Following the recent news that sales of Apple’s iPhone 12 in France have been banned over radiation fears, we look at where these fears came from and how much danger, if any, Apple iPhone 12 users may be in.
France, Fears, Ban, & Update
France’s National Frequency Agency (ANFR), the watchdog that manages all radio frequencies in France (for all wireless communications) recently ordered an immediate withdrawal of the iPhone 12 from the French market over fears that the phone could be emitting dangerous radiation.
The fears came from the results of an ANFR test of the iPhone 12, simulating the phone being held in the hand or put in a pocket. Following the test, the ANFR reported that it emits more electromagnetic waves (susceptible to being absorbed by the body) than permitted.
With ‘SAR’ standing for Specific Absoption Rates, the ANFR’s tests evaluate phones in contact with the body for “limb” SAR (a phone held in the hand or in a trouser pocket), and at a distance of 5 mm for “trunk” SAR (a phone carried in a jacket pocket or a bag). In the EU, phones must comply with the regulatory limit values of 4.0 W/kg for “limb” SAR and 2 W/kg for “trunk” SAR. In the case of the iPhone 12 test, the ANFR said that “measurements have revealed a “limb” SAR value exceeding this limit, specifically 5.74 W/kg. However, the “trunk” SAR values are compliant.”
In addition to the ban on sales of the iPhone 12, the ANFR said: “Apple must immediately take all measures to prevent the availability of the concerned phones in the supply chain. Regarding the phones that have already been sold, Apple must promptly take corrective measures to bring the concerned phones into compliance. Failing that, it will be the company Apple’s responsibility to recall them.”
Germany & Belgum Spooked
Following the results and action in France, it was reported that regulators in Germany and Belgium were investigating the SAR levels of the iPhone 12 which could result in similar action in those countries. Other European countries may follow suit. Spain’s OCU consumers’ group, for example, has urged authorities there to halt the sales of the iPhone 12.
What Does Apple Say About It?
Apple has disputed the ANFR’s findings, dismissing them as “a specific testing protocol used by French regulators and not a safety concern.”
Apple said that its iPhone 12, introduced in 2020, has been certified by multiple international bodies as compliant with global radiation standards, that it has provided several Apple and third-party lab results proving the phone’s compliance to the French agency, and that it was contesting its findings.
Apple has also said that it will issue a software update to fix any radiation issues.
Who’s Right? Is It Dangerous?
Electromagnetic fields are present everywhere, i.e. electromagnetic field radiation occurs naturally and also, we are subject to man-made electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by electricity that comes out of every power socket. The higher frequency radio waves used to transmit information, e.g. from TV antennas, radio stations or mobile phone base stations. Arguably, the common lightbulb emits high frequency electromagnetic radiation (i.e. visible light), yet few people are concerned about that. However, fields of different frequencies interact with the body in different ways.
Radiation, which appears to be the most frightening word due to its links to cancer, refers to the emission of energy as electromagnetic (EM) waves or fast-moving subatomic particles. Both forms of radiation are naturally occurring, and can come from various sources including the sun, cosmic rays, radon gas, radioactive rocks and even common foods such as Brazil nuts. However, “non-ionising” radiation comes from much lower frequency (EM) sources, such as microwaves, cordless-phones, Bluetooth etc. Radiation can also come from, planned (medical, occupational) or accidental situations.
Where mobile phones are concerned, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which sets global SAR guidance and levels classed the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from mobile phone use as “possibly carcinogenic” in 2011. However, as the World Health organisation stated about the radiofrequency waves transmitted by mobile phones in 2014: “Radiofrequency waves are electromagnetic fields, and unlike ionizing radiation such as X-rays or gamma rays, can neither break chemical bonds nor cause ionisation in the human body.”
It also stated that: “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.”
Comments About The iPhone 12’s Safety
In relation to the iPhone 12’s ban, Professor Rodney Croft, the chair of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has been widely quoted across the media, saying: “From a health and safety point of view, it is not as if this is putting anyone at risk”.
Limits Have Been Set Low
It is also the case that regulatory limits on SAR have been set well below levels where scientists have found evidence of harm anyway. For example, based on the risk of burns or heatstroke from a phone’s radiation, the SAR levels are already set ten times below the level where scientists have found evidence of harm.
This suggests that there may be no need for alarm over the French testing of the iPhone 12 which only showed a slightly excessive reading in the “limb” SAR value but was compliant in other tests.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
With an abundance of devices, transmitters, and other sources of electromagnetic waves all around us in the street, home, workplace, and countryside, and with more of us becoming more reliant on our radiofrequency wave-transmitting phones, it’s good that are tests taking place. It’s also good from a consumer protection point of view that enough tolerance has been built into the SAR tests, and that there are regulators in place to force fast action, e.g. from sales bans to recalls. However, from Apple’s point of view, the results of a test in one country, whether fully accurate or not, has damaged sales through a ban (which is spreading internationally) and led to a more damaging wave of fear and bad publicity.
If Apple can’t satisfy the regulators (it has two weeks to respond in France) and quell fears over a phone that’s now three years old, a snowballing effect could bring an even wider ban across the EU and an even more expensive recall (as already threatened) could follow.
Apple has just launched its iPhone 15 and will be hoping that the fears don’t rub off and affect its sales or, even worse, that it doesn’t also come under scrutiny and come out with similar results. That said, as France’s junior minister for the digital economy, Jean-Noel Barrot (who is sceptical of the software update fix) says, the rule is the same for everyone introducing devices in France, including the digital giants.
Outside of the software update, Apple may now need to do some more serious talking and convincing to “stop the rot” in the EU damaging its profits and reputation further. All this is, of course, good news for Apple’s competitors in the EU phone market who may pick up some of Apple’s lost sales.
The SAR findings top off a bad week for Apple in Europe where it has also been forced to swap its lightning charger for a USB-C charging port for its iPhone 15 in order to comply with EU rules for standardisation in 2024.