Prodded by members of Congress and environmental activists, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski began circulating a draft notice of inquiry (NOI) among the FCC’s commissioners last Friday that would seek public input on potential modifications of the agency’s radio frequency (RF) exposure standards for wireless devices. The draft NOI, order and further notice of proposed rulemaking represents the initial step in what would be the FCC’s first review of cellular RF exposure standards since the RF rules were first enacted in 1996. While the results of various scientific studies on the health hazards of cell phone use have proven inconclusive, a panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization determined last year that RF emissions from wireless handsets are “possibly carcinogenic.” In a separate study released in February 2011, researchers at the National Institutes of Health found evidence of altered activity in the part of the brain closest to where wireless device antennas are located after 50 minutes of continuous cell phone use. On the basis of these studies, Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) asked the Government Accountability Office last year to review the status of current research on the health risks of cell phone use as well as current FCC standards on the safety of wireless devices. Environmental groups and members of the medical establishment have also cited these studies in lobbying for changes to the FCC’s RF emission standards. While emphasizing the FCC’s belief that current RF standards pose no risk to cell phone users or to workers and other persons in close proximity to wireless transmitters, the draft NOI requests comment on whether current RF standards are sufficient. Among other things, the NOI also seeks input on (1) the implementation of special measures to protect children who are more vulnerable to RF emission hazards, (2) whether the FCC should modify its procedures on the testing of wireless devices that are worn on the body, and (3) what additional information, if any, the FCC should provide to consumers about the use and safety of wireless devices. While maintaining that “the great weight of the most credible scientific evidence tells us there is no causal link between cell phone usage and brain tumors,” FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell agreed “it is prudent to reassess our methodology and procedures . . . provided we don’t cause unwarranted concern among cell phone consumers along the way.” An official of wireless association CTIA, meanwhile, stressed his group’s expectation “that the FCC’s review will confirm, as it has in the past, that the scientific evidence establishes no reason for concern about the safety of cell phones.”
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FCC to consider revisions to wireless handset radiation standards
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