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FCC Softened Advisory on Cell Phone Radiation

(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Washington, D.C. – Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that wireless industry representatives were granted a number of high-level meetings with top Federal Communications Commission officials last year to discuss state and local efforts to require retailers to post the radiation levels of the cell phones they sell.

The documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group do not detail what was discussed at those meetings, but the federal agency subsequently deleted cautionary language on its website suggesting that consumers might want to buy cell phones with lower radiation ratings. The FCC replaced this wording with new language saying that it “does not endorse the need for these practices.”

The FCC documents record three meetings with industry representatives in January, June and July of 2010. Those attending included officials of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) and representatives of Nokia, AT&T and Motorola. The association also represents other major cell phone providers including Verizon, Sprint, TMobile, Cricket and U.S. Cellular.

The records show that attendees received handouts of San Francisco’s first-of-its-kind ordinance requiring retailers to post easy-to-find information on each cell phone’s radiation output. They were also given printouts from the FCC web page that addressed cell phone safety concerns.

The FCC language suggesting that consumers consider lower radiation cell phones disappeared when the agency website was updated on Sept. 20, 2010.

The June meeting took place just weeks before the industry trade association filed a legal complaint seeking to block San Francisco from implementing its ordinance. Other jurisdictions, including the cities of Burlingame, Calif., and Portland, Ore., have since taken up proposals to impose warning labels and disclosure requirements along the lines of the San Francisco ordinance.

“These meetings provide evidence that cell phone industry lobbyists and lawyers are working to squelch any effort to provide their consumers with this information,” said EWG Senior Scientist Olga Naidenko. “There are real concerns about cell phone radiation and potential risks later in life, and that information should be presented before the device is purchased.”

The San Francisco disclosure ordinance – which will require readily accessible labeling of radiation emissions (the Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR) for phones sold in the city –would supplement, not invade, the FCC’s exclusive jurisdiction to set national SAR standards.

“It is our hope that the FCC will not join industry in arguing against Americans’ right to know about cell phone radiation, but will instead take the lead with states and municipalities advancing public access to basic data on phone emissions,” added Naidenko.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.