The Current

Cellphone in your pocket? CBC's Marketplace investigates why you might reconsider

Did you know your cellphone likely comes with a warning about how close to hold it to your head and body? The CBC's Wendy Mesley has been tracking the research on cellphone health effects for years. She shares the results of her Marketplace report.
The CBC's Wendy Mesley investigates a little-known message inside your cellphone's settings and manual telling you to keep the device five to 15 mm away from your body (Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Deutsche )

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For 20 years now, veteran CBC journalist Wendy Mesley has been tracking the latest research on cellphones. Her interest in this story is spurred by two questions: Do these things that we're all in love with cause cancer? And have we been given enough information to decide for ourselves?

Mesley joins The Current's Friday host Nora Young to share the results of her latest investigation into what the latest research reveals about how cellphones might affect our health.

At the heart of this investigation is a message hidden in most of our cellphones and manuals that tell us "to reduce exposure to radio frequency, use a hands-free option such as the speakerphone and carry the phone at least five mm away from your body." Depending on the manufacturer, that distance could be telling you to hold your phone up to 15 mm away from your body.

Related: National Toxicology Program Study on Cellphones

A survey completed for CBC Marketplace by Mission Research of 971 Canadians with cellphones asked how many were aware of the manufacturers' suggestions to hold the phone five - 15 mm away from the body. The results showed 81 per cent had no clue, and 67 per cent admitted they carry their phones against their bodies. 
According to Devra Davis, the founder and director of the Environmental Health Trust, cellphone testing is outdated and needs to be updated to reflect how most people carry devices. (Damir Sagol/Reuters)

When told about the message, three out of four people surveyed said they would stop carrying their phone against their body.

Since most of us use and carry cellphones in close contact with our bodies, why do government guidelines allow phone manufacturers to test cellphones for radiation exposure with a five - 15 mm gap?   

When CBC Marketplace tested cellphones from the three top-selling brands without that gap, they all exceeded Canadian safety code limits.

When Health Canada was presented with these findings, it was not concerned because it said standards on radiation exposure have such a large safety margin that people are protected.   

But the founder and director of the Environmental Health Trust, Devra Davis, believes the current testing for cellphones is outdated and should be updated to reflect how most people carry devices. As well, the test doesn't reflect some recent science that suggests there could be harmful effects below the maximum power levels used during the test.   

Cellphone manufacturers contacted by Marketplace say the cellphones are operating well within safety limits set out by the government. 

Wendy Mesley's investigation airs March 24, on CBC TV's Marketplace, at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry.