Do Federal Standards Underestimate Cell Phone Radiation Risks?

Federal watchdog calls on FCC to reassess and update radiation exposure and testing standards for mobile devices. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) study indicates that the current benchmarks, issued in 1996, have not kept pace with the latest scientific findings. Other international organizations and countries have updated guidelines in light of the newest research, the FCC has not.

By Kenneth Corbin
Thu, August 09, 2012


cellphone radiation
A new government study is warning that the Federal Communications Commission's standards for testing cell phones for exposure to radio-frequency energy may have fallen out of step with the latest scientific studies, calling on the agency to launch a new inquiry into the potential health risks of mobile devices.

The Government Accountability Office study acknowledged that there is no established proof that exposure to the RF energy emitted from mobile phones constitutes a health risk, but noted that some international groups have adjusted their maximum-exposure limits in light of new research, while the FCC has maintained the same standard since 1996.

The "FCC should formally reassess and, if appropriate, change its current RF energy exposure limit and mobile phone testing requirements related to likely usage configurations, particularly when phones are held against the body," the GAO concluded.

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The GAO's inquiry into long-term risks from cellp hone radiation came in response to a request from three House Democrats last June. Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Henry Waxman (Calif.) called on the GAO to review available scientific research a day after the World Health Organization's cancer research arm announced that RF energy could potentially constitute a carcinogen linked to a malignant form of brain cancer associated with the use of mobile phones.

In a statement, Markey echoed the GAO's conclusion that the FCC should revisit its testing and exposure standards, indicating that he would work with his colleagues in Congress to pressure the agency to open a formal inquiry.

"With mobile phones in the pockets and purses of millions of Americans, we need a full understanding of the long-term impact of mobile phone use on the human body, particularly in children whose brains and nervous systems are still developing," Markey said. "It has been 16 years since the FCC updated its requirements for the exposure and testing of mobile phones, and with the health of American consumers at stake, it is time we send these standards in for a checkup."

Drawing on interviews with experts in the field and researchers at the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration, the GAO stopped short of suggesting a direct link between long-term exposure to cell phones and cancer or other health risks, instead maintaining that the issue is an area of ongoing scientific inquiry that has produced important new research since the FCC last updated its standards.

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