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FCC Takes Up Debate Over Current Cell Phone Safety Standards

by Beck Alleman, published

cell phone safety

Last Friday, the FCC opted to review a 15-year-old cell phone safety regulation policy. This update began last June after Chairman Julius Genachowski started circulating a notice of inquiry to determine if an official investigation of cell phone safety standards was necessary.

The FCC is currently listening to comments from both cell phone users and businesses as well as conducting its own research into the matter.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), one of the main reasons for this inquiry is the explosion in cell phone usage. In the United States alone there are over 300 million cell phone users, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. If there is a danger, even a small one, of cancer, it could endanger many people.

There is currently a cell phone radiation limit put in place by the FCC. A cell phone cannot be sold until its specific absorption rate (SAR) falls below a certain threshold, which is currently 1.6 watts per kilogram of volume containing one gram of tissue.

Cell phones have been under increasing scrutiny for their radiation output, especially after a 2011 study from the World Health Organization (WHO) found cell phones can increase cancer risk. Before this study, the WHO claimed cell phones caused no adverse effects.

The type of radiation cell phones purportedly put out is non-ionizing, so it's less like an x-ray and more like a microwave.

Dr. Keith Black, chairman of Neurology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, puts the dangers of this radiation into perspective:

"What microwave radiation does in most simplistic terms is similar to what happens to food in microwaves, essentially cooking the brain. So in addition to leading to a development of cancer and tumors, there could be a whole host of other effects like cognitive memory function, since the memory temporal lobes are where we hold our cell phones."

Black said that another problem with dangers like these is that it can take decades for symptoms of exposure to be observed, so even research on cell phone use from the 1990's might not be fully developed.

On the other hand, there are many scientists who say that cell phones, even modern cell phones, pose no major risk of long-term damage from radiation.

"The overall conclusion of no increased risk is in accordance with the large body of existing research and many expert reviews that consistently conclude that there is no established health risk from radio signals that comply with international safety recommendations," said Jack Rowley of the Global Systems for Mobile Communications.

Essentially, Rowley is saying that studies of humans and animals have not shown a concrete link between these radio waves produced by cell phones and cancer. This makes enacting a sweeping new cell phone investigation on the matter tricky.

Until the FCC has conclusively proven there is no link between cell phone radiation and cancer, it recommends cell phone users utilize the speaker phone function or earpiece as much as possible when talking on the phone, as this reduces exposure to the radiation.

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