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SAR of Cell Phones Specific Absorption Rate

When did the SAR become part of US cell phone regulations?

The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for cellphones was set in 1993 when less than 10% of the population used cellphones. Phones then were used chiefly for business and military purposes and cost $900 at that time and were used for a few minutes a month.

Why do scientists state that SAR is an inadequate metric?

The SAR is a measure of the maximum amount of microwave radiation absorbed by a test dummy, not the amount of microwave radiation emitted by a wireless device.

The SAR was based on a model of the human head taken from a military recruit at the top 10% in height and weight, and thus falls SAR of Cell Phonesin the top 3% of all persons using phones today, when millions of children and smaller adults use these devices. Today, most adults and growing numbers of young children use phones for thousands of minutes each month, according to PEW Foundation surveys and reports from the CTIA.

The SAR is a measure of maximum power emitted under one frequency.  Most smartphones today use several different frequencies in a single call, or with multiple uses of the phone taking place simultaneously.

The sole criterion for the SAR rests on the level of induced heat to be avoided and does not reflect growing scientific reports that levels that do not induce measurable changes in heat can have impacts on biological systems.  Thus, cell-phone like radiation is now used in FDA approved medical applications to treat liver and brain cancer ( hepatocellular carcinoma and glioblastoma multiforme).  Other measured impacts of cellphone radiation – not included in the SAR- include increasing the production of biological markers in living systems that have been linked with increased risks of cancer, reproductive damage and neurodegenerative diseases, including enhanced production of damaging free radicals, reactive oxygen species, membrane weakening, and heat shock proteins involved in cellular repair and defense.

What are the SAR limits in the US?

Ears, hands, feet, wrists, and ankles can be exposed to 4W/kg averaged over 10g. (In 2013, ears were reclassified as appendages). Prior to that, exposure limit for ears was at 1.6W/kg, but when phones are held to the ears, the 1.6W/kg was exceeded.  So the limit for ears was raised because the 1.6W/kg exposure limit could not be met for ears. All other parts of the body (including the head) can be exposed to a SAR of 1.6W/kg averaged over a 1 g sample of tissue for 30 minutes (established in 1996).

Can humans be exposed to higher SAR levels that the US government allows?

Yes. For example, the iphone 6 plus is rated at 1.59 W/kg when all antennas are on, but this rating is based on a distance of 5mm from the body. Read fine print warnings at this link.  So, if you are holding the iphone in your hand or pressing it to your head (this is all less than 5mm from the body), your hand or head are exposed to higher than 1.59W/kg

Oh Sam What a Man from Kate Corcoran on Vimeo.


What should be done to protect cell phone users?

The French Health Agency’s 2016 Report states that  reliance on SAR  to set human exposure limits should be re-evaluated and replaced through the development of an indicator to assess real exposures for mobile phone users that applies to various conditions: signal type,  good or bad reception, mode of use (call, data loading, etc.), location device is used on the body.

These scientifically driven regulatory developments in France, Israel and countries worldwide should be considered in reviewing the scientific grounds for US standards for cellphones today.

The fact is that SAR does not ensure safety. Anatomical modeling of brains of various ages shows us how RF-EMF radiation penetrates tissue with deeper penetrations into children. Computer simulations that show peak SAR rates into the brain should be a part of the evaluation as hotspots can occur in tissue and this is not accounted for in the SAR metric.

We need to adopt biologically-based safety limits and an appropriate testing procedure. Cell phone/wireless device emission regulations and standards should be revised to reflect current science, incorporating information developed and reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in its monograph on cellphone and other wireless radiation, which determined in 2011 that cellphone and other wireless radiation is classified as a “possible human carcinogen,” a category shared with engine exhausts and some pesticides such as DDT and Kepone that have received concerted regulatory attention around the world.

Research results from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences National Toxicology Program, in addition to post 2011 human studies, now clearly link long term cell phone radiation exposure to cancer. The $25 million US government study showed a statistically significant increase in glioma and schwannomas in rats exposed to cell phone radiation at non-thermal radiation levels.

If the International Agency for Research on Cancer were to meet now, cellphone and wireless radiation would classified as a “probable human carcinogen,” and some scientists state the evidence nw meets criteria for Group 1: “Carcinogenic to humans-  There is enough evidence to conclude that it can cause cancer in humans”.

The current FCC website does not reflect state of the art scientific information. The FCC inaccurately states that:

“ALL cell phones must meet the FCC’s RF exposure standard, which is set at a level well below that at which laboratory testing indicates, and medical and biological experts generally agree, adverse health effects could occur.”

The FCC falsely describes the opinion of scientists. Over 220 scientists agree that current standards do not protect health.  The FCC does not include a single employee with expertise in health.  There are no ongoing monitoring studies underway to evaluate potential health impacts of cellphones in the department of Health and Human Services or at the National Institute of Health.

Based on the body of research associating cell phones to cancer, Consumer Reports believes”swift and decisive action by the government and industry” is required.


  • The National Institutes of Health should commission another animal study using current cell phone technology to determine if it poses the same risks as found in this new study.
  • The Federal Communications Commission should update its requirements for testing the effect of cell phone radiation on human heads. The agency’s current test is based on the devices’ possible effect on large adults, though research suggests that children’s thinner skulls mean they may absorb more radiation. The FCC should develop new tests that take into account the potential increased vulnerability of children.
  • The Food and Drug Administration and the FCC should determine whether the maximum specific absorption rate of 1.6 W/kg over a gram of tissue is an adequate maximum limit of radiation from cell phones.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should repost it’s advice on the potential hazard of cell phone radiation and cautionary advice that was taken down in August 2014.
  • Cell phone manufacturers should prominently display advice on steps that cell phone users can take to reduce exposure to cell phone radiation.

Consumer Reports recommends that you:

  • Try to keep the cell phone away from your head and body. Keeping it an arm’s distance away significantly reduces exposure…
  • Text or video call when possible…
  • When speaking, use the speakerphone or a hands-free headset.

Based on this study, an article from Consumer Reports was published a few months ago.

  • Don’t stow your phone in your pants or shirt pocket. Instead, carry it in a bag or use a belt clip.

For more tips read EHT’s 10 Things You Can Do To Reduce The Health Risk From Cell Phones.