According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, federal health standards limiting radiation from cell phones are outdated and don’t reflect the latest research in the field. The watchdog agency urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reassess its current rules.
The Members of Congress who requested the study—Representatives Edward Markey (D–MA), Henry Waxman (D–CA), and Anna Eshoo (D–CA)—released a statement along with the report calling for the FCC to take action, with Markey warning that the health of American children was at stake. The FCC responded with assurances that theU.S. had the tightest standards in the world. By day’s end, the regulatory ball was rolling at a pretty good clip.
But apparently, no one thought to actually read the GAO report.
Yes, the cell phone radiation standard now in place—1.6 watts per kilogram—is based on old research and does not reflect the current scientific consensus, which is that cell phone radiation is less dangerous than previously thought.
In 2006, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) eased its standard to 2.0 watts. That is now the standard in most of the world but not in the U.S.
The GAO also criticized the methods used by the FCC in testing cell phones for radiation. Current tests stress phones held against the head. Today, however, with users doing less talking and more texting, phones are spending more time on the torso rather than against the head. Changing the test procedure would thus seem to make sense. Nevertheless, IEEE told GAO researchers that it is unlikely that phones approved under the current procedures present any dangers given the low power levels involved.
There’s no hint in the report of the imminent danger to adults and children that the three Members of Congress described. In fact, the overall message of the GAO report was a positive one. “There is no convincing evidence that [radio frequency] energy below guideline levels causes health effects in adults or children.”
There was, however, one danger the GAO did warn about: Overly restrictive federal regulations on cell phones not only raises the cost but could also limit wireless performance and functionality. And given the safety benefits of cell phones, that is more than just an economic concern.
Now, as Markey, Waxman, and Eshoo said, it is time for the FCC to act to resolve the problem.