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11 ways to use your cell phone more safely

About 32 million Canadians and 7 billion people worldwide use a cell phone in 2021. Increasingly, cell phones are becoming a vital part of our lives, functioning as our primary mode of personal and business communication as well as our calendars, cameras, media players, address books and computers. It is hard to imagine a world where we didn’t have all these functionalities at our fingertips. But at what cost to our health?

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself from potential harm from radio-frequency radiation emitted by these devices:

  1. Always use a hands-free headset or the speakerphone setting when talking on your cell phone. Some researchers say a wired headset, especially a “hollow tube” headset you can special-order that uses hollow tubes rather than wires to conduct sound is the best. Even a Bluetooth wireless headset may reduce your radio-frequency radiation exposure by several thousandfold, compared with holding the phone at your head. Still, maximize the amount of time that the Bluetooth is off (earpieces powered off, and Bluetooth network set to off in your phone).
  2. Distance the phone away from your body. Carry your phone in a purse or bag with the antenna (back of the phone) pointed away from you. Do not carry your phone in your pocket. Do not carry your phone in clothing you are wearing (bra, sock, hat, armband, etc.). When you are talking on it (with a headset or on speakerphone) put it on a table in front of you. Inches of distance between you and your phone can substantially reduce your radiation exposure; the farther the distance, the less your exposure.
  3. Text instead of talking. Holding your cell phone away from your head, and your body, to send text messages exposes you to less radiation, especially compared with holding the phone against your head to talk.
  4. Turn it off. Phones emit radio-frequency radiation while they search for or interact with a signal. It is important to realize that an apparently idle phone is almost continuously searching for a network signal. A phone that is powered off or in “airplane mode” (e.g., for use as an alarm clock or media player), emits much less radio-frequency radiation.
  5. Replace cordless phones with corded models. Cordless phones can emit as much radiation as cell phones, and the cordless phone base station constantly emits radio-frequency radiation unless it is disconnected from its power supply. “Eco” phone base stations emit less radiation when not in use.
  6. Use a lower-radiation cell phone. Cell phone retailers are not required to display the specific absorption rate (SAR), which is the amount of radiation a phone causes your body to absorb. Search FCC.gov/cgb/sar to find out the SAR level of your model. But no matter how low the SAR of your phone is, it is still important to distance the phone away from your head and body whenever possible.
  7. Distance your cell phone, cordless phone (handset and base station), and wireless modem/router away from your head. Each of those items will expose you to radio-frequency radiation, so banish them from bedrooms, or at least distance them away from your head and body. If you must have wireless Internet, power off your router whenever you are not actively using it, especially at bedtime—a power strip with a timer can help.
  8. Watch your phone’s level of charge. When a cell tower’s signal strength is weak or blocked, the phone must work harder to seek and maintain a network connection. Consequently the phone emits more radiation and increases your firsthand exposure and secondhand exposures to nearby children, pets, and other adults .
  9. Be wary of devices that claim to block radio-frequency radiation or other types of EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure. An Internet search yielded 236,000 results for “EMF protection,” most of which were websites selling “protective” devices ranging from pendants and crystals to microchips and herbal remedies. Most experts agree that many are based on quasi-science and there’s no evidence that they work. In various circumstances, some “EMF shields” for your phone actually increase the amount of radiation that the phone emits, since the shield blocks the signal and consequently the phone works harder.
  10. Don’t give cell phones to young children as toys or pacifiers. If you occasionally let your small tot play a game on your cell phone, first set the phone to “airplane mode” so that it will stop emitting radiation instead of continuing to seek a network signal.
  11. Take care with older children. Children are more susceptible to potential harm from radio-frequency radiation than adults (not to mention other harms from digital over-use). If you give your children a cell phone for safety reasons, also give them a headset (described above in point number 1.) and encourage them to text or use the speakerphone instead of putting the phone close to their heads.

Adapted November 2021 from: Green American, January/February 2011 Issue, article by Victoria Kreha