Report calls for reassessment of federal cellphone radiation standards

A new government study into the radiation levels of cell phones recommended that the FCC formally reassess, and possibly change, its 16-year-old standards in light of new research and updated guidelines in other countries.

The Government Accountability Office released a report Tuesday that found other international organizations and countries have updated their standards. The FCC has not done so.

The report was commissioned by Reps. and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).

In June, the FCC announced it would conduct a routine review of emission standards. By that time, the FCC had already received a draft of the report. Marcia Crosse, a coauthor of the report, said it looked as though the FCC was responding to the recommendations.

“Until we see what actions they take, we can’t determine if it is responsive to our [concerns],” Crosse told The Hill.

A representative for the FCC said it already had some of the tightest cell phone standards in the world.

"The U.S. has among the most conservative standards in the world. As part of our routine review of these standards, which we began earlier this summer, we will solicit input from multiple stakeholder experts, including federal health agencies and others, to guide our assessment,” said Neil Derek Grace, press secretary for the chairman of the FCC.

The FCC has also failed to update its testing requirements for radiation exposure on parts of the body other than the head, the report concludes. An example of that is a cell phone resting in a pocket.

The current limit for cell phone radiation is 1.6 watts per kilogram. The revised standards would actually increase the acceptable amount of exposure to 2 watts per kilogram but over a larger area of the body.

“The new recommended limit…is based on significantly improved [radio-frequency] research and therefore a better understanding of the thermal effects of [radio frequency] energy exposure,” according to the study.

“The report shows we need more research on cell phones and their effects on human health,” Rep. Waxman said in a statement. “The FCC should coordinate this research with federal health agencies to ensure that the health effects of cell phones are properly understood and appropriate emission standards are set.”

In the report, The FCC said it hasn’t updated its standards because it hasn’t been urged to by federal health and safety agencies. But the GAO notes that the FCC has not formally asked any agencies for a reassessment.

The report didn’t introduce any new studies or science. Rather it reviewed the body of work already out there. While some studies have seen adverse health affects the body of evidence as a whole had not demonstrated an effect.  For example, the Food and Drug administration held to its decade old position that while cell phone emission haven’t shown an negative affect, it cannot be ruled out.

The wireless trade group CTIA released a statement welcoming the report and echoed the FCC’s stance that it has the most conservative standers in the world.

“The FCC has been vigilant in its oversight in this area and has set safety standards to make sure that radio frequency fields from wireless phones remain at what it has determined are safe levels,” said John Walls, vice president of public affairs for the company.

While all three congressman who commissioned the report called on revised standards. None actively endorsed legislation proposed last week that would require warning labels on cell phone packaging.

On Friday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced legislation that cell phone packages to be labeled with radiation emissions as well as the government standards. The legislation also called for development of a research program to study cell phones and for the EPA to update its standards.

It is cosponsored by Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine).

Updated at 3:10 p.m.