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How Safe Is Your Cell Phone? Get Its Grade Right Here
Michael D. Cole
As a raging controversy about potential links between cellphone use and cancer simmers in Washington D.C., an advocacy organization known as the Environmental Working Group released the most comprehensive study of its kind ever on on September 9, 2009, ranking more than 1,000 cellphones marketed in the U.S. based on their levels of radiation.

This study comes on the heels of an August 2009 report that concludes there is a link between cellphone use and cancer.
 
The listing ranges from the Samsung Impression SGH-a77 (considered by EWG to be the best phone based on low emissions) to the Motorola Moto VU204 (which emits the highest radiation according to EWG).

EWG's top 10 phones based on low emissions are the following (carriers in parentheses):
  1. Samsung Impression (SGH-a877) [AT&T]
  2. Motorola RAZR V8 [CellularONE]
  3. Samsung SGH-t229 [T-Mobile]
  4. Samsung Rugby (SGH-a837) [AT&T]
  5. Samsung Propel Pro (SGH-i627) [AT&T]
  6. Samsung Gravity (SGH-t459) [CellularONE, T-Mobile]
  7. T-Mobile Sidekick [T-Mobile]
  8. LG Xenon (GR500) [AT&T]
  9. Motorola Karma QA1 [AT&T]
  10. Sanyo Katana II [Kajeet]
EWG's top 10 list of highest radiation phones are :
  1. Motorola MOTO VU204 [Verizon Wireless]
  2. T-Mobile myTouch 3G [T-Mobile]
  3. Kyocera Jax S1300 [Virgin Mobile]
  4. BlackBerry Curve 8330 [Sprint, U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless, MetroPCS]
  5. Motorola W385 [U.S. Cellular, Verizon Wireless]
  6. T-Mobile Shadow [T-Mobile]
  7. Motorola C290 [Sprint, Kajeet]
  8. Motorola i335 [Sprint]
  9. Motorola MOTO VE240 [Cricket, MetroPCS]
  10. BlackBerry Bold 9000 [AT&T]
EWG's online tool to obtain the rating for every device in the study can be accessed here. 

The organization's full report can be read by clicking here.

EWG, a nonprofit advocacy group that mainly concerns itself with health problems related to pollution, says the study entailed a 10-month investigation of more than 200 peer-reviewed studies, government advisories and industry documents.

The EWG concluded that current cell phone radiation standards, set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and based largely on 1992 cell phone industry recommendations, "are outdated and allow 20 times more radiation to penetrate the head than the rest of the body."

The FCC requires that all cell phones be rated at 1.6 watts per kilogram or lower; the Samsung Impression SGH-a877 was attributed a study-low rating of 0.35 by the EWG and the top three on the highest radiation list received ratings of 1.55.

The Apple iPhone received a middle-of-the pack rating of 1.16.

"We would like to be able to say that cell phones are safe," said Olga Naidenko, PhD, a scientist at EWG who is the lead author of the study. "But we can't. The most recent science, while not conclusive, raises serious issues about the cancer risk of cell phone use that must be addressed through further research."

In the meantime, Naidenko and the EWG offered safety tips in its report for reducing cell phone radiation exposure. Among them:
  • Use headsets and the speakerphone option if available.
  • Text more, talk less.
  • Stay off the phone when few bars indicate a weak signal.
A panel of scientists and cancer researchers convened on Capitol Hill on September 14, 2009, to testify in front of a Senate appropriations subcommittee at a hearing specifically addressing the health effects of cell phone use.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, the nonprofit organization representing the industry, argued at the hearing that radiation from cellphones has no impact on human health.

CTIA President / CEO Steve Largent, the former congressman and Hall of Fame football player, issued a lengthy statement following the hearing (that is available in its entirety here).

Among his comments, Largent said, "all wireless devices must adhere to strict emissions guidelines in the United States, which have been developed under a thorough and rigorous review process. All wireless base station antennas and phones must meet the science-based, (radio frequency) emission guidelines of the (FCC), which has established very conservative limits to ensure that the health of all citizens is protected."

Linda Erdreich, a senior managing scientist from Exponent (a New York engineering and science consulting firm) testified at the hearing at the request of CTIA. She said 50 years of evidence had failed to show that cellular phones can cause cancer.

"This part of the spectrum is known as non-ionizing radiation," she said in explaining that radio waves cannot damage the DNA in cells.

As reported by Reuters, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter pressed Erdreich repeatedly on whether science had conclusively proved there was no connection.

"Your statement that it is hard to prove a negative is right on," Erdreich acknowledged.

Iowa senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that oversaw the hearing, said, "I'm reminded of this nation's experience with cigarettes. Decades passed between the first warnings about smoking tobacco and the final definitive conclusion that cigarettes cause lung cancer."

At the hearing, Harkin (who recently assumed the committee chairmanship following the death of Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy) vowed to continue probing the link between cellphone use and cancer.

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