FCC Wireless Devices and Health Concerns

by PJ Grube | April 13th, 2010

On November 5, 2009, the FCC released their Consumer Facts on “Wireless Devices and Health Concerns” (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/mobilephone.html)
In this document, under “Recent Developments” the FCC recommends precaution for the use of cell phones as listed below.  It is clear that the September 2009 Senate Hearings had an influence.  Unfortunately this received no publicity that I am aware of and it should be front page news across the country.
Please forward this to interested parties and congratulations to those who participated at the Senate Hearing on Cell Phones last September.

Wireless Devices and Health Concerns & FCC
Consumer Facts

Current Exposure Limits
Since 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has required that all wireless communications devices sold in the United States meet minimum guidelines for safe human exposure to radio frequency (RF) energy. The FCC relies on the expertise of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other federal health, safety and environmental agencies to help determine safe levels for human exposure to RF energy. In adopting its guidelines for RF exposure, the FCC considered opinions from these agencies as well as limits recommended by two non-profit, expert organizations, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP).
The FCC’s guidelines specify exposure limits for hand-held wireless devices in terms of the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). The SAR is a measure of the rate that RF energy is absorbed by the body. For exposure to RF energy from wireless devices, the allowable FCC SAR limit is 1.6 watts per kilogram (W/kg), as averaged over one gram of tissue.
The FCC approves all wireless devices sold in the US. If the FCC determines that exposure from an approved wireless device exceeds its guidelines, it can withdraw its approval. In addition, if the FDA determines that RF exposure from a device is hazardous, it can require the manufacturer of the device to notify users of the health hazard and to repair, replace, or recall the device.
Several US government agencies and international organizations work cooperatively to monitor the health effects of RF exposure. According to the FDA, to date the weight of scientific evidence has not linked exposure to radio frequency energy from mobile devices with any health problems. FDA maintains a Web site on RF issues at www.fda.gov/Radiation-EmittingProducts/RadiationEmittingProductsandProcedures/HomeBusinessandEntertainment/CellPhones/default.htm. You can find additional useful information and links to some of the other responsible organizations on the FCC’s Web site at www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety. Finally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has established an International Electromagnetic Fields Project to provide information on health risks, establish research needs, and support efforts to harmonize RF exposure standards. For more information go to www.who.int/peh-emf/en.

Recent Developments
Recent reports by some health and safety interest groups have suggested that wireless device use can be linked to cancer and other illnesses. These questions have become more pressing as more and younger people are using the devices, and for longer periods of time. No scientific evidence currently establishes a definite link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses, but almost all parties debating the risks of using wireless devices agree that more and longer-term studies are needed. After listening to several expert witnesses, a United States Senate committee recently came to this same conclusion.

What You Can Do
Even though no scientific evidence currently establishes a definite link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses, some parties recommend taking the precautions listed below. When considering these precautions, remember that your wireless device only emits RF energy when you are using it and that the closer the device is to you, the more energy you will absorb. Also, some parties assert that any potential health risks are probably greater for children than for adults. Finally, some experts think that low frequency magnetic fields rather than RF energy measured by the SAR possibly are responsible for any potential risk associated with wireless devices. The precautions are:

  • Use an earpiece or headset. While wired earpieces may conduct some energy to the head and wireless earpieces also emit a small amount of RF energy, both wired and wireless earpieces remove the greatest source of RF energy from proximity to the head and thus can greatly reduce total exposure to the head. Avoid continually wearing a wireless earpiece when not in use.
  • If possible, keep wireless devices away from your body when they are on, mainly by not attaching them to belts or carrying them in pockets.
  • Use the cell phone speaker to reduce exposure to the head.
  • Consider texting rather than talking, but don’t text while you are driving.
  • Buy a wireless device with lower SAR. The FCC does not require manufacturers to disclose the RF exposure from their devices. Many manufacturers, however, voluntarily provide SAR values. You can find links to manufacturer Web sites providing these SAR values on the FCC’s Web site at www.fcc.gov/cgb/sar. Note that the variation in SAR from one mobile device to the next is relatively small compared to the reduction that can be achieved by using an earpiece or headset.

Other Risks
Some studies have shown that wireless devices might interfere with implanted cardiac pacemakers if used within eight inches of the pacemaker. Pacemaker users may want to avoid placing or using a wireless device this close to their pacemaker.

For More Information

For information about other communications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau Web site at www.fcc.gov/cgb, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center by e-mailing fccinfo@fcc.gov; calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554.

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