Federal watchdog calls on FCC to reassess mobile phone radiation issues

Noting that the Federal Communications Commission's Radio Frequency exposure limits may not reflect the latest research, and testing requirements may not identify maximum exposure in all possible usage conditions, the Government Accountability Office today said the agency should reassess and possibly change its regulations regarding mobile phone radiation.

"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," the GAO told the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce. "In addition, officials from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as experts the GAO interviewed have reached similar conclusions about the scientific research. Ongoing research examining the health effects of RF energy exposure is funded and supported by federal agencies, international organizations, and the mobile phone industry."

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The FCC set an 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. 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 GAO stated.

By not formally reassessing its current limit, the FCC cannot ensure it is using a limit that reflects the latest research on RF energy exposure. The FCC has also not reassessed its testing requirements to ensure that they identify the maximum RF energy exposure a user could experience. Some consumers may use mobile phones against the body, which the FCC does not currently test, and could result in RF energy exposure higher than the FCC limit.

The GAO report defined some key areas it said would increase understanding of any possible mobile phone RF effects. "For example, additional epidemiological studies, particularly large long-term prospective cohort studies and case-control studies on children could increase knowledge on potential risks of cancer from mobile phone use. Also, studies and experts identified several areas for additional laboratory studies. For example, additional studies on laboratory animals as well as human and animal cells examining the possible toxic or harmful effects of RF energy exposure could increase knowledge on potential biological and health effects of RF energy. Further, additional laboratory studies on human and animal cells to examine non-thermal effects of RF energy could increase knowledge of how, if at all, RF energy interacts with biological systems," the GAO stated.

"Another area identified for additional laboratory research is studies on human volunteers examining the effect of changes in the neurological system, which could help determine if these possible observed changes in neurological functioning from RF energy are adverse effects. In addition to conducting additional research, experts we interviewed reported that the broader body of evidence on RF energy should be re-evaluated when findings from key studies become available, to determine whether additional research in certain areas is still warranted."

The GAO pointed out some ongoing mobile phone radiation studies (and their funding institutions) expected to be complete this year include:

" National Cancer Institute: Examining environmental and genetic factors for meningioma, a type of brain tumor, at research sites in five states.

" National Cancer Institute: Evaluating brain cancer incidence trends in the United States using cancer registry data to determine if trends are consistent with reported epidemiological associations of mobile phone use and certain types of cancer.

" National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: Examining effects of mobile phones on brain glucose.

" National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Examining effects of exposure to mobile phones in childhood on the central nervous system using children in the Danish National Birth Cohort.

" National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Examining toxicology and carcinogenic effects of RF energy in laboratory animals as part of the National Toxicology Program.

The GAO noted too that some experts it interviewed said "absent clear evidence for adverse health effects, it is difficult to justify investing significant resources in research examining non-thermal effects of RF energy from mobile phone use." It also said that the FCC agreed with the GAO's findings but hadn't acted on anything formal yet.

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