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iPhone 12 Ban in France: Former Telecom Exec Explains Impact and Radiation Dangers

On Tuesday September 12, France’s national radio frequency agency ANFR (Agence Nationale des Frequences) banned the iPhone 12, Apple’s first 5G smartphone released in 2020, from being sold. 

The news made international headlines, even though many news articles were lacking the full context of the issue. We hope to give you a complete overview of why the iPhone 12 was banned, along with some context to help you understand current problems with phone testing and safety.

The reason for ANFR’s decision came from results of a random test of 141 phones from different stores throughout France. The ANFR conducted accredited lab testing that measures the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of the phone, or how much radiation energy is absorbed by the body. 

The ANFR found that the iPhone 12, at 0 mm away from the subject, tested above the allowable SAR standard set by the European Union of 2 watts per kilogram. That means that no more than 2 watts per kilogram (energy) can be absorbed by 10 grams of contiguous tissue. The United States standard says no more than 1.6 watts per kilogram can be absorbed by any 1 gram of tissue.

ANFR tests found the iPhone 12 was showing a SAR of 5.74 w/kg. This is what led to the ANFR’s guidance to stop selling the iPhone 12 in France. They did not find this issue for the iPhone 12 Mini or iPhone 12 Pro.

Since then, other European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Italy started their own investigations. Russia’s consumer rights and human wellbeing agency has since warned that all cell phones, without exception, pose a threat to human health and advised caution while using them. Apple contested the findings, claiming the ANFR tests were performed wrong and didn’t match the tests Apple had done themselves. 

However, Apple released a software update a few days later that they claimed would solve this issue (why fix it if you don’t believe it’s actually an issue??). ANFR has since tested the software update, and found that the SAR was down to 3.94 w/kg, just ever so slightly under the EU standard of 4.0 w/kg.

So, what does this all mean, and what questions should we be asking about the iPhone 12, and phone radiation exposure across models? In this blog, we will talk about SAR ratings and if international standards are actually safe, how testing is conducted, our opinion of what might have happened, and finally, did Apple solve the problem?

Viewpoints on Phone Safety

First, let’s talk about phones in general. Are they safe to use all day, and to keep on or near our bodies 24/7? 

According to research studies, including a National Toxicology Program study funded by the United States FDA, there is the potential for harmful effects with chronic exposure. These effects are documented with non-ionizing radio frequency signals using power levels below what would be able to induce any heat damage. Remember that for later

Effects range anywhere from hormonal and neurotransmitter disruption (Melatonin, anyone?) to brain fog or problems concentrating, to–yes–cancerous tumors.

With that being said, more research is needed to establish a more concrete cause-and-effect relationship, although many theories have appeared. So what are some international regulatory stances on how dangerous phones are?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said since 2011 that cell phone radiation is possibly carcinogenic. It is in the same grouping as lead, and as of 2023, aspartame. They claim there is limited evidence, but need more research before updating the classification.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) sets guidelines for radio frequency radiation limits globally. It agrees that phones and other electronic devices can emit harmful radiation. However, it says the main concern from our devices are thermal-related health effects, like burns, inflammation, etc. The chair of ICNIRP, Professor Rodney Croft, said the higher SAR levels of the iPhone 12 would not have any risk to human health. 

The United States Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, also believes that we only have to worry about thermal effects. If a device isn’t powerful enough to cause thermal damage to our tissues, then it is completely safe. FCC standards for phone radiation safety are even looser than those set by the ICNIRP.

However, many health organizations in countries like Switzerland, Russia, Italy, and Belgium are aware of the biological impact of radio frequency radiation, even when no evidence of thermal effects are present. They have much more precautionary regulations. For more info on international standards, read this blog.

Are SAR Standards Adequate?

The short answer is no.

SAR limits don’t vary much country by country, and most–besides a few of the countries above–adopt a version of the ICNIRP regulations. The European Union, Australia, Japan, and many other countries in the world follow ICNIRP SAR standards. The United States, Canada, and Korea follow the looser FCC SAR standards, created by the United States FCC.

The first problem is that SAR standards are outdated. The FCC, which has long been ruled a corrupt and captured federal agency, established updated SAR Standards in 1996. Yes, almost 30 years ago. A phone from 1996 and a phone from today are basically two completely different pieces of technology. The FCC recently got in trouble in court for failing to update its standards, specifically for children.

This leads us to the second problem: SAR standards were developed using a 200-pound full-grown adult male as the test dummy. Radiation is only capable of reaching 2 inches into a full-grown adult male’s brain, whereas it can completely cross through the brain of a child. SAR standards were basically made in the best-case scenario, and don’t account for smaller men, women, or children. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) introduced the first set of guidelines for children, which recommend that children’s whole-body exposure be 0.2 – 0.4 milliwatts per kilogram, 200 to 400 times lower than the FCC’s suggested 1.6 watts per kilogram.

A third issue is that the FCC established the absorption rate for a person 5 mm away from the device. So even if electronic device radiation levels were acceptable, SAR standards would only be adequate if your device wasn’t touching your body. France in particular actually has built on the ICNIRP wireless regulations by adding a test that measures SAR 0 mm from the subject. Most all other tests in the US and Europe are done with some space in between, cutting radiation exposure.

Finally, SAR standards were developed only to minimize thermal effects of RF emissions on the body and didn’t take into account biological effects that might happen regardless of tissue heating. 

While Apple’s new software has lowered SAR to 3.94 w/kg, does that extra 0.06 less than the EU standards really make the iPhone 12 (and all iPhone models for that matter) safe to use? According to the regulations, yes, but it is still a massive cause for concern as SAR standards are outdated and simply not adequate.

Are Phones Tested Correctly?

Similar to how SAR standards aren’t adequate to regulate the safety of electronic devices, there are multiple issues with the testing methods of cell phones that establish if they meet the SAR rating.

Measuring radiation exposure is actually quite difficult. There are many different units of measurements to describe exposures, since harm varies with power, distance, source, modulation, and length of exposure. RF is also absorbed differently depending on the conductivity of different body parts.

Remember above when we said that most SAR regulations limit exposure at a standard of 5 mm away?

Well, a lot of phone manufacturers only test their phone SAR levels at that distance or farther. Everyone tests phones differently and no set standard applies accurately in all situations. While concerning, the ANFR’s reports of the iPhone 12 registering 5.74 W/kg was from the 0-mm test, and we know Apple’s testing parameters standardize 5 mm away, which doesn’t seem like much, but can mean an exponential decrease in exposure and SAR levels. Some manufacturers test even further away, even though that is not the likely usage scenario for using a phone.

Additionally, the FCC doesn’t test phones themselves–they make the cell phone manufacturers self-test and self-report their own phones’ SAR values. Most of the time, independent lab testing cannot replicate manufacturers’ results, as was seen when the Chicago Tribune tested multiple phone models back in 2019 and found the iPhone 7, 8, X, and the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S8 all tested over the SAR standards. Of course, this led the FCC to conduct their own testing, where they asked the cell phone manufacturers to provide them with phones to test. They found all phones were in the clear, begging the question: Are these provided phones made differently than the random ones tested off the shelves of stores?

Manufacturers have claimed their testing procedures to determine accurate SAR ratings are proprietary, and that independent labs are “doing it wrong”. We are seeing this again with the iPhone 12 testing done by the ANFR. If the phone manufacturers are the only ones capable of correctly testing the radiation Specific Absorption Rate, how do we know if our phones are actually safe?

Should We Be Concerned About the iPhone 12 Ban?

Long story short: There should be concern for all phones. Just because the iPhone 12 tested higher than the SAR standard allows, doesn’t mean it is significantly more dangerous than other phones out there, due to the SAR standards being outdated and not taking biological impacts into account.

Additionally, there are probably multiple lots of iPhone 12s, and the SAR level might have only been programmed higher in one lot, which would affect regional iPhone 12s in France. The software update Apple has said they would release should prevent the iPhone 12 transmitter from transmitting at a higher power level, effectively decreasing the SAR level. 

This does raise the concern of quality control, and differences in what is self-tested and self-submitted with what is released to the public by the phone manufacturers. It may be just one production lot of iPhone 12s, or it may be dozens of lots of iPhones across all models. Without knowing the details of how many iPhone 12s were tested, if they were from different production lots, and the percentage of them that failed, it is hard to say if the iPhone 12 is a specific concern globally.

There are not adequate checks and balances to make sure our devices are following standards, and not enough research and attention into updating the standards to make them adequate at protecting the public, especially children, from harm.

Embracing Caution and EMF Protection

Amid these revelations, it’s imperative for consumers to exercise vigilance when using mobile electronic devices, not only in Europe but globally. Here at DefenderShield, we have been unwavering advocates of EMF safety since our inception over a decade ago. Our mission is to empower individuals to shield themselves from potential risks associated with prolonged EMF radiation exposure.

How to Protect Yourself from Phone Radiation

  • Increase the distance from your device. Holding your phone 1 inch away will decrease exposure by 25%, whereas 1 foot away will decrease by 80% and 4 feet away will decrease by 98%. This is due to the inverse-square law.
  • Reduce the time spent on your devices, especially the time you hold your phone against your head, or place it in your pocket, bra, or in your lap.
  • Turn off WiFi, Bluetooth, and cellular data whenever you don’t need it, easily done via Airplane Mode. This is especially important if you are far away from a cell phone tower or experiencing bad service; the phone will transmit at its highest power level to keep trying to connect you to a router or cell tower! You should make it a habit to do this every night so you can make sure you get your best sleep possible.
  • Get EMF radiation blocking shields for your devices. Here at DefenderShield, we sell everything you need to reduce your daily exposure to radiation emitting from your electronic devices. We have phone cases, laptop shields, pouches and bags, and clothing all built with our industry-leading EMF-shielding technology, so you can mitigate direct body contact with potentially harmful emissions. So if you do need to work with your laptop on your lap or need to take a long phone call, you can rest assured that you are protected.
DefenderShield EMF Phone Case Shielding Technology iPhone 13

As the situation unfolds with the iPhone 12 in Europe, we strongly encourage everyone to stay informed, adopt necessary safety measures, and explore EMF protection solutions. It’s not about forsaking technology but using it responsibly and wisely. This concept goes by the name “Digital Wellness” and is pillar in our overall holistic health.

In an ever-advancing technological landscape, our awareness of potential health impacts must evolve. Let’s prioritize safety in the digital era and make informed choices about our daily device usage. Your well-being matters, and EMF protection is a crucial step in safeguarding it.

Daniel T. DeBaun

Daniel T. DeBaun is an internationally recognized and influential expert in Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF) and shielding electronic emissions, with a particular focus on the effect of exposure from mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and cell phones. Daniel’s concern regarding the health impact of electronic radiation emissions grew from over 30 years of engineering experience in the telecommunications industry, where he held a variety of leadership and executive positions at Bell Labs, AT&T, SAIC and Telcordia. Daniel is co-author of recent bestseller, Radiation Nation: The Fallout of Modern Technology, a complete guide to EMF radiation safety and protection. Daniel is also a highly regarded industry consultant, speaker as well as frequent guest national radio and television programs discussing EMF health issues.