SAR Labels for Cell Phones?

Mathew Lasar writing over at Ars Technica has an update on San Fransisco’s new cell phone law requiring cell phone vendors to post Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) data for all models. The SAR is rate at which a phone can dissipate power as heat in the head of  a user. The San Fransisco law is based on the false premise that lower SAR levels are somehow more safe than phones operating right at the maximum SAR limit (1.6W/kg to be precise).

The SAR limit was set based on what level of thermal heating was barely detectable. By analogy, consider a stove burner continuously variable on a scale from zero to ten. When the burner is set to “two,” for instance, it may be hot enough to burn a hand. If the burner is set low enough, “0.1” for instance, suppose we find that the temperature difference is too small to accurately measure. So, being safety minded, we set the burner safety limit to 0.1. No more safety is achieved by setting the burner any lower – since a hand won’t be burned at all with the burner set to 0.1 it can’t be burned any less by setting the burner lower. Since the SAR limit is set to a level of negligible thermal impact, lower SAR levels do not provide any additional level of safety. The San Fransisco law is misleading, because it assumes more safety is achieved at lower SAR levels when complete safety already exists at the maximum limit.

Of course, this assumes that thermal phenomena are the only dangers from cell phone “exposure.” Are there spooky, hitherto unappreciated and unrecognized biological phenomena that might cause harm? It seems very unlikely.

Back in May, ÆtherCzar reported on the latest cell phone study which spent $24M following 13,000 cell phone users over ten years only to discover no statistically significant linkage between cell phone use and cancer (and in fact, some suggestion that cell phone use correlates with reduced risk of some cancers).

A new study kicked off following 250,000 cell phone users. An enormous amount of money is spent on studies of this sort whose conclusion always seems to be that an even more expensive study is necessary to further refine the negligibly small uncertainties left by the previous study.

This is a shame. There are actual risks with real life death tolls that could be reduced by a more prudent allocation of these funds. Traffic accidents, for instance, kill around 40,000 people annually. How many of these lives could be saved if these cell phone study funds were directed toward crash barriers, and safer roads?

Of course the one way in which cell phones actually are a dangerous hazard is when people use them to talk while driving. But that’s not a risk San Fransisco will be able to address with their SAR labeling standards.

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