It comes as no surprise most of us cozy up with our smartphones, rather than our teddy bears or significant others, to satisfy the need to stay connected in a 24/7 society. A 13-year-old girl, sleeping with danger, soon learned a valuable lesson: Electronic devices and beds do not mix. Ariel Tolfree from Texas was recently awoken by her smoldering and partially melted Samsung Galaxy S4 under her pillow — twice — before she realized her smartphone set her bed on fire.
“I didn’t think much of it, so I went back to sleep and then I woke up again and [the burning smell] was more prominent,” Tolfree told KDFW, a Fox affiliate. Upon being awoken, the teen later discovered her phone was catching fire under her pillow, and slowly spreading to her bed sheets, eventually leading her mattress to burst into flames. Tolfree’s dad, Thomas, suspects the phone overheated, causing the battery to swell and start a fire.
The Tolfrees quickly contacted the cell phone manufacturer, Samsung, who told the Fox affiliate the battery inside the phone was a third party battery, not an original Samsung battery. In the company’s “Common Phone” Health and Safety and Warranty Guide, it states: “Do not use incompatible cell phone batteries and chargers. Some websites and second-hand dealers not associated with reputable manufacturers and carriers, might be selling incompatible or even counterfeit batteries and chargers.”
The warranty guide also warns users against covering the device with materials. “Covering the device with bedding, your body, thick clothing, or any other materials that significantly affect air flow may affect the performance of the phone and poses a possible risk of fire or explosion, which could lead to serious bodily injuries or damage to property.”
A spokesperson for Samsung said their products are safe, and they do post a warning in their user guide about covering their devices with bedding, or other materials that could potentially cause a fire. Samsung has requested the family to mail the phone to conduct a full investigation. In the meantime, they have offered to replace the phone, the bedding, the mattress, and the pillow. However, Thomas believes this isn’t enough. “If anything, they should put a big warning on it, like a cigarette label, if that’s the case,” he said.
The company acknowledges there is a need for consumer education when it comes to rechargeable batteries. This case comes as a rude awakening not only for the Texas teen, but for teens who fall into the habit of placing their smartphones under their pillow as they sleep. According to a PBS.org blog post, four out of five teens sleep with their phone mostly to be on call all night to connect with their peers. The “on call” status many teens have assumed can jeopardize their physical, emotional, and cognitive functioning.
Teens aren’t the only ones completely guilty of cozying up to their smartphones. A 2013 HuffPost/YouGov survey found 63 percent of smartphone users age 18 to 29 drift off to sleep with a cell phone, smartphone, or tablet in their bed. Leaving electronic devices nearby the bed can hinder sleep for teens and adults alike leading to sleep deprivation, and even increasing their vulnerability to the effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.
While it’s nearly impossible to avoid using our smartphones, especially to meet the demands of work, home, and school, it’s best to know how to use our phones the smart way. We tend to use our cellphones when they are unnecessary. Follow these cell phone safety tips to reduce electromagnetic exposure and fire hazards:
- When communicating, try to keep the cell phone away from the body as much as possible. Use the speaker-phone mode or a wireless Bluetooth headset instead. According to Cnet.com, the amplitude of the electromagnetic field is one-fourth the strength at a distance of 2 inches, and 50 times lower at 3 feet. In other words, move your cell phone away from the body as much as possible to reduce radiation exposure.
- Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body. Avoid keeping it near the body at night such as under the pillow, or on a bedside table, especially if you’re pregnant. Using the “flight” or “off-line” mode can stop electromagnetic emissions.
- If you must carry your cellphone on you, keep the keypad position toward your body and the back toward the outside to have the electromagnetic fields move away from you, rather than through you, according to Consumerist.
- Choose an electronic device that has the lowest Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) — the measure of strength of the magnetic field absorbed by the body. Cnet.com has SAR ratings of phones by different manufacturers available.