Last Friday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski sent a proposal to his fellow commissioners suggesting that the FCC reevaluate the mobile phone emissions standards it set in 1996.  In order for Chairman Genachowski’s proposal to be officially released to the public for comment, a majority of the FCC’s commissioners will first have to approve the proposal.

FCC Spokeswoman Tammy Sun told Bloomberg, “Our action today is a routine review of our standards.  We are confident that, as set, the emissions guidelines for devices pose no risk to consumers.”

With the increasing prevalence of mobile phone devices since 1996, some researchers have become concerned that the low-level radiation associated with cell phones might cause caners of the brain and central nervous system.  Chairman Genachowski’s proposal comes on the heels of the May 2011 action by the Council of Europe and the World Health Organization listing cell phones as possible carcinogens.  The concern regarding the sufficiency of the 1996 standards seems to be centered around the effect of emissions on children, who are increasingly becoming cell phone users.

Despite the concerns, researches have had difficulty coming across conclusive scientific evidence regarding whether cell phones cause cancer and tumors.  The studies linking cell phone emissions to health risks have relied primarily on self-reporting, which researches have noted is inherently unreliable.

The National Cancer Institute, part of the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health, indicates on its website that studies of cells, animals and human’s have not shown that the radio frequency created by cell phones cause cancer.  The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection has released a study following the incidence of brain tumors in several countries, noting that in the 20 years after cell phones were introduced, there was no increase in brain tumors.

In addition to the health implications involved in the move to revisit the 1996 rules, a change in the rules could also affect businesses.  Particularly cell phone handset manufacturers and vendors–mostly based outside the United States–would likely be significantly affected by any change in the cell phone emissions rules.

Even aside from the health concerns, elements of the 1996 rules have become outdated.  For instance, the 1996 rules include standards and examples referencing “bag phones,” a type of cell phone rarely used in recent years.  A revision of the FCC’s rules regarding cell phone emissions could be an opportunity to bring the rules up to speed to reflect modern technology.

– Kathleen Meyers

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