Minimizing the Radiation Risks of Cell Phones

My father died of brain cancer, so the ongoing debate over radiation from cell phones is something I monitor.

Without delving (too deeply) into the actual risks of cell phones, please tell me how effectively it would reduce my exposure to this radiation by doing the following:

  1. holding the cell phone about 6-8 inches away from my head, while talking

  2. using an earpiece (and keeping the cell phone away from my body), while talking.

If I do #1, but my head is situated between the phone and the cell phone tower, aren’t the radiation waves just traveling through my head anyway?


Here’s some second hand information that a very smart friend of mine figured out:

  1. This would work, as the further you have the transmitter away from your head, the smaller the impact would be felt. Like many energy things, would this follow the inverse square law? I believe it’s actually the antenna that is the important thing, so theoretically if you had a really long antenna, it would do the same thing.

  2. See #1.

Re: your other question, I understand that these are omnidirectional, so being in line doesn’t matter, otherwise, you couldn’t get a cell phone to work unless you were in LOS of a tower.

Also, they determined (as a class project) that the weaker the signal is, the more power your phone is pumping out trying to maintain contact with the tower.

Here’s something that maybe someone could answer for me since I’m the paranoid type (and it dovetails nicely to the OP’s concerns) and may need a cell phone for work: those bluetooth headsets (the cool ones that make you look like you were sent back in time to save the unborn leader of the resistance), are they worth it? I assume that bluetooth (or whatever they use) is radio and not microwave (or whatever cell phones use). Are they secure?

That probably veers too close to IMHO, but answers would be apprecaited.

Bluetooth is the same frequency band as a lot of cell phones, namely 2400 - 2483.5 MHz. (USA)

It utilizes a digital signal and a spread spectrum frequency hopping configuration, changing frequencies 1600 times per second.

Maximum power is 1/10 watt of power (100 mW).

Compare that to your cell phone, which has a maximum power of 3/5 watt (600mW).

It’s microwave, but extremely low power.

And in moving a cell phone away from your head, the power does not decrease linearly, but exponentially.


No generally bluetooth is not secure. People have been remote hacking bluetooth enabled cell phones for awhile now.

At defcon, the hacker convention, earlier this year a guy showed up with the “bluetooth sniper” (antenna mounted on what looked like a rifle) which was capable of hacking phones a mile away through walls.

The actual scientifically proven risk of cell phones, at this moment, is exactly zero, even if it’s directly againts your ear.

The radiation exposure you get will follow the inverse square law, meaning that the radiation level drops as the square of the distance. At 6 inches, you get 1/36th the exposure you get from 1 inch. At 8 inches you get 1/64th. At 10 inches, you get 1/100th. And so on. At 20 inches, you get 1/400th, but it’s kinda hard to actually carry on a phone conversation with the phone that far from your ear.

Same as above. The only important factor is how far the cell phone antenna is away from your body. Using the earpiece, you can make this distance greater.

Your cell phone doesn’t have any magical way of turning itself towards the tower. The cell phone tower emits radio waves in all directions. Your cell phone does the same thing. For the cell phone to work, the radio waves from the tower have to reach the cell phone at a level that it can pick them up, and the radio waves from the cell phone hav to get back to the same tower at a level that the tower can receive them. When you are in such an area that multiple towers can receive your signal (like in a border area between two towers), that makes a slightly more difficult problem that the cell phone company has to handle. They have to figure out what tower to actually let you talk with. But, that’s their problem, not yours.

This is true. One way to cut down your exposure is to make sure you have a strong signal.

I am kinda curious why you are just picking on cell phones. You do realize that the thing that opens the door for you at the grocery store blasts you dead in the face with radio waves too, as do many store theft systems, and even things like toll booths and ID card entry systems?

Microwaves are radio waves of a particular frequency. All microwaves are radio waves, but not all radio waves are microwaves. At the frequencies we’re talking about in this discussion, there is no real difference between the two.

By the way, the whole cell phone contraversy has its roots in high voltage power lines. Someone at an insurance company back in the late 60’s or early 70’s that folks who lived next to high voltage lines don’t live quite as long as folks who don’t live next to high voltage lines (guys at insurance companies spend oodles of time figuring things like this out). In the 80’s, this became a very hot topic, and obviously, if electric fields from power lines can be dangerous, cell phone radiation can be dangerous too. After all, its all the same kind of thing. 25 years later, after tons of research, no one has yet proven a conclusive link between cell phones and brain cancer. But the fact still remains. Folks who live next to high voltage lines die earlier.

You should fear the power wires in your house, not your cell phone. No one has ever made the same statistical correlation with cell phones.

There has been one interesting statistical correlation made with cell phones though. If you talk on a cell phone in a car, you are just as likely to be in an accident as someone who has been drinking.

Cell phones in the US operate at either the 900 MHz range, or the 1900 MHz range (1900 is called PCS). Bluetooth is the same frequency as microwave ovens, at 2400 MHz (2.4 GHz). So Bluetooth is more “microwavey” than cell phones.

Using a wired earpiece should definitely reduce the power that your head absorbs, since the antenna is farther away. Of course, none of this matters because cell phones, and RF and microwaves in general, are non-ionizing radiation, which can’t cause chemical (DNA) changes unless they’re actually heating up tissue enough to cook it.

I’m the very antithesis of the typical technophobe / scaremonger / would-be victim. I’m also a CS/EE by training. Irrationally afraid of RF “radiation” I’m not.

OTOH, a cellphone held to my ear causes a distinct headache in seconds. When I drive through a narrow cleft near my house and the cellphone ramps up the output power to still reach the tower I can feel it as surely as I could feel someone pressing hard on the side of my head with their thumbs.

That feeling is not an illusion, it’s not psychosomatic. It’s real.

Is it dangerous? I have no idea. But it is uncomfortable, and I can’t see how any of the ways that RF could couple to living tissue would be beneficial. And clearly it is coupling somehow.

The perception follows the inverse square law nicely. I use a headset 99% of the time and set the phone on the car’s console or my desk; it’s almost never against my ear or on my belt while it’s in use. From 2 feet away it’s imperceptable. Anything within 6" of my skull I can feel. On my belt I can feel it in my innards, but not as strongly as with my head.

On man’s experience, the statistics may vary. I for one am treating it just like a car: a latent hazard of modern life that can be minimized through thoughtful & careful use.

Using an earpiece is not necessarily any safer. There is research that (it is claimed) shows it merely directs the radiation along the wire into your head.
The easiest, cheapest, and safest way of reducing people’s exposure would be to put the aerial at the bottom of the phone rather than the top, placing it maybe 10cm instead of 1cm from your head (so 1% of the radiation).

But the phone companies have apparently decided there would be customer resistance to such an unusual looking phone (rather like the untested claim by transport companies that people would prefer not to ride on buses, trains or planes with the seats facing backwards, even though they would be much safer).

Are you sure? Be aware that a psychosomatic discomfort is as real as an externally generated discomfort. Ask my mother-in-law, whose lungs spasm
at the sight or thought of smoke. Her discomfort is very real, despite the imaginary cause. (And this lady can smell smoke and choke on it before I even light a fire.)

Some RF is going to follow the wire, but not much. This is easily proven with common sense. If a majority if the RF went down the earpiece wire, any time you used an earpiece the range of the phone would be cut so dramatically that it would be useless in most areas. Anything that implies that most of the RF gets directed into your head is a bit misleading (maybe more than a bit).

I’m having a tough time coming up with an explanation that’s not psychosomatic. I’ve been closer to much more powerful transmitters than cell phones and haven’t been able to feel anything in my body.

I’d be curious to do an experiment. Have someone make two identical cardboard boxes. Put the cell phone in one, and leave the other empty, and have them walk up to you carrying one box selected at random (have the box selection done out of your range of vision, like in another room). You tell them whether or not the phone is in the box. It would be very interesting to see if you can accurately detect the phone’s presence.

As I recall the reserach there was no suggestion it was the majority, but nevertheless what was there was being radiated from something inside your ear, so as close to your brain as it can get. Probably no worse that just not using the earpiece, but most likely no better either.

I would add to this:

  1. The phone should be on and connected to someone on another phone. They shouldn’t say anything during the experiment, of course.

  2. Instead of an empty box, the other box should contain an identical phone which is turned off.

  3. The person who brings the box should have NO idea which box contains the phone, nor any contact at all with whoever does. That is, the experiment should be double-blinded.

  4. The experiment should be conducted multiple times.

To add to that, he should probably see a doctor, wheather psychsomatic or not.

But most phones now use variable rate vocoders and will not be transmitting nearly as much power when you are not speaking into the phone. For CDMA phones from say Sprint or Verizon the bit rate an consequently the transmitted power will be down by about a factor of 8 during quite periods as compared to period where the person is actively talking.

When I get in an area where the signal is weak and the phone is pumping out more signal I usually get a headache also.
But I attribute it to 1) I’m now pressing the phone harder against my head so I can hear better, and 2) concentrating to hear someone on the other end of a bad signal can give me a headache.

Radiation waves.

We’re not talking radioactive energy, which is a different elemental force. We’re talking the radiation, that is, the ‘shining forth’ of electromagnetic waves. You know, stuff like…light.

While light can be coaxed to go mostly in one direction (like with a flashlight), it generally is omnidirectional. Even with ‘focusing’ in one direction, it still spreads out (unless it was a laser, but that doesn’t apply here). Same thing with other EM waves. Satellites ‘beaming’ signals to the earth are like that flashlight. It’s all photons, baby.

As mentioned above, the cellular towers and the cell phones they communicate with are omnidirectional. They ‘shine’ in all directions. So, in effect, you can’t ‘hide’ from the EM outputs of your phone or your cell phone tower. This means you can’t hide from anybody else’s EM broadcast. Nor can you hide from all the radio stations your radio picks up; nor all the CB communication or ham radio communication or walk-talkie communication happening all around you. Also, all that blue tooth and wireless computing and wireless phone signals are zooming through your head right now. Not to mention the aforementioned toll both scanners and TV broadcast and satellite communications and your remote car key.

Not to mention all that broadband EM bombardment from space. And that deadliest of all EM broadcasters: The Sun!

Granted, certain EM frequencies are bad because they have a peculiar quantum effect on certain atoms and particles (like microwave EM heating up water molecules, of which, we are mostly made). But the effects of these frequencies have been well documented. And a thousand watt radio tower half a mile away from you is as dangerous as a thousand watt light bulb half a mile away from you.

Yes, you can drown with enough water, but you don’t worry about days with 100% humidity. (Ack, all those water molecules in the air! What if they collect in my lungs?!) Same with EM.

BTW, you’re brain is emitting EM radiation right now and that EM radiation is traveling through my head. Please cut it out. :wink:


If you can really detect cell phone radiation by the pain it is causing you, I guess you could collect $1M from Randi. :cool:

Any concrete answers to my second question in my opening post would be appreciated, folks.

Some Internet sites suggests earpieces are a good idea, others do not.

It’s been answered since my initial response: it’s a matter of distance from the transmitter. Other posters have elaborated greatly on the specifics. Perhaps you should look into a hands-free set like one might use in the car. Failing that, don’t use a cell phone.

Um… there’s no difference between whatever “radioactive energy” you’re talking about and radiation via electromagnetic waves. Gamma ‘particles’ emitted by radioactive elements are also photons, which are EM radiation. The difference is the energy contained in each (proportional to the frequency of the radiation).
Beta and alpha particles are electrons and Helium nuclei respectively, so those types of radioactive emissions can be differentiated from what your cell phone puts out.

<nitpick>lasers “spread out” (diverge) too, just much less than most other sources </nitpick>

Technically it depends on the wavelength spectrum of each source. The light bulb is a blackbody source that emits in a broad band, while the radio tower probably emits in a much more discrete spectral profile. The danger depends largely on what frequencies are present and how effectively they interact with your body’s cells.

Anyway, in response to the OP’s questions, i’ll second (or third or whatever) everyone else’s inverse square law response. Holding the phone away and using a headset will both reduce the amount of radiation passing through your head, though as long as the cell phone is actually emitting you can’t eliminate it completely (unless you wrap your head in tin foil, in which case you should post pictures).

That being said, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. There hasn’t been any documented evidence that cell phone emissions do any damage to cells. If you’re really worried (read: paranoid) use a headset, since that’ll reduce exposure more than anything else (short of not using a cell phone at all, of course).