Southern California environment news and trends

FCC moving towards first review of mobile phone radiation standards in 15 years

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Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

If you’ve ever wondered what if any affect the radiation from your mobile phone/device has on the human body, pressures are mounting for the FCC to find out. As reported by Bloomberg, Julius Genachowski, the Federal Communications Commission’s director, has proposed that the agency review its safety standards regarding mobile-phone radiation, the first such review since 1996, when the initial standards were set. Considering the vast advancements in mobile phone technology (not to mention the increased number of users) over the past 15 years, some would say such a review is long overdue.

“I’d say it’s taken this long for a new review to happen because of pressure from the cell phone industry,” said Renee Sharp, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group when reached by phone. “They’ve actually been lobbying to have the standards weakened, if you can believe it. They’re a very powerful group. We’re almost certain that they made sure the U.S. wasn’t part of Interphone, which is an international effort to begin asking the question could cell-phone radiation be causing brain tumors.”

Emphasizing that the review is still just a note of inquiry from Genachowski and not officially happening yet, Sharp is confident that it will.

“I would be surprised if they didn’t go through with it,” she said. “The fact that they haven’t even looked at the standards since 1996 is pretty outrageous, and I think they’re beginning to realize that.”

Sharp also suspects that a report currently being compiled by the U.S. Government Accountability Office reviewing federal cell phone safety standards hastened the FCC to make a pre-emptive strike, hence a study of their own (the GAO report is due at the end of July).

“That’s total speculation on our part, but we think it’s pretty plausible,” she added.

Sharp detailed how the EWG has met with the FCC “several times” over the past four years regarding cell phone radiation, but the agency made it more than clear they had “no intention” of reviewing their standards — until now.

Ultimately though, Sharp is not exactly confident that the FCC will “do the right thing” by imposing stricter standards or changing any specifications.

“We think if there’s an honest review of these devices and their effects, there’s just no way not to see the need to strengthen the standards,” she said, mentioning a recent EWG review of studies that shows cell phone radiation damages sperm. “On the other hand, the cell phone industry has a lot of power, so we don’t know what’s going to happen. But we’re very encouraged to even see the initial inklings of a review. It at least gives the indication that this is an important issue the government should be looking at.”

The Environmental Working Group recently revised their own “Guide to Safer Cell Phone Use” page online, which includes severely limiting how much a child uses one to explaining why you shouldn’t waste your money investing in any so-called “radiation shields” (they reduce connection quality and force the phone to work harder, generating more radiation).

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