Regulating Cell Phone Emissions (RF Energy)
As cell phones and cell phone base stations are considered transmitters regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the FCC is the federal agency that sets radio frequency (RF) energy exposure limits for cell phones on the market.1 In August 1996, the FCC adopted limits for “safe” exposure to RF energy based on Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value, and began requiring cell phone manufacturers to comply with these limits before marketing their phones. SAR value is a measure of the rate at which body tissue absorbs RF energy when a person uses a cell phone. It is solely based on risk of “thermal effects,” or biological effects caused by the heating of bodily tissues. The FCC currently requires that wireless phones adhere to a safety limit of 1.6 watts per kilogram.
Origins of SAR Value Standards
When establishing SAR limits, the FCC did not conduct any scientific research about the relative safety or harm of cell phone use. Instead, the FCC relied on recommendations made by two expert organizations, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, as well as opinions given by other federal agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Seems thorough enough, right? But none of these organizations and agencies actually performed scientific research on the issue either; rather they based their recommendations and opinions on review of existing scientific literature documenting RF biological effects.
As multi-agency and organizational review of pre-1996 scientific literature is the basis for our current standards, it’s in our best interests to ask about the source of this research. While the U.S. Department of Defense has funded military research on the issue (radar and other high-powered radio transmitters involved in routine military operations utilize RF energy), much of the non-military research on the biological effects of RF energy has, unfortunately, been funded by industry organizations such as Motorola, Inc. Without significant scientific research from impartial sources, then, can we really trust exposure limits set by the FCC?