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FCC launches inquiry into cell phone radiation effects

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Nine months after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the FCC might launch an inquiry into whether its cell phone radiation emission standards need to be changed--amid concerns that mobile phone radiation may cause brain cancer--the commission actually opened the inquiry.

The FCC formally opened a notice of inquiry into the issue, but also said that at this point it is comfortable with the current limits on RF radiation exposure. "We continue to have confidence in the current exposure limits, and note that more recent international standards have a similar basis," the FCC's initial report said. Additionally, the FCC report now defines the outer ear as an "extremity," meaning it can absorb considerably more radiation without breaching FCC guidelines.

Now that the FCC's notice of inquiry is official, the public has 90 days to comment on it. The FCC's guidelines, which have not been updated since 1996, set a maximum limit on radiation exposure levels based on how much heat is emitted and absorbed by cell phones.

The FCC's report came in response to a report last summer from the Government Accountability Office, which urged the FCC to revise its 16-year-old cell phone radiation standards. In a 46-page report, the GAO, which is the investigative arm of Congress, noted that the FCC has laid out its cell phone radiation limits based on the recommendations of federal and international health organizations, but that many of these bodies have since updated their standards based new research.

The CTIA has long maintained that cell phone radiation does not cause cancer or other adverse health effects. Studies on the issue have been inconclusive, and the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, has said there is no consistent evidence that radiation from cell phones increases the likelihood of cancer.

"As the GAO stated in its July 2012 report, 'Scientific research to date has not demonstrated adverse human health effects of exposure to radio-frequency energy from mobile phone use, but research is ongoing that may increase understanding of any possible effects,'" John Walls, vice president of public affairs at CTIA, said in a statement. "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health have reached similar conclusions about the state of the science. As this review proceeds, it is important to recall the FCC's Director of Communications has said, 'We are confident that, as set, the [FCC's] emissions guidelines for devices pose no harm to consumers.'"

In May 2011, the World Health Organization said electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones is "possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use."

For more:
- see this FCC page
- see this CNET article
- see this Engadget article
- see this The Verge article
- see this CTIA post

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