In the movie “La La Land,” the heroine fields calls in the current style, with her cellphone pressed close to her ear.
When President Barack Obama gave his farewell address, he equated innovation with “a computer in every pocket.”
Some users sleep with their cellphones on the nightstand – or even tucked under the pillow.
But how close should you really get to your cellphone?
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The answer depends, in part, on whom you ask. Government experts say cellphones, which emit radio frequency radiation, have not conclusively been linked to any health problem. But some critics point to studies they say raise concerns, including a preliminary report by the National Toxicology Program that rats exposed to cellphone radiation experienced a small but significant increase in heart and brain tumors. Critics also point to studies indicating that cellphone exposure may negatively affect sperm quality.
Given those considerations, we asked government spokespeople, an industry representative and a skeptical scientist what Americans should do if they want to reduce their exposure to cellphone radiation.
Here’s what we found:
Follow the advice of the cellphone manufacturer. And no, you’re probably not doing that. Cellphones are tested for radiation emission – and approved by the government as safe for use – at a small but significant distance from your body. You should be able to find that distance in the fine print of your manual or other instructions that come with your phone, and it differs from phone to phone. You’re supposed to keep an iPhone 7 at least 5 mm (about 0.2 inches) away from your body, a Samsung Galaxy S6 at least 1.5 cm (about 0.6 inches) and a Google Pixel 1 cm (about 0.4 inches) away.
The takeaway: Don’t keep your cellphone in your pocket or your bra when it’s powered on.
If you want to go further, consider the suggestions of government scientists. You'll see small differences in the positions stated on the websites of various government agencies, with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) telling us, reassuringly that “the weight of scientific evidence has not linked cellphones with any health problems.” The National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences agrees that there’s no conclusive evidence linking cellphones to any health problems. But it also says that “little is known about potential health effects of long-term exposure to radio frequency radiation,” the kind of radiation emitted by cellphones, and that data from human studies is inconsistent.
The takeaway: Both the FDA and the NTP say that if you are concerned about cellphone radiation, you can take two simple steps. You can reduce the amount of time you spend using your cellphone, and you can use speaker mode or a headset to increase the distance between your head and the phone.
Want to do everything possible, short of ditching your cellphone? There are webpages for that, but make sure you choose the right one. Rather than scrolling around and scaring yourself with off-the-wall claims, consider turning to reputable scientists, such as Devra Davis, who was the founding director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, or Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California at Berkeley. Moskowitz and Davis are among the over 220 scientists who have signed the International Electromagnetic Field Scientist Appeal calling for tougher limits on cellphones and related technologies.
The takeaway: Moskowitz offers an extensive list of steps you can take to reduce radiation exposure, including: 1.) Keep your distance. Keep your cellphone or cordless phone away from your body when it’s powered on, taking special care to maintain distance from your head and reproductive organs. Use your speakerphone or a wired headset, or text instead of calling. 2.) Wait for a good signal. Your cellphone emits more radiation when the signal is poor, so avoid using it while in enclosed metal areas such as elevators, cars, buses, trains or planes. 3.) Avoid secondhand exposure. Reduce the time you spend in places where a lot of people are packed together and using cellphones. 4.) Turn off your phone. Turn off your cellphone when not in use, or switch to airplane mode.