The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is stirring the cellphone RF radiation pot again, despite all scientific research to the contrary. In a recently released report, the agency notes, “Scientific research to date has not demonstrated adverse human health effects of exposure to radio-frequency (RF) energy from mobile phone use, but research is ongoing that may increase understanding of any possible effects. In addition, officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as experts GAO interviewed have reached similar conclusions about the scientific research.”

It continues, “Ongoing research examining the health effects of RF energy exposure is funded and supported by federal agencies, international organizations, and the mobile phone industry. NIH is the only federal agency GAO interviewed directly funding studies in this area, but other agencies support research under way by collaborating with NIH or other organizations to conduct studies and identify areas for additional research.”

Why This Study Now?

GAO says it was asked to examine several issues related to mobile-phone health effects and regulation. As such, it addressed what is known about the health effects of RF energy from mobile phones and what are current research activities, how the FCC set the RF energy exposure limit for mobile phones, and federal agency and industry actions to inform the public about health issues related to mobile phones.

GAO contends the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) RF energy exposure limit may not reflect the latest research, and testing requirements may not identify maximum exposure in all possible usage conditions, saying the commish set a RF energy exposure limit for mobile phones in 1996, based on recommendations from federal health and safety agencies and international organizations.

“These international organizations have updated their exposure limit recommendation in recent years, based on new research, and this new limit has been widely adopted by other countries, including countries in the European Union,” it says. “This new recommended limit could allow for more RF energy exposure, but actual exposure depends on a number of factors including how the phone is held during use. FCC has not adopted the new recommended limit. The Office of Management and Budget’s instructions to federal agencies require the adoption of consensus standards when possible. FCC told GAO that it relies on the guidance of federal health and safety agencies when determining the RF energy exposure limit, and to date, none of these agencies have advised FCC to change the limit. However, FCC has not formally asked these agencies for a reassessment.”

As a result of its report, GAO recommends the FCC formally reassess the current RF energy exposure limit, including its effects on human health, the costs and benefits associated with keeping the current limit along with the opinions of relevant health and safety agencies, and then change the limit if determined appropriate. In addition, the FCC should reassess whether mobile-phone testing requirements result in the identification of maximum RF energy exposure in likely usage configurations, particularly when mobile phones are held against the body, and then update testing requirements as appropriate.

CTIA Responds

Commenting on the GAO’s actions, John Walls, vice president/Government Affairs at CTIA-The Wireless Association, released a statement saying, "While we have not had a chance to examine the full report in detail yet, we appreciate the GAO’s review of the status of scientific research in this area and of the comprehensive federal regulatory oversight of wireless phone safety. CTIA continues to defer to the views of scientific experts, federal agencies with expertise and impartial health organizations.”

Walls continued, "The FCC, the FDA, the National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organization have each evaluated the scientific research on wireless phones that has been conducted worldwide for more than two decades. Each has found that the weight of the scientific research has not established that wireless phone use causes adverse health effects. Accordingly, the FCC has noted on its Web site that ‘currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses,’ and that ‘all wireless phones sold in the United States meet government requirements that limit their RF energy to safe levels.’ More information about wireless phone safety is available to consumers on CTIA’s Web site.”

He concluded, "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. The FCC’s safety standards include a 50-fold safety factor and, as the FCC has noted, are the most conservative in the world. The FCC recently announced that it will soon begin a review of its safety standards for wireless phones, and that it is confident that its emissions guidelines for wireless devices pose no risk to consumers. CTIA welcomes the Commission’s continued careful oversight of this issue."

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