Cell Phone Safety and Health Issues and Effects
Over the past decade, there have numerous, conflicting reports on whether or not cell phones are dangerous to your health. Industry backed studies publicly state there are no harmful effects of using a cell phone… yet many private studies contradict these findings and say there are indeed negative effects to your health from the use of cell phones. So who are you to believe?
Current Exposure Limits While there is no federally developed national standard for safe levels of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy, many federal agencies have addressed this important issue. In addition to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), federal health and safety agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have been actively involved in monitoring and investigating issues related to RF exposure.
For example, the FDA has issued guidelines for safe RF emission levels from microwave ovens, and it continues to monitor exposure issues related to the use of certain RF devices such as cellular telephones. NIOSH conducts investigations and health hazard assessments related to occupational RF exposure. Federal, state and local government agencies and other organizations have generally relied on RF exposure standards developed by expert non-government organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP). Since 1996, the FCC has required that all wireless communications devices sold in the United States meet its minimum guidelines for safe human exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy. The FCC’s guidelines and rules regarding RF exposure are based upon standards developed by IEEE and NCRP and input from other federal agencies, such as those listed above.
These 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. All wireless devices sold in the US go through a formal FCC approval process to ensure that they do not exceed the maximum allowable SAR level when operating at the device’s highest possible power level. If the FCC learns that a device does not confirm with the test report upon which FCC approval is based – in essence, if the device in stores is not the device the FCC approved – the FCC can withdraw its approval and pursue enforcement action against the appropriate party.
Some measures to reduce your RF exposure include:
• Use a speakerphone, earpiece or headset to reduce proximity to the head (and thus exposure). 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 (the cell phone) from proximity to the head and thus can greatly reduce total exposure to the head.
• Increase the distance between wireless devices and your body.
• Consider texting rather than talking – but don’t text while you are driving. Some parties recommend that you consider the reported SAR value of wireless devices. However, comparing the SAR of different devices may be misleading.
First, the actual SAR varies considerably depending upon the conditions of use. The SAR value used for FCC approval does not account for the multitude of measurements taken during the testing. Moreover, cell phones constantly vary their power to operate at the minimum power necessary for communications; operation at maximum power occurs infrequently.
Second, the reported highest SAR values of wireless devices do not necessarily indicate that a user is exposed to more or less RF energy from one cell phone than from another during normal use (see our guide on SAR and cell phones at www.fcc.gov/guides/specific-absorption-rate-sar-cell-phones-what-it-means-you). Third, the variation in SAR from one mobile device to the next is relatively small compared to the reduction that can be achieved by the measures described above.
Consumers should remember that all wireless devices are certified to meet the FCC maximum SAR standards, which incorporate a considerable safety margin. (Information about the maximum SAR value for each phone is publicly available on the FCC website at www.fcc.gov/cgb/sar.)
On the other hand, the World International Health organization considers wireless to be an issue.
Lyon, France, May 31, 2011 – The WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer1, associated with wireless phone use. Background Over the last few years, there has been mounting concern about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices.
The number of mobile phone subscriptions is estimated at 5 billion globally. From May 24 – 31 2011, a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries has been meeting at IARC in Lyon, France, to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.
These assessments will be published as Volume 102 of the IARC Monographs, which will be the fifth volume in this series to focus on physical agents, after Volume 55 (Solar Radiation), Volume 75 and Volume 78 on ionizing radiation (X-rays, gamma-rays, neutrons, radio-nuclides), and Volume 80 on non-ionizing radiation (extremely low?frequency electromagnetic fields). The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed the possibility that these exposures might induce long-term health effects, in particular an increased risk for cancer.
This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children. The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed and evaluated the available literature on the following exposure categories involving radiofrequency electromagnetic fields:
* occupational exposures to radar and to microwaves;
* environmental exposures associated with transmission of signals for radio, television and wireless telecommunication; and
* personal exposures associated with the use of wireless telephones. International experts shared the complex task of tackling the exposure data, the studies of cancer in humans, the studies of cancer in experimental animals, and the mechanistic and other relevant data. 1 237 913 new cases of brain cancers (all types combined) occurred around the world in 2008 (gliomas represent 2/3 of these). Source: Globocan 2008
Results The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited2 among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate3 to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate. The Working Group did not quantitate the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10-year period).
Conclusions Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.” “Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings,” said IARC Director Christopher Wild, “it is important that additional research be conducted into the long?term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting. ”
The Working Group considered hundreds of scientific articles; the complete list will be published in the Monograph. It is noteworthy to mention that several recent in press scientific articles4 resulting from the Interphone study were made available to the working group shortly before it was due to convene, reflecting their acceptance for publication at that time, and were included in the evaluation. A concise report summarizing the main conclusions of the IARC Working Group and the evaluations of the carcinogenic hazard from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including the use of mobile telephones) will be published in The Lancet Oncology in its July 1 issue, and in a few days online.
What is radiofrequency energy (RF)?
Radiofrequency (RF) energy is another name for radio waves. It is one form of electromagnetic energy that makes up the electromagnetic spectrum. Some of the other forms of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum are gamma rays, x-rays and light. Electromagnetic energy (or electromagnetic radiation) consists of waves of electric and magnetic energy moving together (radiating) through space. The area where these waves are found is called an electromagnetic field.
Radio waves are created due to the movement of electrical charges in antennas. As they are created, these waves radiate away from the antenna. All electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light. The major differences between the different types of waves are the distances covered by one cycle of the wave and the number of waves that pass a certain point during a set time period. The wavelength is the distance covered by one cycle of a wave. The frequency is the number of waves passing a given point in one second. For any electromagnetic wave, the wavelength multiplied by the frequency equals the speed of light. The frequency of an RF signal is usually expressed in units called hertz (Hz). One Hz equals one wave per second. One kilohertz (kHz) equals one thousand waves per second, one megahertz (MHz) equals one million waves per second, and one gigahertz (GHz) equals one billion waves per second.
RF energy includes waves with frequencies ranging from about 3000 waves per second (3 kHz) to 300 billion waves per second (300 GHz). Microwaves are a subset of radio waves that have frequencies ranging from around 300 million waves per second (300 MHz) to three billion waves per second (3 GHz).
How is radiofrequency energy used?
Probably the most important use of RF energy is for telecommunications. Radio and TV broadcasting, wireless phones, pagers, cordless phones, police and fire department radios, point-to-point links and satellite communications all rely on RF energy.
Other uses of RF energy include microwave ovens, radar, industrial heaters and sealers, and medical treatments. RF energy, especially at microwave frequencies, can heat water. Since most food has a high water content, microwaves can cook food quickly. Radar relies on RF energy to track cars and airplanes as well as for military applications. Industrial heaters and sealers use RF energy to mold plastic materials, glue wood products, seal leather items such as shoes and pocketbooks, and process food. Medical uses of RF energy include pacemaker monitoring and programming.
How is radiofrequency radiation measured?
RF waves and RF fields have both electrical and magnetic components. It is often convenient to express the strength of the RF field in terms of each component. For example, the unit “volts per meter” (V/m) is used to measure the electric field strength, and the unit “amperes per meter” (A/m) is used to express the magnetic field strength. Another common way to characterize an RF field is by means of the power density. Power density is defined as power per unit area. For example, power density can be expressed in terms of milliwatts (one thousandth of a watt) per square centimeter (mW/cm2 or microwatts (one millionth of a watt) per square centimeter (µW/cm2).
The quantity used to measure how much RF energy is actually absorbed by the body is called the Specific Absorption Rate or SAR. The SAR is a measure of the rate of absorption of RF energy. It is usually expressed in units of watts per kilogram (W/kg) or milliwatts per gram (mW/g).
What biological effects can be caused by RF energy?
The biological effects of radiofrequency energy should not be confused with the effects from other types of electromagnetic energy.
Very high levels of electromagnetic energy, such as is found in X-rays and gamma rays can ionize biological tissues. Ionization is a process where electrons are stripped away from their normal locations in atoms and molecules. It can permanently damage biological tissues including DNA, the genetic material. Ionization only occurs with very high levels of electromagnetic energy such as X-rays and gamma rays. Often the term radiation is used when discussing ionizing radiation (such as that associated with nuclear power plants).
The energy levels associated with radiofrequency energy, including both radio waves and microwaves, are not great enough to cause the ionization of atoms and molecules. Therefore, RF energy is a type of non-ionizing radiation. Other types of non-ionizing radiation include visible light, infrared radiation (heat) and other forms of electromagnetic radiation with relatively low frequencies.
Large amounts of RF energy can heat tissue. This can damage tissues and increase body temperatures. Two areas of the body, the eyes and the testes, are particularly vulnerable to RF heating because there is relatively little blood flow in them to carry away excess heat.
The amount of RF radiation routinely encountered by the general public is too low to produce significant heating or increased body temperature. Still, some people have questions about the possible health effects of low levels of RF energy. It is generally agreed that further research is needed to determine what effects actually occur and whether they are dangerous to people. In the meantime, standards-setting organizations and government agencies are continuing to monitor the latest scientific findings to determine whether changes in safety limits are needed to protect human health.
FDA, EPA and other US government agencies responsible for public health and safety have worked together and in connection with WHO to monitor developments and identify research needs related to RF biological effects.
What levels of RF energy are considered safe?
Various organizations and countries have developed standards for exposure to radiofrequency energy. These standards recommend safe levels of exposure for both the general public and for workers. In the United States, the FCC has used safety guidelines for RF environmental exposure since 1985.
The FCC guidelines for human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields are derived from the recommendations of two expert organizations, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). In both cases, the recommendations were developed by scientific and engineering experts drawn from industry, government, and academia after extensive reviews of the scientific literature related to the biological effects of RF energy.
Many countries in Europe and elsewhere use exposure guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The ICNIRP safety limits are generally similar to those of the NCRP and IEEE, with a few exceptions. For example, ICNIRP recommends different exposure levels in the lower and upper frequency ranges and for localized exposure from certain products such as hand-held wireless telephones. Currently, the World Health Organization is working to provide a framework for international harmonization of RF safety standards.
The NCRP, IEEE, and ICNIRP all have identified a whole-body Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value of 4 watts per kilogram (4 W/kg) as a threshold level of exposure at which harmful biological effects may occur. Exposure guidelines in terms of field strength, power density and localized SAR were then derived from this threshold value. In addition, the NCRP, IEEE, and ICNIRP guidelines vary depending on the frequency of the RF exposure. This is due to the finding that whole-body human absorption of RF energy varies with the frequency of the RF signal. The most restrictive limits on whole-body exposure are in the frequency range of 30-300 MHz where the human body absorbs RF energy most efficiently. For products that only expose part of the body, such as wireless phones, exposure limits in terms of SAR only are specified.
The exposure limits used by the FCC are expressed in terms of SAR, electric and magnetic field strength, and power density for transmitters operating at frequencies from 300 kHz to 100 GHz. The specific values can be found in two FCC bulletins, OET Bulletins 56 and 65: http://www.fcc.gov/oet/info/documents/bulletins/#56; http://www.fcc.gov/oet/info/documents/bulletins/#65
Why has the FCC adopted guidelines for RF exposure?
The FCC authorizes and licenses products, transmitters, and facilities that generate RF and microwave radiation. It has jurisdiction over all transmitting services in the U.S. except those specifically operated by the Federal Government. While the FCC does not have the expertise to determine radiation exposure guidelines on its own, it does have the expertise and authority to recognize and adopt technically sound standards promulgated by other expert agencies and organizations, and has done so . (Our joint efforts with the FDA in developing this website is illustrative of the kind of inter-agency efforts and consultation we engage in regarding this health and safety issue.)
Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the FCC has certain responsibilities to consider whether its actions will significantly affect the quality of the human environment. Therefore, FCC approval and licensing of transmitters and facilities must be evaluated for significant impact on the environment. Human exposure to RF radiation emitted by FCC-regulated transmitters is one of several factors that must be considered in such environmental evaluations. In 1996, the FCC revised its guidelines for RF exposure as a result of a multi-year proceeding and as required by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Radio and television broadcast stations, satellite-earth stations, experimental radio stations and certain wireless communication facilities are required to undergo routine evaluation for RF compliance when they submit an application to the FCC for construction or modification of a transmitting facility or renewal of a license. Failure to comply with the FCC’s RF exposure guidelines could lead to the preparation of a formal Environmental Assessment, possible Environmental Impact Statement and eventual rejection of an application. Technical guidelines for evaluating compliance with the FCC RF safety requirements can be found in the FCC’s OET Bulletin 65. http://www.fcc.gov/oet/info/documents/bulletins/#65
Low-powered, intermittent, or inaccessible RF transmitters and facilities are normally excluded from the requirement for routine evaluation for RF exposure. These exclusions are based on standard calculations and measurement data indicating that a transmitting station or equipment operating under the conditions prescribed is unlikely to cause exposures in excess of the guidelines under normal conditions of use. Such exclusions are not exclusions from compliance, but, rather, exclusions from routine evaluation. The FCC’s policies on RF exposure and categorical exclusion can be found in Section 1.1307(b) of the FCC’s Rules and Regulations [(47 CFR 1.1307(b)].
How can I obtain the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value for my wireless phone?
The FCC requires that wireless phones sold in the United States demonstrate compliance with human exposure limits adopted by the FCC in 1996. The relative amount of RF energy absorbed in the head of a wireless telephone-user is given by the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), as explained above. The FCC requires wireless phones to comply with a safety limit of 1.6 watts per kilogram (1.6 W/kg) in terms of SAR.
Information on SAR for a specific phone model can be obtained for many recently manufactured phones using the FCC identification (ID) number for that model. The FCC ID number is usually printed somewhere on the case of the phone. Sometimes it may be necessary to remove the battery pack to find the number. Once you have the ID number, go to the following Web address: www.fcc.gov/oet/fccid. On this page, you will see instructions for entering the FCC ID number. Type the FCC ID number exactly as requested (the Grantee Code is the first three characters, the Equipment Product Code is the rest of the FCC ID number). Then click on “Start Search.” The “Grant of Equipment Authorization” for your telephone should appear. Read through the grant for the section on “SAR Compliance,” “Certification of Compliance with FCC Rules for RF Exposure” or similar language. This section should contain the value(s) for typical or maximum SAR for your phone.
Phones and other products authorized since June 2, 2000, should have the maximum SAR levels noted directly on the “Grant of Equipment Authorization.” For phones and products authorized between about mid-1998 and June 2000, detailed information on SAR levels is typically found in the exhibits associated with the grant. Once a grant is accessed, the exhibits can be viewed by clicking on “View Exhibit.” Grants authorized prior to 1998 are not part of the electronic database but, rather, have been documented in the form of paper records.
The FCC database does not list phones by model number. However, consumers may find SAR information from other sources as well. Some wireless phone manufacturers make SAR information available on their own Web sites. In addition, some non-government Web sites provide SARs for specific models of wireless phones. However, the FCC has not reviewed these sites and makes no guarantees of their accuracy. Finally, phones certified by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) are required to provide SAR information to consumers in the instructional materials that come with the phones.
Do hands-free kits for wireless phones reduce risks from exposure to RF emissions?
Since there are no known risks from exposure to RF emissions from wireless phones, there is no reason to believe that hands-free kits reduce risks. Hands-free kits can be used with wireless phones for convenience and comfort. These systems reduce the absorption of RF energy in the head because the phone, which is the source of the RF emissions, will not be placed against the head. On the other hand, if the phone is mounted against the waist or other part of the body during use, then that part of the body will absorb more RF energy. Wireless phones marketed in the U.S. are required to meet safety requirements regardless of whether they are used against the head or against the body. Either configuration should result in compliance with the safety limit.
Do wireless phone accessories that claim to shield the head from RF radiation work?
Since there are no known risks from exposure to RF emissions from wireless phones, there is no reason to believe that accessories that claim to shield the head from those emissions reduce risks. Some products that claim to shield the user from RF absorption use special phone cases, while others involve nothing more than a metallic accessory attached to the phone. Studies have shown that these products generally do not work as advertised. Unlike “hand-free” kits, these so-called “shields” may interfere with proper operation of the phone. The phone may be forced to boost its power to compensate, leading to an increase in RF absorption. In February 2002, the Federal trade Commission (FTC) charged two companies that sold devices that claimed to protect wireless phone users from radiation with making false and unsubstantiated claims. According to FTC, these defendants lacked a reasonable basis to substantiate their claim.
What are wireless telephone base stations?
Fixed antennas used for wireless telecommunications are referred to as cellular base stations, cell stations, PCS (“Personal Communications Service”) stations or telephone transmission towers. These base stations consist of antennas and electronic equipment. Because the antennas need to be high in the air, they are often located on towers, poles, water tanks, or rooftops. Typical heights for freestanding base station towers are 50-200 feet.
Some base stations use antennas that look like poles, 10 to 15 feet in length, that are referred to as “omni-directional” antennas. These types of antennas are usually found in rural areas. In urban and suburban areas, wireless providers now more commonly use panel or sector antennas for their base stations. These antennas consist of rectangular panels, about 1 by 4 feet in dimension. The antennas are usually arranged in three groups of three antennas each. One antenna in each group is used to transmit signals to wireless phones, and the other two antennas in each group are used to receive signals from wireless phones.
At any base station site, the amount of RF energy produced depends on the number of radio channels (transmitters) per antenna and the power of each transmitter. Typically, 21 channels per antenna sector are available. For a typical cell site using sector antennas, each of the three transmitting antennas could be connected to up to 21 transmitters for a total of 63 transmitters. However, it is unlikely that all of the transmitters would be transmitting at the same time. When omni-directional antennas are used, a cellular base station could theoretically use up to 96 transmitters, but this would be very unusual, and, once again, it is unlikely that all transmitters would be in operation simultaneously. Base stations used for PCS communications generally require fewer transmitters than those used for cellular radio transmissions, since PCS carriers usually have a higher density of base station antenna sites.
Are wireless telephone base stations safe?
The electromagnetic RF signals transmitted from base station antennas stations travel toward the horizon in relatively narrow paths. For example, the radiation pattern for an antenna array mounted on a tower can be likened to a thin pancake centered around the antenna system. The individual pattern for a single array of sector antennas is wedge-shaped, like a piece of pie. As with all forms of electromagnetic energy, the power decreases rapidly as one moves away from the antenna. Therefore, RF exposure on the ground is much less than exposure very close to the antenna and in the path of the transmitted radio signal. In fact, ground-level exposure from such antennas is typically thousands of times less than the exposure levels recommended as safe by expert organizations. So exposure to nearby residents would be well within safety margins.
Cellular and PCS base stations in the United States are required to comply with limits for exposure recommended by expert organizations and endorsed by government agencies responsible for health and safety. Measurements made near cellular and PCS base station antennas mounted on towers have confirmed that ground-level exposures are typically thousands of times less than the exposure limits adopted by the FCC. In fact, in order to be exposed to levels at or near the FCC limits for cellular or PCS frequencies an individual would essentially have to remain in the main transmitted radio signal (at the height of the antenna) and within a few feet from the antenna. This is, of course, very unlikely to occur.
When cellular and PCS antennas are mounted on rooftops, RF levels on that roof or on others near by would probably be greater than those typically encountered on the ground. However, exposure levels approaching or exceeding safety guidelines should be encountered only very close to or directly in front of the antennas. In addition, for sector-type antennas, typically used for such rooftop base stations, RF levels to the side and in back of these antennas are insignificant. General guidelines on antenna installations and circumstances that might give rise to a concern about an facility’s conformance with FCC regulations can be found in A Local Government Official’s Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emission Safety: Rules, Procedures, and Practical Guidance. This Guide can be accessed at: http://www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety.
Who regulates exposure to radiation from microwave ovens, television sets and computer monitors?
The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for protecting the public from harmful radiation emissions from these consumer products.
Does the FCC routinely monitor radiofrequency radiation from antennas?
The FCC does not have the resources or the personnel to routinely monitor the emissions for all the thousands of transmitters that are subject to FCC jurisdiction. However, the FCC does have measurement instrumentation for evaluating RF levels in areas that may be accessible to the public or to workers. If there is evidence for potential non-compliance with FCC exposure guidelines for a FCC-regulated facility, staff from the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology or the FCC Enforcement Bureau can conduct and investigation, and, if appropriate, perform actual measurements. Circumstances that could give rise to a concern about an facility’s conformance with FCC regulations can be found in in A Local Government Official’s Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emission Safety: Rules, Procedures, and Practical Guidance. This Guide can be accessed at: http://www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety. Potential exposure problems should be brought to the FCC’s attention by contacting the FCC RF Safety Program at: 202-418-2464 or by e-mail: email@example.com.
Does the FCC maintain a database that includes information on the location and technical parameters of all the transmitting towers it regulates?
Each of the FCC Bureaus maintains its own licensing database system for the service(s) it regulates (e.g., television, cellular service, satellite earth stations.) The FCC issues two types of licenses: site specific and market based. In the case of site specific licensed facilities, technical operating information is collected from the licensee as part of the licensing process. However, in the case of market based licensing (e.g., PCS, cellular), the licensee is granted the authority to operate a radio communications system in a geographic area using as many facilities as are required, and the licensee is not required to provide the FCC with specific location and operating parameters of these facilities.
Information on site specific licensed facilities can be found the “General Menu Reports” (GenMen) at http://gullfoss2.fcc.gov/cgi-bin/ws.exe/genmen/index.hts.
The various FCC Bureaus also publish on at least a weekly basis, bulk extracts of their licensing databases. Each licensing database has its own unique file structure. These extracts consist of multiple, very large files. The FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) maintains an index to these databases at http://www.fcc.gov/oet/info/database/fadb.html. Entry points into the various databases include frequency, state/county, latitude/longitude, call-sign and licensee name. For further information on the Commission’s existing databases, you can contact Donald Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-418-2405.
Can local and state governmental bodies establish limits for RF exposure?
Although some local and state governments have enacted rules and regulations about human exposure to RF energy in the past, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the Federal Government to control human exposure to RF emissions. In particular, Section 704 of the Act states that, “No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.” Further information on federal authority and FCC policy is available in a fact sheet from the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau at www.fcc.gov/wtb.
What is FDA doing to find out more about the possible health effects of wireless phone RF?
FDA is working with the U.S. National Toxicology Program and with groups of investigators around the world to ensure that high priority animal studies are conducted to address important questions about the effects of exposure to radiofrequency energy (RF).
FDA has been a leading participant in the World Health Organization International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project since its inception in 1996. An influential result of this work has been the development of a detailed agenda of research needs that has driven the establishment of new research programs around the world. The Project has also helped develop a series of public information documents on EMF issues.
FDA and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA) have a formal Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) to do research on wireless phone safety. FDA provides the scientific oversight, obtaining input from experts in government, industry, and academic organizations. CTIA-funded research is conducted through contracts to independent investigators. The initial research will include both laboratory studies and studies of wireless phone users. The CRADA will also include a broad assessment of additional research needs in the context of the latest research developments around the world.
What steps can I take to reduce my exposure to radiofrequency energy from my wireless phone?
If there is a risk from these products–and at this point we do not know that there is–it is probably very small. But if you are concerned about avoiding even potential risks, you can take a few simple steps to minimize your exposure to radiofrequency energy (RF). Since time is a key factor in how much exposure a person receives, reducing the amount of time spent using a wireless phone will reduce RF exposure.
If you must conduct extended conversations by wireless phone every day, you could place more distance between your body and the source of the RF, since the exposure level drops off dramatically with distance. For example, you could use a headset and carry the wireless phone away from your body or use a wireless phone connected to a remote antenna
Again, the scientific data do not demonstrate that wireless phones are harmful. But if you are concerned about the RF exposure from these products, you can use measures like those described above to reduce your RF exposure from wireless phone use.
What about children using wireless phones?
The scientific evidence does not show a danger to users of wireless phones, including children and teenagers. If you want to take steps to lower exposure to radiofrequency energy (RF), the measures described above would apply to children and teenagers using wireless phones. Reducing the time of wireless phone use and increasing the distance between the user and the RF source will reduce RF exposure.
Some groups sponsored by other national governments have advised that children be discouraged from using wireless phones at all. For example, the government in the United Kingdom distributed leaflets containing such a recommendation in December 2000. They noted that no evidence exists that using a wireless phone causes brain tumors or other ill effects. Their recommendation to limit wireless phone use by children was strictly precautionary; it was not based on scientific evidence that any health hazard exists.
What about wireless phone interference with medical equipment?
Radiofrequency energy (RF) from wireless phones can interact with some electronic devices. For this reason, FDA helped develop a detailed test method to measure electromagnetic interference (EMI) of implanted cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators from wireless telephones. This test method is now part of a standard sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Medical instrumentation (AAMI). The final draft, a joint effort by FDA, medical device manufacturers, and many other groups, was completed in late 2000. This standard will allow manufacturers to ensure that cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators are safe from wireless phone EMI.
FDA has tested hearing aids for interference from handheld wireless phones and helped develop a voluntary standard sponsored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). This standard specifies test methods and performance requirements for hearing aids and wireless phones so that that no interference occurs when a person uses a “compatible” phone and a “compatible” hearing aid at the same time. This standard was approved by the IEEE in 2000.
FDA continues to monitor the use of wireless phones for possible interactions with other medical devices. Should harmful interference be found to occur, FDA will conduct testing to assess the interference and work to resolve the problem.
Which other federal agencies have responsibilities related to potential RF health effects?
Certain agencies in the Federal Government have been involved in monitoring, researching or regulating issues related to human exposure to RF radiation. These agencies include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Defense (DOD).
By authority of the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act of 1968, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) of the FDA develops performance standards for the emission of radiation from electronic products including X-ray equipment, other medical devices, television sets, microwave ovens, laser products and sunlamps. The CDRH established a product performance standard for microwave ovens in 1971 limiting the amount of RF leakage from ovens. However, the CDRH has not adopted performance standards for other RF-emitting products. The FDA is, however, the lead federal health agency in monitoring the latest research developments and advising other agencies with respect to the safety of RF-emitting products used by the public, such as cellular and PCS phones.
The FDA’s microwave oven standard is an emission standard (as opposed to an exposure standard) that allows specific levels of microwave leakage (measured at five centimeters from the oven surface). The standard also requires ovens to have two independent interlock systems that prevent the oven from generating microwaves the moment that the latch is released or the door of the oven is opened. The FDA has stated that ovens that meet its standards and are used according to the manufacturer’s recommendations are safe for consumer and industrial use. More information is available from: www.fda.gov/cdrh.
The EPA has, in the past, considered developing federal guidelines for public exposure to RF radiation. However, EPA activities related to RF safety and health are presently limited to advisory functions. For example, the EPA now chairs an Inter-agency Radiofrequency Working Group, which coordinates RF health-related activities among the various federal agencies with health or regulatory responsibilities in this area.
OSHA is responsible for protecting workers from exposure to hazardous chemical and physical agents. In 1971, OSHA issued a protection guide for exposure of workers to RF radiation [29 CFR 1910.97]. However, this guide was later ruled to be only advisory and not mandatory. Moreover, it was based on an earlier RF exposure standard that has now been revised. At the present time, OSHA uses the IEEE and/or FCC exposure guidelines for enforcement purposes under OSHA’s “general duty clause” (for more information see: http://www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/radiofrequencyradiation/index.html
NIOSH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It conducts research and investigations into issues related to occupational exposure to chemical and physical agents. NIOSH has, in the past, undertaken to develop RF exposure guidelines for workers, but final guidelines were never adopted by the agency. NIOSH conducts safety-related RF studies through its Physical Agents Effects Branch in Cincinnati,Ohio.
The NTIA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce and is responsible for authorizing Federal Government use of the RF electromagnetic spectrum. Like the FCC, the NTIA also has NEPA responsibilities and has considered adopting guidelines for evaluating RF exposure from U.S. Government transmitters such as radar and military facilities.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has conducted research on the biological effects of RF energy for a number of years. This research is now conducted primarily at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory located at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. The DOD Web site for RF biological effects information is listed with other sites in conjunction with a question on other sources of information, below.
Who funds and carries out research on the biological effects of RF energy?
Research into possible biological effects of RF energy is carried out in laboratories in the United States and around the world. In the U.S., most research has been funded by the Department of Defense, due to the extensive military use of RF equipment such as radar and high-powered radio transmitters. In addition, some federal agencies responsible for health and safety, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have sponsored and conducted research in this area. At the present time, most of the non-military research on biological effects of RF energy in the U.S. is being funded by industry organizations. More research is being carried out overseas, particularly in Europe.
In 1996, the World Health Organization (WHO) established the International EMF Project to review the scientific literature and work towards resolution of health concerns over the use of RF technology. WHO maintains a Web site that provides extensive information on this project and about RF biological effects and research (www.who.ch/peh-emf).
FDA, EPA and other US government agencies responsible for public health and safety have worked together and in connection with WHO to monitor developments and identify research needs related to RF biological effects.
How does FCC Audit Cell Phone RF?
After FCC grants permission for a particular cellular telephone to be marketed, FCC will occasionally conduct “post-grant” testing to determine whether production versions of the phone are being produced to conform with FCC regulatory requirements. The manufacturer of a cell phone that does not meet FCC’s regulatory requirements may be required to remove the cell phone from use and to refund the purchase price or provide a replacement phone, and may be subject to civil or criminal penalties. In addition, if the cell phone presents a risk of injury to the user, FDA may also take regulatory action. The most important post-grant test, from a consumer’s perspective, is testing of the RF emissions of the phone. FCC measures the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of the phone, following a very rigorous testing protocol. As is true for nearly any scientific measurement, there is a possibility that the test measurement may be less than or greater than the actual RF emitted by the phone. This difference between the RF test measurement and actual RF emission is because test measurements are limited by instrument accuracy, because test measurement and actual use environments are different, and other variable factors. This inherent variability is known as “measurement uncertainty.” When FCC conducts post-grant testing of a cell phone, FCC takes into account any measurement uncertainty to determine whether regulatory action is appropriate. This approach ensures that when FCC takes regulatory action, it will have a sound, defensible scientific basis.
FDA scientific staff reviewed the methodology used by FCC to measure cell phone RF, and agreed it is an acceptable approach, given our current understanding of the risks presented by cellular phone RF emissions. RF emissions from cellular phones have not been shown to present a risk of injury to the user when the measured SAR is less than the safety limits set by FCC (an SAR of 1.6 w/kg). Even in a case where the maximum measurement uncertainty permitted by current measurement standards was added to the maximum permissible SAR, the resulting SAR value would be well below any level known to produce an acute effect. Consequently, FCC’s approach with measurement uncertainty will not result in consumers being exposed to any known risk from the RF emitted by cellular telephones.
FDA will continue to monitor studies and literature reports concerning acute effects of cell phone RF, and concerning chronic effects of long-term exposure to cellular telephone RF (that is, the risks from using a cell phone for many years). If new information leads FDA to believe that a change to FCC’s measurement policy may be appropriate, FDA will contact FCC and both agencies will work together to develop a mutually-acceptable approach
Article borrowed from the FCC Wireless Safety : http://www.fcc.gov/guides/wireless-devices-and-health-concerns
World Health Organization: http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf