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FCC changes position on cell phone radiation and safety guidelines

The Federal Communications Commission has updated its views on cellphone safety in a move criticized by a public interest group for downplaying the potential risks that radio frequencies could pose to users.

The agency, without issuing a press release, made the update on its Web site, saying that its guidelines on radio frequency limits were confusing and did not necessarily show whether one phone is safer than another.

Specifically, the FCC revamped its Web entry on cell phone health guidelines, removing a suggestion that users concerned about the radiation emitted from cellphones could choose devices with lower SAR values. SAR stands for “specific absorption rate,” which is a measure of the rate of radio-frequency energy absorbed by the body.

"The FCC requires that cell phone manufacturers conduct their SAR testing to include the most severe, worst-case (and highest power) operating conditions for all the frequency bands used in the USA for that cell phone," the agency wrote on its consumer and governmental affairs section.

The issue of cellphone health risks has captured the attention of several jurisdictions, most notably San Francisco, which adopted a "Right to Know" ordinance that requires cell phone companies to label phones with radiation levels. San Francisco is scheduled to hold public hearings Thursday on the ordinance. A similar measure is also being considered by nearby Burlingame, Calif.

Public interest groups, scientists and some lawmakers have called for an overhaul of the way regulators assess the safety of cellphones. They say that testing of phones' specific absorption rates should be conducted by regulators, and they cautioned that the current testing approach does not account for the fastest growing group of users: youth.

All of this has put the cellphone industry trade group, CTIA, on the defensive. It filed a lawsuit against San Francisco seeking to block the ordinance, said it would not longer consider the city for future trade shows and ramped up a lobbying campaign against similar measures elsewhere.

Scientists say the higher the SAR, the greater the potential danger to humans. To be sure, scientists do not agree on the effects of cellphone use on humans. Some studies show that radio frequencies absorbed by brain tissue have led to cell mutations and tumors – with the greatest threat posed to children. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and state lawmakers in Maine and California have called for a sweeping federal review of its oversight of cell phone safety.

The Environmental Working Group says the FCC's changes mimic a message pushed by CTIA. The FCC said that measuring safety by SAR ratings can be misleading and cause confusion. A phone has different SAR levels depending on how far the phone is located from a cell tower base station and how closely it is being held to the body.

The FCC said that using cellphones with a lower SAR value doesn’t necessarily decrease a user’s exposure to radio frequency emissions or and isn't necessarily safer than using a phone with a higher SAR value. Sources close to the FCC’s thinking on the change said the agency had been reviewing its approach to cellphone health guidelines for some time and that the decision wasn’t the result of lobbying by the cell phone industry. Instead, it was evaluating how effective its current rating system was in adequately informing and protecting consumers.

“While SAR values are an important tool in judging the maximum possible exposure to RF energy from a particular model of cell phone, a single SAR value does not provide sufficient information about the amount of RF exposure under typical usage conditions to reliably compare individual cell phone models,” the FCC said. “Rather, the SAR values collected by the FCC are intended only to ensure that the cell phone does not exceed the FCC’s maximum permissible exposure levels even when operating in conditions which result in the device’s highest possible – but not its typical - RF energy absorption for a user.”

CTIA has argued that the labeling adopted in San Francisco would also be misleading. It says that a phone with a specific absorption rate of 1.0 isn't necessarily safer than a device with the national limit SAR of 1.6. All phones approved by the FCC are safe, CTIA says, and SAR values vary by how the phone is used.

At stake is the profitability of a multi-billion-dollar industry that has been a rare bright spot in a stubborn recession that has hurt nearly every other sector in the U.S. economy. Apple, Verizon, and AT&T have lobbied against a state measure in Maine that was defeated earlier this year. That bill would require cellphone retailers to sell devices with warnings about the potential dangers of radio frequencies to children, who have thinner skulls and should be subject to stricter SAR limits, some scientists say.

“The revised FCC website devotes considerable space to casting doubt on the usefulness of comparing maximum SAR values for determining potential health risks for consumers,” the Environmental Working Group wrote in a blog entry. “Yet this exercise raises a pointed question: if the FCC is not sure that SAR tests are effective for determining health risks, how can the agency say with confidence that cell phones are safe?”

By Cecilia Kang  | September 30, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  AT&T, Apple, FCC, Verizon  
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Comments

Guess who's pocket the FCC is in? you guess it. CTIA, following the FDA who has allowed this country to be exposed to countless numbers of food poisoning and deaths and this is just the tip of the ice berg.

Posted by: Leo10 | September 30, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Cell phones emit NON-ionizing radiation, so they do not have the energy necessary to display electrons from their orbits. You won't grow a third arm out of your head from using a cell phone.

You're probably at much greater risk by gawking at your phone to send a text message or getting creamed by someone else doing the same while driving at 60 miles an hour.

Perhaps there is some side effect of heating the cells near the antenna that could add up over time, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome, but that's a matter of usage patterns. Warning labels won't fix that.

Posted by: BoteMan | September 30, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

display => DISPLACE.

Daggone spell checkers!

Posted by: BoteMan | September 30, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Public Knowledge had this story first:

http://www.publicknowledge.org/blog/fccs-secretive-flip-flop-cell-phones-and-sar-

It would be appropriate for both you and the Environmental Working Group to make an acknowledgment.

You should dig into this and see who authored those changes. I bet it was someone from, or through, CTIA. If so, that is at least a bit of a scandal.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | September 30, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

People are so stupid. They do unsupervised experiments on their kids and themselves everyday with these devices, yet go around protesting nuclear power, which is relatively safe. Bottom line, if you are afraid of your kid using cell phones then don't buy one for them. Pretty simple. Just because a technology is avaiable doesn't mean you HAVE to use it, or that you have to use it all the time. Limiting exposure would be a good first step.

Posted by: moonwatcher2001 | September 30, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

People are so stupid. They do unsupervised experiments on their kids and themselves everyday with these devices, yet go around protesting nuclear power, which is relatively safe. Bottom line, if you are afraid of your kid using cell phones then don't buy one for them. Pretty simple. Just because a technology is avaiable doesn't mean you HAVE to use it, or that you have to use it all the time. Limiting exposure would be a good first step.

Posted by: moonwatcher2001 | September 30, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE-When we speak of the benefits of alternative energy and wireless technology, we are unleashing a dragon whose head can no be cut off easily, after the fact. I am speaking about the proper impact studies of the wireless microwave pulsing in our environment and its health risk to humans, animals and wildlife. Pre market testing has NEVER been done on cell phones. How do you study children's exposure to wireless radiation by waiting 10-20 years and then count the carnage?
Wind power is no different. It sounds good on paper to the untrained, uneducated eye. Once you begin an awareness into the issues of dirty electricity, non ionizing radiation, microwave pulsing, it changes how one views the safety, protection, exposure limits and regulatory over sight of all these technologies. .Awareness, education, safety first, profits second. Corporate culture has it backwards. People are raising good arguments; common sense being ignored.

Please take the time to view our youtubes, read the information on our site. Check out the favorites we have attached relating to this radiation issue. Raising awareness and putting attention on this subject will pressure the legislatures to advocate for the American people and not the Corporate America who have them in their pockets.

Sandra Chianfoni
Monterey

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mLtygxIaFs

Posted by: globalrfrdefenseteam | September 30, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

As an RF engineer I was involved in the early years of cellular telephone system development and regulation as well as equipment design and evaluation. I was amazed one morning to watch a fellow engineer in lab key up a cell phone handset next to a closed beaker of fluids meant to mimic the human skull and its fluids and see how quickly the radiated signal brought the fluids to a boil. Needless to say, the results of this sort of test were not widely disclosed by the industry at the time because of the public health concerns they would surely have raised. The test was conducted at rougly 800 MHz. The effects would have been even more dramatic at higher frequencies, such as those now used in some handheld devices.

Posted by: HiggsBison | September 30, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

For me and my family the question is not if but how can we make sure that we are not sorry in 10-20 years from now. We are not waiting for the Government to protect us. Me and my wife reduced the use of cell phones and we also enhanced it with the Cell Phone Bioprotector, radiation protection device- http://www.personalbioprotector.com (we feel the difference)
We do not let our kids use the cell phones. We changed our wireless internet connection to a wired one (the agent told us we were the first ones changing from the wireless to the wired one) and our cordless phone back to the good old corded one.
With all this talk of dangers I feel safer being proactive and it is not that hard. If they are wrong about dangers, great. If they are right the price would be too big to pay in 10-20 years from now, especially when it comes to our kids.

Posted by: Jason48 | October 1, 2010 3:50 AM | Report abuse

For me and my family the question is not if but how can we make sure that we are not sorry in 10-20 years from now. We are not waiting for the Government to protect us. Me and my wife reduced the use of cell phones and we also enhanced it with the Cell Phone Bioprotector, radiation protection device- http://www.personalbioprotector.com (we feel the difference)
We do not let our kids use the cell phones. We changed our wireless internet connection to a wired one (the agent told us we were the first ones changing from the wireless to the wired one) and our cordless phone back to the good old corded one.
With all this talk of dangers I feel safer being proactive and it is not that hard. If they are wrong about dangers, great. If they are right the price would be too big to pay in 10-20 years from now, especially when it comes to our kids.

Posted by: Jason48 | October 1, 2010 3:51 AM | Report abuse

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