AMTA statement on Dr Devra Davis’ claims on mobile telecommunications health and safety

AMTA takes all matters of mobile phone safety very seriously and acknowledges the right of anyone to have their own view on the health and safety of mobile telecommunications devices.

However, to assist people to make informed choices about their use of mobile telecommunications services we believe that they should rely on the independent assessment of scientific expert bodies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

What do independent official experts say?

The WHO’s latest fact sheet from 2014 says:

A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”   http://www.who.int/entity/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/index.html 

ARPANSA says:

“A large number of studies have been performed to investigate whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. It is the assessment of ARPANSA and other national and international health authorities, including the WHO, that there is no established scientific evidence that the use of mobile phones causes any health effects. However, the possibility of harm cannot be completely ruled out.”  http://www.arpansa.gov.au/mobilephones/index.cfm

ARPANSA says if people are concerned, there are some simple steps they can take to reduce their exposure by using hands-free kits or speaker options.

ARPANSA says that all phones marketed in Australia must satisfy regulatory requirements and comply with safety limits based on the ARPANSA radiofrequency safety standard.

The Federal Government industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) requires all wireless devices, including mobile phones, to comply with official government safety standards that protect the community from electromagnetic energy (EME) or radio waves emitted by mobiles, base stations, radio and television.

The international and Australian mobile phone safety limits incorporate a 50 times (5000%) reduction factor for public exposure, below the established thresholds for biological effects.

Are official government-mandated safety standards adequate?  In a promotion for Dr Davis’ public presentations in Australia, it states that safety standards are 19-years-old, outdated and do not take into account “new global studies”. This is incorrect. ARPANSA reviewed the Australian safety standard last year and said:

“On the basis of an examination of the scientific literature in this area from January 2000 to August 2012, the Expert Panel concluded that the science behind the ARPANSA RF public safety Exposure Standard remains sound and that the exposure limits in the Standard continue to provide a high degree of protection against the known health effects of RF electromagnetic fields.” http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/technicalreports/tr164.pdf

Body-worn testing of handsets

Dr Davis and others make the claim that industry “hides” advice about the safe use of mobile phones when worn on the body.  This is incorrect.

The facts about mobile safety compliance are:

  • All mobile phone handsets models sold in Australia are required to undergo independent testing to ensure they comply with official Federal Government safety standards
  • Two types of tests are undertaken on handsets to ensure they comply with emission safety standards, which provide protection for all users, including children.
  • These tests measure the handset’s Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) at maximum operating power.  SAR is the unit of measurement for the amount of Radio Frequency (RF) energy absorbed by the head and body when using a mobile phone.

The tests include -  

Normal position: the handsets are tested when the phone is held to the ear in the normal position.  In this position the antenna is on the back of the phone away from the head.

Body worn: A second test is performed when the phone is not being held to the ear but carried against the body – such as being placed in a pocket or carried on a belt.

Typically, the manufacturer’s recommend that consumers carrying a mobile on their body maintain a separation distance between 5mm and 15mm to keep the antenna away from the body.  This can be achieved by using a belt clip, holster or similar accessory,  The small separation distance ensures the mobile phone meets the safety compliance limit and optimises reception and performance.

Why are there two tests? To take account of the different ways mobiles can be used and carried when not in use. The handset is designed to be held to the ear with no separation because the antenna is located in the handset away from the head to ensure compliance with the safety standards for emissions.

What happens if the recommended separation is not used against the body?  In most cases, mobile phones operate well below maximum power and would not exceed the safety compliance limit even if held right against the body.  Even if the mobile operated at maximum power, the safety compliance limit has a 50 times reduction factor and would not exceed the established thresholds for biological effects which are the basis of the safety standards.

  • Does the SAR for a mobile phone vary when in use?  Yes. Although the SAR is determined at the highest certified power level in laboratory conditions, the actual SAR level of the phone while operating can be well below this value. This is because mobile phones use adaptive power control to reduce the transmitted power to the minimum possible whilst maintaining good call quality.  Once a call is established the mobile phone will power down to the minimum level required.
  • Consumers have access to mobile phone safety information in user manuals and product quick start guides. 

Conclusion 

The mobile telecommunications industry takes all matters of mobile phone safety very seriously.

It’s important that debates about health and safety issues are based on the weight of scientific evidence presented by independent experts, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and its members, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, do not claim to be scientific safety experts, however, we are required by law to comply with strict safety standards via conditions placed on operating licences.  Telstra, Optus and Vodafone proactively offer consumer advice and information on mobile phone safety via their web sites and customer help desks.

Finally, people should weigh up the importance of advanced mobile telecommunications services delivering proven social and economic benefits to their families and communities against unproven and unsubstantiated claims of possible health effects that are not supported by independent official expert bodies.