Some overseas studies have rekindled fears of a link to brain tumours.
With its 12.1-megapixel camera and sleek touchscreen, the Sony Ericsson Satio is one of the most desirable mobile phones you could buy this Christmas. You may recognise it from its high-profile advertising campaign: carefree twentysomethings bouncing on colourful spacehoppers. But one thing the advert fails to tell the viewer is that the Satio is one of the highest emitters of low-level radio waves on the mobile phone market.
Different models record different levels of radiation, and some experts want radio wave readings advertised as prominently as are the salt and fat content on food labelling. Professor Denis Henshaw, head of radiation research at the University of Bristol, says: “While we don’t have an advanced state of knowledge about the harmful effects of mobile phones, a number attached to a phone is at least a start in giving the consumer an informed choice.”
The reading is recorded as a specific absorption rate (SAR): the rate at which head tissue absorbs the phone’s radiation. The higher the reading, the more radiation is emitted. Nine years ago Henshaw advised the Stewart Report, the UK’s first committee to tackle the issue in depth. It failed to find concrete evidence of adverse effects, but it did recommend that radiation readings be displayed on the back of mobile phone boxes and as a menu option. (The Mobile Manufacturers Forum claims that it is “impractical” to put these figures on packaging, but they can usually be seen on the manufacturers’ websites.) The European guideline for maximum radiation exposure is 2W/kg in 10g of body tissue. The Satio’s reading is 1.58W/kg. The LG Crystal’s is 1.47W/kg. Samsung phones record consistently low SAR values, while the Apple iPhone 3GS is between the two extremes with 1.1W/kg. All these models fall safely within the guidelines, so should you worry about SAR? Perhaps yes, if the preliminary findings of the Interphone study, the biggest of its kind, are to be believed. It is conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its conclusions will be drawn from research by scientists in 13 countries.