Most cell phone cases are so badly designed that they partially block the antenna, making the phone work harder to transmit a signal and intensifying the radiation that strikes the user’s head and body, an Environmental Working Group analysis shows.
The analysis, based on data submitted to the Federal Communications Commission by case-maker Pong Research Corp., shows that some cell phone cases on the market are so poorly engineered that the Specific Absorption Rate – a measure of the amount of radiation absorbed by the body – increased by 20 to 70 percent.
While government agencies haven’t determined yet whether exposure to cell phone radiation can cause adverse health effects, a growing body of evidence points to this possibility, the EWG said.
Pong Research Corp.’s data suggests that a phone case that obstructs the antenna makes the phone work harder to transmit its signal, causing dropped calls and depleting battery power.
The tests were performed on three models of cases made by competing companies and used with an iPhone4. The cases – Otterbox Impact, Case-Mate Barely There, and Speck Candy Shell – varied in thickness and composition, reflecting the range of products on the market.
The EWG’s analysis of the data found that the cell phone cases could decrease signal strength by as much as 90 percent.
So far, this information is the only publicly available data in the U.S. on how cases can affect the radiation emissions of cell phones.
Pong Research Corp. said it has designed cases that emit less radiation. Reporters from Wired.com reported the company’s case technology does “reduce the amount of radiation going from the iPhone into your head to a third of what it would be without the case.”
The federal government doesn’t require phone manufacturers to consider the effect of cases when they test whether phones comply with the FCC’s radiation exposure limits. A phone worn right next to the body and enclosed by a case that obstructs the antenna could expose the user to more radiation than the legal limit.
The EWG is calling on the FCC to update its guidelines to include cases in its cell phone testing procedures to ensure that they don’t compromise a phone’s functioning or prevent it from complying with the radiation exposure limits. While some industry representatives have questioned whether the FCC has the authority to regulate cell phone accessories, it’s done it before. The FCC’s 1996 regulations considered the use of cell phone holsters.
The EWG’s report lists several ways the FCC could update its radiation standards to address cell phone cases. It could:
- Insist that case manufacturers test their products with all compatible phones to ensure that the phones remain in compliance with FCC standards.
- Require manufacturers that make both phones and cases to show that their phones meet FCC standards when used with their cases.
- Test a sample of popular phones with popular cases to determine how much a case typically increases radiation absorption, and lower the SAR limit by at least this amount in the updated standards.
In the absence of meaningful action by the FCC, the EWG recommends that consumers follow these five steps to help protect against cell phone radiation:
- Use a headset or speaker mode.
- Hold the phone away from the body.
- Text more, talk less.
- Don’t store your phone in a pocket or under a pillow.
- Call when the signal is strong.