Health, Consumer Groups Call for New Cell Phone Radiation Standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Citing the soaring number of wireless devices in the hands of children, long-standing flaws in federal cell phone radiation standards and new science raising questions about cell phone safety, 12 public health and consumer groups are calling on the government to revamp the standards to better protect both young people and adults.

 “Nearly 80 percent of teenagers and a growing number of younger children in the United States now have a cell phone, talking and texting throughout the day while being exposed to potentially unsafe levels of radiation,” said Heather White, executive director of Environmental Working Group. “The new reality of who is using these devices and the amount of time they spend with them demand that the federal government do its level best to make sure they are as safe as possible.”

In a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, executives of the 12 public interest groups wrote:

Today, there are 10 times as many cell phone subscribers in the U.S. as there were in 1997.  Fully 78 percent of teenagers own a cell phone… As use of electronic devices has grown, concern about potential serious long-term health effects of cell phone radiation has risen sharply. There are now numerous scientific studies showing potential links between cell phone radiation and cancer, declines in sperm count and other health problems. While more research and evidence is needed, we know enough to act protectively and proactively.  Caring for our children – for future generations – is common sense.

The organizations are asking the FCC to: modernize its protocols for wireless devices in order to adequately protect children’s health; update its radiation standards to reflect actual patterns of use; and provide consumers with information about potential radiation exposure from specific phones and networks, including at the point of sale.

Signers of the letter include: Black Women for Wellness, Breast Cancer Action, Breast Cancer Fund, Center for Environmental Health, Consumer Federation of California, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Empire State Consumers Project, Environmental Working Group, Healthy Child Healthy World, Product Policy Institute, Science and Environmental Health Network, and Teens Turning Green. EWG also submitted extensive technical comments to the FCC detailing its concerns.

The FCC has not updated its cell phone standards since it first published them in 1996, at a time when cell phone use among young people was rare, smartphones did not exist, cell phone cases were virtually unheard of and the agency assumed that most people would carry their phones in holsters on their belts.

The outdated FCC standards do not take into account the fact that children’s brains absorb radio frequency energy differently than adult brains and provide consumers with little guidance as to which phones and wireless networks are likely to expose them to the least radiation. Consumers who hold their phones directly against their bodies or use smartphone cases may exceed FCC safety limits.

Last year, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report called on the FCC to update its cell phone radiation exposure and testing guidelines. It said the current standards “may not reflect the latest research” and “may not identify maximum exposure [to radiation] in all possible usage conditions.” It also noted that the agency does not test the use of phones held against the body, which “could result in [radio frequency] energy exposure higher than the FCC limit.”

The evidence on possible health risks from cell phone use is not definitive, but there are now numerous scientific studies pointing to potential links between cell phone radiation and cancer, declines in sperm counts and other health problems. These findings have raised additional concerns about whether the current FCC standards are sufficiently protective.  

The FCC’s public comment period on its plan to update its cell phone radiation standards closes on Tuesday, Sept. 3, and the agency is expected to indicate by the end of the year how it may move forward to revise to the standards.

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