This test, which was paid for by the Tribune and conducted according to federal guidelines at an accredited lab, produced a surprising result: Radiofrequency radiation exposure from the iPhone 7 — one of the most popular smartphones ever sold — measured over the legal safety limit and more than double what Apple reported to federal regulators from its own testing.
The Federal Communications Commission, which is responsible for regulating phones, states on its website that if a cellphone has been approved for sale, the device “will never exceed” the maximum allowable exposure limit. But this phone, in an independent lab inspection, had done exactly that.
The Tribune tested three more brand-new iPhone 7s at full power, and these phones also measured over the exposure limit. In all, 11 models from four companies were tested, with varying results.
In one phase of the Tribune testing, all phones were positioned at the same distance from the simulated body tissue that the manufacturers chose for their own tests — from 5 to 15 millimeters, depending on the model. Apple, for instance, tests at 5 millimeters.
But people now often carry phones closer to the body, in their pockets, which increases their potential exposure to radiofrequency radiation.
To assess this kind of exposure, the Tribune asked its lab to conduct a second phase of testing, placing the phones 2 millimeters away from the simulated body — closer than any of the manufacturers’ own tests and far less than the maximum distance allowed by the FCC.
The 2-millimeter distance was chosen to estimate the potential exposure for an owner carrying the phone in a pants or shirt pocket. Under those conditions, most of the models tested yielded results that were over the exposure limit, sometimes far exceeding it.
At 2 millimeters, the results from a Samsung Galaxy S8 were more than five times the standard.
KEY: Federal exposure limit of 1.6 W/kg
MacDailyNews Take: As Roe reports, the California Public Health Department in 2017 issued rare guidance on how concerned consumers could reduce exposure. Among the advice: Don’t carry cellphones in pockets.
FCC officials told the Tribune that they would examine some of the phone models in the newspaper’s investigation.
How cellphone radiation compares with other types
Different kinds of electromagnetic radiation travel at different frequencies and wavelengths. At one end of the spectrum, gamma rays and X-rays have known health effects. Cellphones rely on radio waves, and the potential for harm from long-term exposure is less certain. Here are the types of electromagnetic radiation and some common technological uses:
Sources: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago Tribune reporting
Chad Yoder and Kori Rumore / Chicago Tribune