FCC To Re-Evaluate Cellphone Safety Standards

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is planning to take another look at their 15-year-old cell phone safety standards to determine whether or not users of the mobile devices are being adequately protected from emitted radiation, various media outlets reported over the weekend.

On Friday, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski sent out a notice of inquiry to fellow commissioners, asking them to conduct a new investigation in order to answer a series of questions regarding the current standards, according to Ed Oswald of PCWorld and Marguerite Reardon of CNET. This will mark the first time since 1996 that cell phone guidelines have been reviewed, but an FCC spokesman told Oswald that the process was simply “a routine review of its own policies.”

“The FCC hopes to get comments from the public on the issue,” Reardon said. “It has not set a time-frame for when the comment period will end. And the agency also has not said whether it will update the current rules and standards. In fact, there’s a chance the commission may leave the current limits in place. A representative for the agency said the checkup is a routine review of the standards and was not prompted by any new developments or complaints about cell phone safety.”

“We are confident that, as set, the emissions guidelines for devices pose no risks to consumers,” FCC spokesperson Tammy Sun said in a statement, according to CNET. “The United States has the most conservative emissions standards in the world. Our action today is a routine review of our standards. We hope and expect that other federal agencies and organizations with whom we work with on this issue will participate in the process.”

The debate over health risks posed by mobile phones has been a long-standing one. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported last May that they believed that the devices are carcinogenic, Oswald said, while manufacturers deny the existence of such health-related issues.

“There have been concerns that radio-frequency energy from phones held close to the head may affect the brain and other tissues, according to the National Cancer Institute, part of the U.S. government´s National Institutes of Health,” writes Bloomberg News reporter Todd Shields. “The cancer institute said on its website that studies of cells, animals and humans haven´t produced evidence that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer.” Likewise, Shields noted that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had “found no evidence linking wireless phone use to heightened risk of brain tumors, according to its website.”

According to Reardon, current FCC standards are based on an algorithm which measure’s a cell phone user’s specific absorption rate (SAR), or the rate at which a person’s body absorbs energy from a radio-frequency magnetic field. In order to be considered safe for use in the US, a cell phone must have an SAR of less than 1.6 watts per kilogram over a volume that contains a 1 gram mass of tissue, she added.

“Some experts say the review is long overdue. The current standards are based on behavioral research conducted on animals in the 1980s,” she said. “The FCC has admitted that the SAR levels are only intended to ensure that a cell phone doesn’t exceed the FCC’s maximum permissible exposure levels even when operating in conditions that result in the device’s highest possible radio-frequency (RF) energy absorption for a user. But they’re not intended to be used as a way to compare specific devices and make conclusions about their overall safety.”

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