Cell phone case to reduce radiation?
August 20, 2011 7:49 AM   Subscribe

Can this cell phone case actually do anything to reduce radiation? Or this the equivalent of a power balance bracelet?

I am concerned about cell phone radiation because I spend hours a day on the phone. I appreciate any other advice on how to reduce radiation levels. For instance, there seem to be mixed opinions on whether to use a wireless or a wired headset.
posted by BigBrownBear to Technology (12 answers total)
The young lady in the ad wearing the sun dress is exposed to more radiation from the sun than she is from her phone, yet she doesn't seem to care. Just sayin...
posted by Old Geezer at 8:15 AM on August 20, 2011

If you reduce your phone's radiation, you reduce its signal strength and get crappier calls. I'm not clear how the makers of that case are claiming to make the signal more directional, so I'm not going to comment on that except to say that the text on the site smells a little woo-woo to me. AFAIK, links between cellphone radiation and cancer are still inconclusive, and they claim differently, so there's that, too.

In the land of more scientifically supported facts: Radiation decreases with a square of the distance from the source, so keeping the phone away from your body will do a lot to reduce your total exposure. I'd suggest using a wired headset so you can keep your brain and body further away from the phone if you're concerned about the radiation.

Police radar guns radiate at a different part of the RF spectrum, and at a different strength level, but the fundamentals of radiation and distance are the same. The radar guns were found to cause cancer for some cops who were putting the guns in their laps in between taking readings, which is one reason why many cop cars now have radar guns mounted a few feet away from the officer. That distance was considered enough to remove the immediate threat.

More information on RF (radio frequency) and electromagnetic radiation exposure is available here on the fcc.gov site.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:23 AM on August 20, 2011

The thing that always gets me with these radiation-blocking cell phone cases is that the fronts are always open! I mean, obviously they must be because you've gotta have a functional phone, but still. Never mind how much radiation comes out of the phone, or if it's even harmful, but I can't possibly see how a case like that would be effective. You'd need to encase the whole thing in lead or something. If only one side of the phone is covered up with the protective case, all the radiation's just going to come dumping out the other side.
posted by phunniemee at 8:25 AM on August 20, 2011

As an iPhone 4 case, it seems kind of crappy. The top and bottom edges of the phone are left exposed.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:26 AM on August 20, 2011

I don't know the specific product, but consider that a cell phone's radiation is how it communicates to the tower. Reducing it (if in fact, this product accomplishes that) would reduce the phone's effectiveness. The best way to keep safe from the phone's emissions is to keep from it, i.e., use a headset. Wired will be the safest - no radio emissions. Wireless ones 'should' have lower emissions as they only have to reach a few feet to the phone, not miles to the nearest tower. But if I were switching to a headset for the purpose of reducing my exposure to emissions near my brain, I'd go all the way and use a wired one.
Radiation of all types - light, sound, electromagnetic - decrease in their intensity as the square of the distance to the source. Meaning, that if your phone's antenna is typically a half-inch from your head, getting it only 3 inches away, 6x the distance, reduces the intensity at your head to 1/36-th, or about 3% of what it was at a half-inch. I.e. it's really easy to limit your exposure; the phone doesn't need to be very far to get a significant reduction.

(Just for completeness, note that the radio waves we're talking about here are not the same as the more energetic - and damaging - ionizing radiation such as X-rays, cosmic rays, and emissions from radioactive materials. That doesn't invalidate the research into electronic radiation's physiological effects; just clarifying that the two are not the same.)
posted by TruncatedTiller at 8:27 AM on August 20, 2011

I can't comment on the efficacy of the product itself, but an awful lot of the copy on their website seems to be complete bollocks.

Examples include:
Your cell phone emits a powerful form of microwave energy called electromagnetic radiation (EMR).
This is the wrong way around. When we talk about "microwaves", we're just describing electromagnetic waves that fall in a certain range of frequencies. Electromagnetic waves are not a "form of microwave energy" any more than e.g. all other websites are a form of Metafilter.

The absorption of this "near field" energy not only disrupts the "far field" energy necessary for the phone to communicate with a cell tower
The repeatedly talk about "near field energy" and "far field energy" as if they're different things, but all they're talking about is signal strength measured close to or far away from the phone. They seem to be doing this in order to sound more sciency and impressive, which is always a giant red warning flag.

While other epidemiological studies have evidenced increases in risk of developing brain tumors, lymphomas, and cancer, the list of suspected health effects goes much further.
I don't have time to do a proper take-down of the medical stuff they cite (although I will comment that the largest and best-designed studies of mobile phone use haven't found increased risk of cancer, even in very heavy users). But even ignoring the reliability of the evidence, this statement that talks about "tumours, lymphomas and cancer" is very weird, as they seem to think that tumours and lymphomas are different from cancer. It could just be very poor editing, of course. All of the medical claims and descriptions of studies that they make are very vague, and they don't point to any sources for the information, which is a further warning sign.

It's also worth noting that the picture showing reduced radiation emission from the phone is showing the back of the phone, where the aerial tends to be in most phones, and which is already pointing away from your head anyway.

I can't comment on whether their product -- which seems to claim to deflect your phone's radio waves away from you head without losing any signal strength, and without any shielding on the side of the phone that you actually hold next to your head -- would be possible to build. But the scientific claims on their site that I do understand are mostly crap, which doesn't inspire confidence in the rest.
posted by metaBugs at 8:28 AM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The whole site looks pretty dodgy to me.

Some of the things I see as red flags:
Pong uses real science, not gimmicks, to produce results. -- "Real" science. Not that fake stuff you buy at the store.

Pong's team of scientists includes Ph.Ds. in Plasma Physics, Photon Physics, Electronics Engineering, Cell Radiation Biology and Psychology. -- great. Who are they? Where are the papers they've published? Where are the papers of the studies done on this project? They have some nifty diagrams, sure, but where, exactly, is that "real" science they're so proud of?

patented technology -- what's the patent number? (I didn't look real hard, it may actually be there somewhere) Bare in mind getting a patent doesn't in any way guarantee that the thing actually works just that it's original enough to get a patent.

The above 3D plots were developed from actual tests conducted at CETECOM, an independent, FCC certified test facility. -- what were the tests? How were they designed? Was a paper produced? Was it published? And most importantly, were the results replicated? If no one else can replicate your results, your results are pretty useless.

And that's just on one page. I'm sure I could find plenty more. As phunniemee says the front is open. Even if the thing blocked harmful radiation, it's only blocking it from escaping from the back!

Bare in mind none of that means it doesn't work. Maybe it does. But I'd be, and am, suspicious. It seems to me that they're trying to blind by science. Throw out a bunch of science-y sounding words, hope that it sounds impressive and confuses people into thinking you know what you're talking about.

For some more info regarding the dangers of cell phone radiation you could do worse than starting here. He's got a bunch of other posts on the subject and he tends to link to his sources. Worth the read if it's something you're concerned about.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 8:40 AM on August 20, 2011

One important thing that these woo-woo devices always fail to mention: modern (3G and up) cell phones are all based on some form of CDMA. CDMA devices will always turn their transmit power down to the minimum amount which still allows the tower(s) to hear them. They do this because that allows the provider to put more phones on the air (it keeps the noise floor down). So if you wrap your phone in some sort of attenuator, it'll just transmit with slightly more power so that the net amount radiated is still the same as before. That is: your phone is already doing it's absolute best; if it transmitted any less power, the cell tower wouldn't be able to hear you.

The best you can do with any shield is change the directionality of the radiation, and that's really, really, really hard to model for varying phone types. Move the antenna just a little bit between phone type A and phone type B and you'll get very different patterns.
posted by introp at 9:17 AM on August 20, 2011

#8 in the second link you posted has it right
Skip the “radiation shield”

Although it is conceivably possible (although very doubtful) that whatever thing they put in that case is blocking radiation, it's on the side AWAY from your head. Your phone will just crank up its power a little, and nothing is shielding your head except your ear.

If you want to get less radiation absorbed by your body when talking on a cell phone move the phone away from your body. Speaker phone, or headset are your two options.

If you choose headset (because who wants to use speakerphone for hours a day?), I personally (I am not a EM physicist, I am not your EM physicist) would choose the most comfortable / useful model, and NOT care about wired/wireless. Wireless headsets will output radiation, of course, to communicate with your cell phone. However you will notice that any bluetooth headset has a much smaller range than the distance between your cellphone and the nearest cell tower. It's using much less power.
posted by Phredward at 9:40 AM on August 20, 2011

In addition to what others have said, I'd like to make a couple of points :

First, if you are concerned about radio waves near your head, get a wired headset. A wireless headset uses radio, after all.

Second, your phone has a variable strength radio in it. To preserve battery life it outputs at the lowest power setting to get the signal to the tower. If you interfere with that - by adding shielding - your phone will respond by increasing the output power!

Which, as others have said, will just come out the side you have next to your head, anyway since the "shield" is on the other side. It doesn't protect you, it actually makes the problem worse.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2011

I am concerned about cell phone radiation because I spend hours a day on the phone.

For what it's worth, the ways that radiation affects human tissue at the cellular level are pretty well understood - for cellphones to actually cause cancer, that would have to happen not only via some mechanism that nobody understands yet, but it would have to be some mechanism that nobody even suspects exists. Given the number of cell users in the world, this is more than just unlikely.

I know a few oncologists, and I think it's informative that while none of them smoke, all of them own cellphones.
posted by mhoye at 10:37 AM on August 20, 2011

use a headset. Wired will be the safest

Not so. A wired headset will act as an antenna; if anything it will increase your exposure to the harmless non-ionising electromagnetic radiation that mobile phones emit.
posted by alby at 11:24 AM on August 20, 2011

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