Cell Phone Protection: A Budding Cottage Industry

OK, repeat after me: Calling my spouse on my cell phone will not give me cancer. If you can do that palm-up in a full lotus position then you get extra points, but I digress. Cell phones have been blamed for everything from cancer to infertility to acne due to the electromagnetic radiation they give off. In fact, it was a big thing a few years ago with learned folks getting time on national talk shows and the morning-news-from-the-couch circuit to tout the dangers of cell phone radiation and sell some books. Then, the drive was to get you to throw out your newest favorite prestige gadget (and, if possible, stomp on it). Today, accepting that cell phones are here to stay, these well-meaning crusaders want to sell you stuff. If you are thinking of jumping into that business, read on. 

These products are, for the most part, variations on the radiation shield. True, they are not as large or heavy as the lead apron you have to wear while getting a chest x-ray, but according to their manufacturers they will save you from the dangers of that little Razor or flip phone lurking maliciously in your pocket or hanging like some vampirc parasite from your belt. In this latter category, the RFS BeltClip Shield seems to be the standout. Here is what the sales literature had to say:

When a cell phone is attached to a belt radiation can penetrate the area near the cell phone handset. This radiant energy is absorbed much faster than at your head because tissues and organs such as liver, kidneys and reproductive organs provide much better conductivity than the skull

The BeltClip Shield is made of see-through rf fabric embedded by hand into clear lamination. It is designed to safely attach a cell phone to your body via any swivel clip accessory. We recommend you keep the 4x7in shield as large as possible, and trim it only when absolutely necessary for comfort! The more rf shielding between you and a cell phone - The Better! There is no magic to this protection, it uses that same deflection technology as the screen door in a microwave oven and it works!

So let me get this straight: My cell phone is a danger to me and my liver, kidneys and reproductive organs even if the thing is not transmitting? That is awful! Of course, the FCC limits the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) to 1.6 Watts per Kilogram, far less than the European Union’s specification of 2.0 Watts per Kilogram and highest SAR level for a commercially available cell phone, the Motorola V120c, is 1.55w/k. These are active figures, the amount you might expect to absorb while actually using the phone and on average, the amount of radiation is significantly lower than the allowable maximums. Given that, and the fact that I have found no compelling information telling me that any of my organs are threatened simply by carrying my phone, with an SAR rating of 0.9, around in my pocket, I have to wonder why I would spend my hard-earned $6.99 on what I am sure is a lovely 4x7in piece of see-through laminated fabric. Still, let’s not be cynical. There has to be something out there that is useful.

This brings us to the AegisGuard™ LS Radiation Shield. This product offers 99.998% protection from the radiation emitted by any electronic product operating at frequencies between 5Hz and 15GHz. What’s the best part about it? It is a spray-on! Here is what they have to say about themselves:

When properly applied it provides outstanding radiation shielding protection within the supported frequency ranges without affecting product performance, power consumption, or wireless product signal strength. Since the appearance of electronic products such as cellular phones are not altered, it is also the perfect precautionary safety measure for protecting children who resist changing the appearance of the products they use.

One spray application is required for surfaces such as painted ceilings, walls, and many products found in homes, offices and factories that are never washed or become wet. AegisGuard™ LS should be reapplied to frequently handled products periodically such as wireless phones, handhelds, pagers and headsets that are not used with a protective outer case, and it must be reapplied if the product is washed or becomes wet from excessive sweat, rain, etc. The use of a protective outer case with these types of products is recommended if you sweat heavily.

OK, you spray it on and as long as you don’t sweat on it, you are golden. You could, conceivably, spray it onto yourself like a sunscreen since it is hypoallergenic and can be washed off with soap and water. However, like the charming 4x7in loin-protector mentioned above, and considering the negligible radiation levels involved, I have to ask “What good is this?”

There are other products and they are all variations on this theme of shielding. Most of them cover the earpiece. You can spend a little or you can spend a lot and this stuff is selling. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am all for selling stuff. I am all for some bright entrepreneur coming up with a plan and executing it to become the next Big Deal. I just don’t care for it when that plan rests on the back of bad science. The problem is that the connection with the myriad of health problems people have tried to blame on cell phones is so tenuous and suspect that one cannot honestly say there is a firm, direct connection between cell phone use and these terrible illnesses.

Does a cell phone emit electromagnetic radiation? Sure it does. So does the computer you have under your desk and the monitor you are reading these words on right now. Then there is the TV and the radio, your conventional phone, the electrical lines in your home or office, the alternator in your car, lightning, the atmosphere, the solar wind and the sun itself. In fact, when you think about it, you are swimming in a sea of electromagnetic radiation 24-hours a day, every day. That is a lot of radiation and cell phones aren’t the biggest contributors. 

So why do they get such a bad rap? Like the old, quarrelsome women of Salem around 1692, they are made to order for this particular rap. After all, we tend to press the cell phone to our ears when we use them. Your ear, or maybe the side of your head, gets hot and the next thing you know, you are wondering if that radiation is doing something funny to your cells. Throw in some stories about dying cancer patients eager to point fingers at the cause of their misery—and maybe gain a judgment they can leave to their families—and all of a sudden cell phones cause cancer.

The problem isn’t greedy companies out to bilk the unsuspecting, it is the fact that the media moves faster than science, which is, by nature, very conservative and rightly so. The scientific method is tried and true: Observe, hypothesize, experiment, theorize, test the theory and repeat. This takes time, much longer than the sensation-driven media is capable of dealing with. So if you are genuinely frightened by cell phone radiation, by all means go out and buy one of these silly products. It won’t hurt you and you will get some peace of mind. However, before you do, go out and do a little research for yourself and test the hypothesis that these folks are trying to push on you. This is especially true if you are in business and you are thinking of jumping on the cell phone radiation bandwagon. If you do, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. After all, fads and panics come and go, but a solid product is something you can build upon.