Here’s one question that you almost never see asked when the experts like Lai are interviewed in the press about the cell phone-cancer connection: What are their best practices when it comes to cell phones? It’s like asking the mechanic in your family about what car he or she would buy. Said Lai, “I don’t have a cell phone.” But Lai cautioned not to read too far into that answer. Lai also said he doesn’t need one. But if he had one, Lai said he’d probably use a headset (but also admitted that the jury was out on headset effectiveness as well) with the idea being to keep the antennae as far away from your head has possible.
The jury may not be out for some, but the jury looks out to me. While I may not be willing to give up my cell phone altogether, I still feel as though there are some practical things that I can do to minimize any potential risk while we wait for mo’ betta conclusions. If, ten years from now, it turns out I was overprotective of myself, or my family members, so be it. What will I have lost? Actually, that’s a good question when it comes to what you should think about when buying a handset in the context of the radiation issue.
As it turns out, there’s more to getting FCC approval than just coming below the 1.6 W/kg maximum. Cell phone manufacturers must have their devices independently tested and the results are made available to the FCC, which in turn makes the actual results available through an online database on its Web site. In other words, it’s not a pass/fail test. We have access to the actual ratings. So, if we just buy phones because the FCC allowed them onto the market as opposed to comparing SAR ratings, aren’t we selling ourselves short?
Given two phones with the same features and the same price, shouldn’t we be considering the one with the lower SAR rating? Or, how much is your peace of mind worth? In true better-safe-than-sorry fashion, would you pay an extra $25, $50, or even $100 to have a phone with the same features as another, but with a 33 or 50 percent lower SAR rating? OK, maybe not for yourself. Maybe you’re 50 years old and you’re thinking cell phone-induced brain cancer isn’t what’s going to arrange your meeting with your maker. But what about your kids? I’ll bet there are a lot of parents out there who are on serious guilt trips about exposing their kids to second hand smoke. (Something almost no one stopped to think about 30 years ago when they were driving the kids to Grandma’s with the car windows rolled up.)
This brings us to the phone from Firefly Mobile that Mossberg reviewed. In the process of trying to learn more about that phone, I learned more about the system and it wasn’t pretty. For example, all I wanted was the SAR rating of the phone. Try finding it. It’s not printed on the phone, in its documentation, in the sales literature, or on the company’s Web site (at least not as of when I published this blog). Whereas the FCC should require that the rating be prominently published in product brochures, advertisements, and in the user documentation (which is often available for download before buying a product), all it requires is that the manufacturer add an “FCC Notice and SAR Statement” to the documentation that basically says the product complies with FCC regulations. Some cell phone manufacturers voluntarily publish their cell phone’s rating on this page. Others, like Firefly (as of the publishing of this blog), do not. (See page 25 of Firefly’s user documentation.) To find it, you either have to be a detective or with the press where you can get access to company executives like Firefly Mobile CEO Pat Marry.
Marry answered my question. For the “body test,” the Firefly phone has a SAR rating of .975 W/kg. For the “head test” (where the phone gets held up to your kid’s brain), the rating is a bit less: .945 W/kg. But getting this information from Marry couldn’t be done without getting lectured on why cell phones are safe and that it didn’t matter whether the phone was .5, .9 or 1.6 W/kg… that as long as the phone was below the FCC limit, it was safe. It took me almost an hour to get Marry to realize that I had no interest in debating the connection, or lack thereof, of cell phones to cancer. As long as the actual ratings are available, what is the harm in using them as a comparative data point? Personally, given two designed-for-kids phones with near identical features, knowing that the jury is still out, I’d be very happy to pay an extra $50 or $100 for a lower SAR rating. From my point of view, the only harm in making this sacrifice might be a few extra bucks. To the cell phone manufacturer, the harm is their business (particularly if a journalist with any sort of reach adopts such a conservative position).
Naturally, they’ll get defensive. And defensive Marry got. Marry told me “there’s no reason to imply that a lower number is a safer cell phone. To most consumers, it’s a number and they don’t know what it means.” In addition, Marry, who said he was with Motorola for much of his career, claims that it would be easy for any cell phone manufacturer to crank back their SAR rating by lowering the transmission power of the radios in their phones. Said Marry, “Can you even make a call with phones below .9? Any manufacturer can lower their SAR rating by changing the amount of power that comes out of transmitter but, the phone will drop more calls.” Fair enough. If a phone can’t hold a call (or a conversation), that should come out in the independent reviews of it by organizations like the cell phone reviewers at CNET who test cell phones every day.
Once I got through Marry’s lecture though, I was still curious as to why I had to call him to get the SAR rating. He told me I didn’t have to and pointed me to the FCC’s Web site where the SAR rating for any telephone is supposedly easy to find. To this I say, write your congressman.
Mauritius Port Louis
Marshall Islands, Majuro,
Hayward California USA
Brisbane Queensland Australia
Click on any of the pictures below
to learn more