Tests find Apple iPhone 7 RF radiation above legal limit, prompting FCC probe

group of people with smartphones
Apple, Motorola and Samsung disputed findings from the Chicago Tribune that claimed certain cellphone models transmitted RF radiation levels above the legal limit. (Getty Image)

Apple’s iPhone 7 model produced radio frequency (RF) radiation levels above the legal limit during tests conducted for a new investigative study by the Chicago Tribune.

In response to the Tribune’s lab reports, the Federal Communication Commission said it would conduct its own tests in the coming months to verify if some of the phone models do indeed transmit RF radiation at higher levels than the agency’s exposure limit.

“We take seriously any claims on non-compliance with the RF (radio frequency) exposure standards and will be obtaining and testing the subject phones for compliance with FCC rules,” agency spokesman Neil Grace told the newspaper.

The FCC handset RF exposure limit is 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over one gram of human tissue. The Chicago Tribune’s tests of the iPhone 7 showed results ranging from as low as 2.47 W/kg to as high as 7.15 W/kg. The latter resulted from a test 2 millimeters away from the body, which is closer than Apple’s own testing distance of 5 mm from the body.

RELATED: 5G doesn’t require new limits on RF exposure, FCC says

While the agency will look at some of the cellphone models tested by Tribune, FCC officials noted the newspaper’s testing was not as comprehensive as what’s needed for an official compliance report.

The Tribune examined other handsets as well, including Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S8, and models from Motorola, some of which also tested above the FCC exposure limits in certain circumstances.

Notably, Apple, Motorola and Samsung disputed the findings. Apple charged that the Tribune’s testing protocol was not a proper method of assessing iPhones. The newspaper said testing was conducted at the RF Exposure Lab in San Marcos, California, which is recognized by the FCC as an accredited facility to test for RF radiation from electronic devices. The Tribune report noted the lab has performed radiation testing for wireless companies seeking government approval for new products for 15 years, and that owner Jay Moulton confirmed all of Tribune’s tests were done in accordance with FCC rules and guidelines.

Apple didn’t reveal the iPhone maker’s own protocol for testing RF radiation exposure, or provide specifics as to how the Tribune tests differed.

Apple issued a statement saying, “After careful review and subsequent validation of all iPhone models tested in the (Tribune) report, we confirmed we are in compliance and meet all applicable … exposure guidelines and limits.” Tribune said Apple did not provide additional details or respond to any questions asked by the newspaper.  

RELATED: FCC responds to 5G health concerns as politicians push for more information

The in-depth Tribune report comes as public concern over potentially adverse health effects from wireless technology has swelled over the past year, particularly in regard to next generation 5G deployments. As the publication noted, there’s no clear evidence that RF radiation from devices like smartphones pose increased cancer or other health risks, but safety questions have lingered as handsets became a constant and integral part of consumers’ daily lives.  

Federal officials recently reiterated there is no cause for concern. Earlier this month the FCC completed a six-year review of existing RF exposure standards and concluded that current limits are enough to ensure public health and safety. The agency noted exposure limits in the U.S. for handheld devices are already “among the most stringent in the world.”

The agency’s findings, which apply to all RF-emitting objects and span technology generations including 5G, were informed by close work with the Food and Drug Administation and other federal health and safety agencies.

“The available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits” wrote Jeffrey Shuren, Director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, to the FCC. “No changes to the current standards are warranted at this time.”