Monday, 17 June 2019

US watchdog calls for review of safety standards

GAO2The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has recommended legislators update radiation exposure limits for cell phones, but has also indicated the emission limits might be increased rather than reduced to match worldwide standards. However, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is already considering an order to review the safety standards.


Before a cell phone comes on the U.S. market, it is first tested to ensure its emissions are within a limit determined by the FCC to be safe for human exposure.


But that limit does not fulfil the latest advice by the federal health and safety agencies and international organisations, and testing may not reflect the actual conditions under which mobile phones are used, such as when kept in direct contact with the body, according to a year-long investigative report by the GAO.


“FCC developed its limit based on input from federal health and safety agencies as well as the 1991 recommendation by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) that was subsequently approved and issued in 1992 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)” the report said.


The GAO recommended that the FCC conduct a formal reassessment of its emissions limit – currently 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged over one gram of tissue – and testing requirements and change them if appropriate.


In 2006, IEEE published its updated recommendation for a cell phone exposure limit but this had yet to be adopted by the FCC, the report said.


“IEEE’s new recommended limit was harmonized with a 1998 recommendation of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, which has been adopted by more than 40 countries, including the European Union countries,” the report said.


“Both of these recommendations call for an exposure limit of 2.0 watts per kilogram averaged over 10 grams of tissue, which according to IEEE represents a scientific consensus on RF energy exposure limits.”


“According to senior FCC officials, the agency has not adopted any newer limit because federal health and safety agencies have not advised them to do so.”


The GAO also noted that stakeholders they spoke with varied on whether or not exposure limit should be changed to reflect the new recommended limit.


“An official from one consumer group told us that adopting the 2.0 watts per kilogram exposure limit would be a step back, since it could allow users to be exposed to higher radiation levels,” the report said.


“Conversely, some experts we spoke with maintained that both the 1.6- and 2.0-watts-per-kilogram limits protect users from the thermal effects of RF energy exposure—which the experts maintained are the only conclusively demonstrated effects of exposure—since a safety factor of fifty was applied to obtain the limits, meaning that the maximum permitted exposure is a fiftieth of what was determined to be the exposure at which potentially deleterious thermal effects are likely to occur.”


However in June, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski circulated a proposal to his fellow commissioners calling for a formal inquiry into the mobile phone emissions standards set in 1996.


Circulating an order is a preliminary move; it has to be reviewed and approved by the other four commissioners before it's considered an actual FCC proceeding.


If the commission votes to move forward with the inquiry, it will begin accepting comments from the cell phone industry, consumer groups and the public.


The report also raised concerns about the tests for compliance when held directly against the body.


“FCC has implemented standardized testing procedures requiring mobile phones to be tested for compliance with the RF energy exposure limit when in use against the ear and against the body while in body-worn accessories, such as holsters,” the report said.


However, these testing procedures may not identify the maximum exposure for the body, since some consumers use mobile phones with only a slight distance, or no distance, between the device and the body, the report said.


“FCC should formally reassess and, if appropriate, change its current RF energy exposure limit and mobile phone testing requirements related to likely usage configurations, particularly when phones are held against the body,” the report recommended.


The request for a GAO review of safety standards by three members of congress followed the announcement last June by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that the radiation emitted by cell phones could be a possible human carcinogen.

Bookmark and Share