The Dangers of Phone Radiation

KZ Okpala
March 21, 2019

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2019


Fig. 1: A man exposing himself to cell phone radiation. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There is no doubt that we live in a society which is dominated by competitive technologies. The most obvious, and most competitive of all, ought to be the Cell Phone. [1] Whether it be in your pocket, your bag, or next to your bed as you sleep, cell phones are an underrated source of potentially dangerous radiation, which can ultimately lead to medical issues.

The Potential for Damage

In today's modern era, it is unrealistic to expect an individual to completely avoid exposure to cell phone radiation, as they have grown to be integral parts of society, leisure and business. In fact, it is predicted that over 5 billion people on earth own a mobile phone - with 90% of adults having their cellular device within an arm's reach at all times. But the fact remains, phones could be dangerous. There are many mixed opinions on the issue, especially regarding the magnitude of the danger of cell phone exposure.

Phones emit both radio and microwave radiation. This radiation is classified as non-ionizing radiation, which is essentially lower energy radiation that doesn't have enough energy to damage chemical bonds. This is in contrast with ionizing radiation, which carrys enough energy to damage human cells, damage DNA, potentially cause burns and sickness, and even cause cancer. And so, there remains debate about whether or not cell phones are causing human health issues. [2] Nonetheless, there are Californian guidelines as to the suggested SAR level of a mobile phone. An SAR level can be defined as the amount of radiation your brain absorbs. The limit to this SAR level for a mobile phone is 1.6W/Kg, so keeping under this SAR level is a great way to reduce the potential risk of being exposed to your cell phone. [3]

Suggested Precautions

As previously mentioned, although it would be ideal from a health standpoint to completely avoid cell phone exposure, and the risks which come with it, it is an unrealistic demand. However, there are certainly measures which can be taken to reduce exposure time, and thus the likelihood of receiving the health-related consequences. [3]

The goal is to reduce exposure time to radiation. So, of course, if you can avoid being physically near your phone, do so. However, if this is unavoidable, it is important to utilize the airplane mode function, as it turns off cellular, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Additionally, it is worthwhile using headphones or a speaker function when making longer phone calls. Direct phone contact with a human head for sustained periods of time is not suggested (see Fig. 1). Finally, you should most definitely consider sleeping in a different room from your cellular device. [4]


As we live in a progressive society, which sees new technologies and advancements on a daily basis, it is important to remain aware of some of the risks which come with them. Nowadays, people spend the majority of their days with their eyes on their phone screen, or at least have it strapped to their waist. Therefore, it is important to understand that cell phones emit potentially dangerous radiation, and that they should constantly strive to limit the exposure which they have to such radiation.

© KZ Okpala. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. B. El-Bediwi et al., "Effects of Electromagnetic Radiation Produced by Mobile Phone on Some Visceral Organs of Rat," J. Med. Sci. (Faisalabad) 11, 256 (2011).

[2] S. Kovach, "Hidden Dangers Cell Phone Radiation," Life Extension Magazine, August 2007.

[3] A. MacMillan, "Cell Phone Radiation May Be Dangerous, California Health Officials Warn," Time, 18 Dec 17.

[4] D. Davis and E. Durante, Disconnect (Dutton, 2010).