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STUDY: Low Phone Signal Strength Increases Microwave Radiation Exposure 10,000 Times


The paper entitled “Real World Cellular Phone Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Field Exposure” by Stephen Wall, PhD; Zhong-Min Wang, PhD; Thomas Kendig, BS; Dina Dobraca, MPH and; Michael Lipsett, JD, MD will be published in the peer reviewed journal Environmental Research.

California-Department-of-Public-Health-Bad-Reception-Increases-Microwave-Radiation-10000-TimesThis new research paper to be published in the journal Environmental Research today by California Department of Public Health (CDPH) research scientists finds that using cell phones used in areas of weak reception can result in microwave radiation emissions 10,000-fold more intense than in areas with strong network signals.

In “Real World Cellular Phone Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Field Exposure,” the scientists tested the microwave radiofrequency radiation levels from almost two dozen different cell phones in “real-world” situations to understand the difference in cell phone radiation exposures people can get in different situations.

The paper concludes with “straightforward” recommendations that the public avoid using cell phones when signals are weak, and also recommends that people should limit overall cell phone exposure by using speakerphone, choosing texting rather than voice calls and distancing the phone away from the body, even in areas with strong network signals.

The authors state that “precautionary use of cell phones could lessen a user’s radiofrequency EMF exposure by a factor of up to 10,000.”

In the study funded by the California Department of Health, the research team conducted measurements of the power density exposures of the radiofrequency radiation generated from 22 different cell phone models for calls received under both strong (three or four bars) and weak (one or two bars) reception signal conditions.

The researchers tested the radiation directly near the phone and also at several distances away from the phone up to 18 inches (48 cm). They also measured radiation levels from wireless headpieces and discussed relevant scientific research on health effects from phone radiation that informed their study.

The study finds that:

  • Microwave exposures depend not only on the distance from the user that phones are held but also the strength of the signal.
  • Cell phones used in areas of weak reception can result in microwave radiation emissions 10,000-fold more intense than in areas with strong network signals.
  • When used with a weak signal (1 to 2 bars), radiation exposures from all phones were higher intensity by up to four orders of magnitude in comparison to exposures from a strong signal (4 to 5 display bars)
  • Even at distances of more than a foot and half (48 cm), microwave radiation was much higher intensity when signal reception was weak when compared with closer distances in areas with strong signals (2 inches, 4 cm).
  • Headset measurements were 10 to 400 times lower than near-ear measurements of the phones to which they were connected but nonetheless the authors still recommend removing the wireless headset from the ear when not in use and reducing overall talk and listening times.
  • Recent studies indicate that the RF EMF [radiofrequency electromagnetic field] exposures from cellular phones can have a negative impact on animal cells and cognitive and/or behavior development in children. Case-controlled epidemiologic studies have found evidence for increased risk for glioma and localization of the glioma associated with the consistent exposure site of regular mobile phone use.
  • Recent research indicates that equivalent exposures result in proportionally higher cell phone radiation deposition into children when compared to adults.
  • Even though texting increases the distance between the brain and the cell phone, phones are still held close to the body for hours a day. This can create a different exposure that “may cause unknown effects to other organ systems.”
  • Future research should consider exposures of children and adults who are in close proximity to persons who are using a cell phone, requiring RF measurements from the back and sides of the cell phone.
  • The public should follow the CDPH cell phone radiation guidance which tells all persons not to keep phones in the pocket and also includes other practical steps to reduce exposure to radiofrequency radiation.
  • Precautionary use of cell phones such as speakerphone and maintaining a distance between the phone and the body could lessen a user’s radiofrequency EMF exposure by a factor of up to 10,000.

“This important study shows the need to keep wireless devices away from the body, especially whenever we encounter areas of weak signal every day, such as when we are in an elevator, in a traveling car, in the basement or interior rooms of a home. Limiting cell phone use in weak signal areas potentially reduces RF EMF exposure by up to a factor of 10,000,” stated Devra Davis PhD, MPH, President of Environmental Health Trust.

The study was funded by the California Department of Health when the Department was developing advice to the public about why and how to reduce microwave exposures and was considering listing cell phone radiation as a suspected cause of cancer under Proposition 65, the state’s advisory list of suspected cancer causes.

California State initially began drafting recommendations on how state workers should reduce cell phone exposure in 2009, and over the years the information was edited into a document for the public rather than workers.

A lawsuit by the Environmental Law Clinic of Berkeley Law School resulted in the release of more than 100 pages of CDPH drafts of cell phone guidance, and the final CDPH guidance was finally released to the public soon afterwards in December 2017.

“Using a wired phone, rather than a wireless cell phone whenever possible is the best way to minimize your exposure,” stated Theodora Scarato Executive Director of Environmental Health Trust who recommended that at home people should keep their landlines or consider a Voice Over IP (VOIP) phone service if a copper landline is not available in their area. Scarato pointed out that over two hundred scientists have called on the United Nations to take urgent action on this issue due to the current body of evidence and that over a dozen countries have official policies to educate and minimize exposure to the public.


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