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Mayor Newsom wants cell phone radiation labels in SF

By 16 December 2009 3 Comments

Mayor Gavin Newsom has announced his intentions to support a new regulation in the city of San Francisco that would require all cell phone retailers to post radiation levels next to each cell phone at a price .  While the specifics of the regulation hasn’t been announced, it’s possible that the city will require maximum Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) levels to be posted which will be a very misleading and unnecessary form of fear mongering.

The problem is that SAR ratings are not a measure of radiation, and it isn’t by accident that the word radiation doesn’t appear in the acronym SAR.  The SAR rating in the United States is a measure of the worst-case dielectric heating effect of a cell phone across a single gram of simulated human flesh.  The SAR value is a measurement of energy concentration and not a measure of total energy coming from the phone, and the SAR value is a maximum value and not the typical value which tends to be hundreds of times lower in the city (due to low power short range communications) than in rural areas.

Even more notable is the fact that a cell phone that has a lower SAR value may deliver more total heat energy into a human body which demonstrates the silliness of trying to compare phones using the SAR value.  It’s dubious to suggest that concentration levels of tiny amounts of radio wave energy is any more dangerous than higher overall energy because heat quickly disperses in a human body especially when we’re talking about tiny amounts of heat that takes hours of continuous phone usage to add up to a few 100th of a degrees Celsius.  We produce orders of magnitude greater heating to the human head from wearing hats and ear muffs so are we going to demand radiation labels for hats and ear muffs?

This minuscule heating effect that is being called “radiation” is frequently and mistakenly associated with nuclear subatomic particle radiation like the kind at Chernobyl or the ultraviolet radiation from sunlight that causes skin cancer.  The reality is that recent studies of millions of cell phone users have confirmed no danger.  Cell phones don’t produce dangerous radiation and they produce extremely small amounts of heat energy in the form of radio waves that might heat up a 154 pound person 1/100th of a degrees Celsius after an hour of absorbing 1 watt (which is unlikely to be that high) of radio wave energy from a cell phone.


  • Gabe said:

    If you’re comparing cell phone radiation to a hat to dumb it down for us laymen, you’re missing the point or being disingenuous. Put your hand in a microwave oven for a couple of seconds, it’ll only get as warm as putting a glove on I promise! (but it’ll do some interesting things on a molecular level).

  • George Ou (author) said:

    Gabe, I’m comparing the heating effect of each. The hat will heat your head up much more than a cell phone. From a technical level, that’s what we’re talking about here. Some people fear that the heating effect might cause or accelerate tumor or cancer growth. I’m pointing out that the FACT that the heating effect of a cell phone is absolutely minuscule compared to a hat.

  • Brayden Sanchez said:

    Sunblocks can also reduce the incidence of skin cancer by preventing UV to harm your skin.:-”