iPhone temporarily banned in France, but experts say harm unlikely

France has temporarily banned the sale of iPhone 12 models saying the handset breached EU radiation exposure limits.  

ANFR – the French agency responsible for monitoring radio frequencies, found the model had exceeded Standard Absorption Rate (SAR) limits set by the EU in random tests of 141 mobile phones, including the iPhone 12.  

Those limits – of 4 Watts/kg absorbed by the body when held in the hand or pants pocket, or 2W/kg when in a bag or jacket pocket – are set to prevent high levels of electromagnetic radiation from being absorbed by the body.  

According to the ANFR, the ‘hand or pocket’ values for the iPhone 12 were measured at 5.74W/kg. The body limits were within the 2W/kg range.   

Apple has disputed the claims. 

 France has barred the handsets from sale and called on the manufacturer to resolve the issue. France’s digital minister says the issue could be remedied by a software update. Failure to resolve the issue could lead to the product being recalled.  

“The ANFR expects Apple to deploy all available means to put an end to the non-compliance. Failure to act will result in the recall of equipment that has already been made available to consumers,” ANFR said in a statement

However, even with the readings exceeding the EU standards, which are similar to those used by other non-European countries, iPhone 12 owners likely have nothing to fear. 

Mobile phones emit radio frequencies, a type of low-energy ‘non-ionising radiation’ which have longer wavelengths than visible light and includes infrared, microwaves and other low-frequency radiation forms (compared to dangerous, shorter wavelength ionising radiation like x-rays and ultraviolet light). 

Overall, experts say, the potential for the 5.74W/kg SAR detected by French authorities to cause harm to humans is very small. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection’s guidelines on radiofrequencies finds SAR would need to exceed 40 W/kg in the limbs, and 20 W/kg in the head to cause health concern.  

“Many of the internationally recognised safety limits, including Australia and France’s, are set at conservative levels, well below where harm is expected to occur,” says Associate Professor ken Karipidis, an assistant director for health impact assessments at ARPANSA – the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. 

“Australia and France impose the same safety limits on the energy that is absorbed by the body from a mobile phone.  

“While it’s not ideal, and we do not condone safety breaches, there should be no immediate danger from exposure slightly above the limit. Health effects may occur from exposure to radio waves, namely body tissue heating. But this would occur at levels much higher than the safety limit.” 

The WHO classifies radiofrequency radiation from phones as ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to humans, a list which also includes things like aloe vera, the artificial sweetener aspartame, as well as occupations like carpentry, joinery and bitumen workers. Possible carcinogens must have ‘limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals’. 

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