; Peyman 2009).

All these data, taken together, suggest that when a child uses a cell phone that complies with the FCC standards, he or she could easily absorb an amount of radiation over the maximum allowed radiation limits defined by the federal guidelines. FCC standards give adults only a slim margin of safety over emission levels that harm animals. For children, the margin is much slimmer – if one exists at all.

Consumers have a right to full information on cell phone radiation levels

Cell phone manufacturers opposed SAR disclosure (Lin 2000) until 2000, when the FCC began posting cell phone SAR values on its web site. After the FCC decision, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) began requiring manufacturers to disclose cell phone SARs.

According to CTIA guidelines, a mobile phone SAR value must be listed in the user manual or on a separate sheet. The trade association does not require listing the SAR value on the box or the phone itself (Microwave News 2000).

Cell phone radiation levels are rarely available at retail locations. Consequently, consumers cannot easily identify low-radiation phones.

FCC maintains a database of mobile phone SAR values for devices currently on the market, but it is difficult to use. With significant effort, a consumer can navigate the FCC website to find the SAR value for a specific phone.

To search the FCC database, the consumer needs the mobile phone’s FCC ID number, located on a sticker underneath the phone’s battery. The first three characters of the FCC ID is the Grantee Code; the remaining numbers and letters of the ID are a product code that can be entered into the online FCC ID Search Form (http://www.fcc.gov/oet/ea/fccid), to pull up five to seven data entries. Consumers must scroll manually through each of the data entries to locate the document that lists the SAR value for the specific mobile phone.

In contrast to this cumbersome process, the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) maintains a detailed, open directory of information on mobile phones available in the German market (BfS 2008b). Such a publicly available database greatly facilitates consumers’ access to SAR data, enables informed purchasing decisions and encourages phone manufacturers to offer lower-SAR phones.

Computer Generated RF EXPOSURE Models


The U.S. government should require phones to be labeled with their radiation emissions at the point of sale, so consumers can make informed decisions about the phones they buy.

The cell phone industry should offer consumers phones that operate with the least possible radiation, and should make each phone’s radiation emissions available at the point of sale.


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