healthfaqs

Wireless Devices FAQ

This section provides answers to common questions about the mobile phones and other wireless devices. Mobile devices use low power radio signals to communicate with network antennas. According to the WHO:

‘A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.’

The WHO recommends further research and studies are ongoing to more fully assess potential long-term effects of mobile phone use.

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The WHO identifies the ICNIRP and the IEEE as two international bodies that have developed standards based on detailed assessments of the available scientific evidence. Compliance for mobile phones and other wireless devices intended for use close to the head or body is based on satisfying a specified Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) limit, stated in units of watts per kilogram (W/kg). The international limit applicable to mobile devices and used in most countries is 2 W/kg measured in a mass of 10 g. For specific information on applicable standards in your country contact your authorities. See our animation explaining how SAR is measured on YouTube.
The WHO and many expert groups have concluded that there are no established health risks from the radio signals used by mobile phones. Some studies have suggested increased brain cancer risk for long-term users but there are limitations to the studies and a lack of evidence of cancer increase in national health registries. Due to these uncertainties, the WHO recommends that research should continue.
In May 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),  a specialist agency of the WHO concluded that there was a possible cancer hazard from the use of mobile phones based on limited evidence from human and animal studies. Studies to date provide no indication that environmental exposure to RF fields, such as from base stations, increases the risk of cancer or any other disease. Health authorities advise that more research is needed and remind mobile phone users that they can take practical measures to reduce exposure such as use of a hands-free kit.
Authorities have concluded that there is no scientific evidence to indicate that mobile phone use increases the risk of being struck by lightning. Somebody who is outside increases their risk of being struck if they are on high ground, in an open space, near water or near large metallic structures or trees. This concern was first raised a number of years ago in an internet hoax. If you are outside, find shelter in a substantial building or in a fully enclosed metal vehicle with the windows completely shut. If this is not possible, you should follow the instructions of responsible safety organisations. We address this topic in a podcast.
Some studies have suggested a link between phone use and male fertility, however, these studies have generally not properly accounted for lifestyle factors, for example, diet, smoking, etc. The consensus view of independent expert reviews is that there are no adverse health effects associated with the radio signals used by mobile phones or base stations. See also our related paper Mobile Phones and Male Fertility.
Mobile communications provides important safety benefits for parents and children. However, some parents are concerned about whether there are health risks for children using mobile phones or where base stations are sited close to schools, day care centres or homes. National authorities in some countries have recommended precautionary restrictions on phone use by younger children due to concern about possible greater vulnerability and to limit longer lifetime exposures if there is an unrecognised health risk. Health authorities in other countries have concluded that current scientific evidence does not justify specific measures. The WHO advice is that the international safety guidelines are protective of all persons, including children. The GSMA believes that parents should have access to accurate information so they can make up their own mind about when and if their children should use mobile communication technologies. If parents are concerned, exposures can be reduced by limiting the length of calls, using text messages or by using "hands-free" devices to keep mobile phones away from the head and body. See also our related animation on YouTube.
The World Health Organization states that
'A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.'
This conclusion is supported by a review by the Health Council of the Netherlands in 2011, which concluded that 'Available data do not indicate that exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields affect brain development or health in children.'
Some people report a variety of symptoms (such as headaches, burning sensations, tiredness, concentration difficulties and dizziness) that they attribute to exposure to radio signals from mobile phones or wireless networks. This is sometimes termed electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). There have been several studies of exposures similar to mobile phones (Rubin et al, 2006; Kleinlogel et al., 2008;  Wallace et al., 2010) or base stations (Regel et al., 2006; Eltiti et al.,2007; Furubayashi et al., 2009; Eltiti et al., 2009). A systematic review (Rubin et al., 2010) identified 46 blind or double-blind provocation studies involving 1175 self-reported EHS individuals and concluded that overall there was no relation between electromagnetic field exposures and reported symptoms.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that while the symptoms are real there is no scientific basis to link the symptoms to exposure to electromagnetic fields. Furthermore the WHO says that treatment of affected individuals should focus on management of the health symptoms and the clinical picture, and not on the person's perceived need to reduce or eliminate electromagnetic fields in the workplace or home.
There is misunderstanding of the status of EHS in Sweden. An expert group report in 2007 for the Irish government sets out the situation clearly. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is not a recognised medical diagnosis and has not been accepted as a work injury in Sweden. In Sweden the focus is on the symptoms presented by the afflicted person (symptom diagnosis) and regardless of known or unknown cause for the condition. In Sweden the focus is on the symptoms presented by the afflicted person (symptom diagnosis) and regardless of known or unknown cause for the condition. In addition, most disability organisations, including The Swedish Association for the Electrosensitive, receive financial support. This fact has sometimes been misinterpreted as if electromagnetic hypersensitivity is a recognised medical diagnosis in Sweden.
The topic of EHS is also addressed in this YouTube interview.
Driving safely is of paramount importance to everyone on today's busy roads, and mobile phones should be used responsibly while on the move. The industry has developed a wide range of equipment and features to help you do this and the use of a professionally installed car-kit is recommended. (Note: it is an offence in many countries to hold a mobile phone to the head while driving.) However, the GSMA advises that it may be sensible to pull over during difficult traffic conditions or when calls are likely to be long, complex or emotional. The GSMA advises drivers at all times to obey the national laws of the country in which they are travelling and to follow common-sense advice to avoid distractions.
The GSMA is unaware of any established link between radio signals from mobile phones or base stations and petrol station fires. In fact, a 2005 report for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau concluded:
‘A review of the literature revealed that, between 1993 and 2004, there were 243 reported incidents of fires breaking out at petrol stations around the world. Although the fires were claimed to be caused by exploding mobile phones, experts have subsequently revealed that not one of the incidents was associated with telecommunication equipment. Instead, many of the fires were ignited by the discharge of static electricity from the human body.
Similarily, a seminar by the UK Institute of Petroleum (now part of the Energy Institute) in March 2003 concluded that mobile phones presented a negligible risk. There may be more tangible hazards associated with the distraction of using a mobile phone while operating a petrol pump. Therefore, the GSMA recommends that mobile phone users respect the prohibitions of the fuel companies, and follow any relevant advice given in their mobile phone user guides. We address this subject in a YouTube comment.
The scientific committee advising the European Commission, has concluded that the listening habits of most users of personal music players (and mobile phones including a music playing function) are unlikely to cause harm. However, some people may put their hearing at risk because they set the volume control very high or listen to music at high levels for many hours per day. The US National Hearing Conservation Association advises that damage to hearing can result from exposure to brief bursts of loud noise or continuous exposure to high-volume sound. The risk of hearing loss increases as sound is played louder and for longer durations. Mobile phone users can limit the risk of hearing damage by keeping the handset volume down, avoiding prolonged, continuous listening and making calls away from background noise.
Studies have identified that common items, such as clothes, stethoscopes, neck ties, pens and jewellery, as well as mobile phones, worn and used by doctors can carry bacteria. While the main contribution to transmission of infection is inadequate hand hygiene, the Board of Science of the British Medical Association recommends that healthcare professionals should wear clothes that minimise the spread of infection; refrain from wearing functionless clothing items (such as neck ties) and, where possible, change clothes when leaving the clinical setting. Similar cautions could be applied to mobile phones carried by healthcare professionals.
Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is used as an umbrella term to refer to various kinds of injuries to muscles, tendons or nerves caused by repetitive movement of a part of the body. It has not been medically established that texting and playing games on a mobile phone can cause RSI. If you are concerned, we recommend that when using a mobile phone for texting or playing games:  
  • Do not grip the phone tightly
  • Press the buttons lightly
  • Try to use both hands to spread the load
  • Keep your hands close to your body when holding the phone
  • Hold the phone up in front of you to reduce flexing of the neck
  • Make use of the special features in the handset which minimise the number of buttons which have to be pressed, such as message templates and predictive text
  • Take lots of breaks to stretch and relax
  If you experience symptoms such as persistent or recurring discomfort, pain, throbbing, aching, tingling, numbness, burning sensation, stiffness, promptly see a qualified health professional. The UK Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has issued tips for persons texting or playing games.
Mobile phones are designed to comply with scientifically based safety standards that the WHO endorses as providing protection against all established health risks. The WHO warns that:
'The use of commercial devices for reducing radiofrequency field exposure has not been shown to be effective.'
The US Federal Trade Commission cautions that '...there is no scientific proof that the so-called shields significantly reduce exposure from electromagnetic emissions...' and it has successfully challenged advertising claims of promoters of such products. Mobile phones use adaptive power control to reduce the transmitted power to the minimum possible level whilst maintaining good call quality. Some shields may interfere with the phone's signal, causing it to transmit at a higher power. Batteries and other devices are also being promoted that claim to produce a 'noise field' that will 'neutralise' potential harmful effects of mobile phone signals. The scientific basis of those claims is not accepted by the consensus of expert opinion. For people who are concerned, use of a personal hands-free kit is an effective way to reduce exposure by at least a factor of 10. See our YouTube animations on adaptive power control and our comment on shield devices.
Lithium ion (Li Ion) batteries are the preferred rechargeable battery for many consumer applications. They also are used in commercial, industrial, and military applications. While it is highly unusual, there have been reports of overheating, fire, or ruptures in connection with the use of lithium ion batteries. The billions of lithium ion batteries in use today and the exceptionally small number of cases in which a battery malfunction has occurred demonstrates that these batteries are reliable when used according to manufacturers’ guidelines. Some warmth is normal during phone use. To promote the safe use of cell phones, batteries and chargers, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and CTIA-The Wireless Association, recommend the following:
  1. Do not use incompatible cell phone batteries and chargers. Some Web sites and second-hand dealers, not associated with reputable manufacturers and carriers, might be selling incompatible or even counterfeit batteries and chargers. Consumers should purchase manufacturer or carrier recommended products and accessories. If unsure about whether a replacement battery or charger is compatible, contact the manufacturer of the battery or charger.
  1. Do not permit a battery out of the phone to come in contact with metal objects, such as coins, keys or jewellery.
  1. Do not crush, puncture or put a high degree of pressure on the battery as this can cause an internal short-circuit, resulting in overheating.
  1. Avoid dropping the cell phone. Dropping it, especially on a hard surface, can potentially cause damage to the phone and battery. If you suspect damage to the phone or battery, take it to a service center for inspection.
  1. Do not place the phone in areas that may get very hot, such as on or near a cooking surface, cooking appliance, iron, or radiator.
  1. Do not get your phone or battery wet. Even though they will dry and appear to operate normally, the circuitry could slowly corrode and pose a safety hazard.
  1. Follow battery usage, storage and charging guidelines found in the user's guide.

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