Are radio frequency emission exposure guidelines in the U.S. adequate to protect public health over the long-term? Is it safe to live near a cell tower? Is it safe to talk on a cell phone for extended periods of time? Is continuous exposure to wi-fi in our homes, schools, workplaces, libraries and pretty much everywhere else creating health risks? Should we be concerned about the wireless signals from data-transmitting tablets, laptops and smartphones? What about smart meters and their wireless infrastructure?
The Federal Communications Commission says it “continues to receive inquiries on various subjects related to RF exposure, particularly as infrastructure is deployed to support new wireless technology.” Its Notice of Inquiry seeks public comment, through September 3, 2013, on a set of questions related to RF exposure.
In municipalities and school districts all over the country, people become concerned when a cell tower is proposed near their homes or their childrens’ schools, or when a smart meter installation is planned. Here in Glendale, these questions came up in 2009 during revision of the city’s wireless ordinance and as the smart meter program was proposed and approved.
The FCC continues to assert that its guidelines are adequate. But the current guidelines were set in 1996, before wireless data communication systems for the general public became ubiquitous. Wireless technology and wi-fi blanket every urban area, school sites, libraries, public transportation and more, and millions of people carry RF-emitting data transmitting devices wherever they go. The long-term effects of constant low-level and intermittent high-level exposure of the general population to multiple RF emissions is unknown and has not been addressed, and the FCC is not a public health agency. The wireless industry continues to construct and deploy infrastructure, asserting that it is operating within federal guidelines; the former head of the wireless industry lobby (CTIA) is the President’s FCC Chair nominee.
A few quotes from the Notice:
“The Inquiry focuses on three elements: the propriety of our existing standards and policies, possible options for precautionary exposure reduction, and possible improvements to our equipment authorization process and policies as they relate to RF exposure. We adopted our present exposure limits in 1996, based on guidance from federal safety, health, and environmental agencies using recommendations published separately by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE). Since 1996, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has developed a recommendation supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), and the IEEE has revised its recommendations several times, while the NCRP has continued to support its recommendation as we use it in our current rules. In the Inquiry, we ask whether our exposure limits remain appropriate given the differences in the various recommendations that have developed and recognizing additional progress in research subsequent to the adoption of our existing exposure limits.”
…the Commission invites health and safety agencies and the public to comment on the propriety of our general present limits and whether additional precautions may be appropriate in some cases, for example with respect to children. We recognize our responsibility to both protect the public from established adverse effects due to exposure to RF energy and allow industry to provide telecommunications services to the public in the most efficient and practical manner possible. In the Inquiry we ask whether any precautionary action would be either useful or counterproductive, given that there is a lack of scientific consensus about the possibility of adverse health effects at exposure levels at or below our existing limits. Further, if any action is found to be useful, we inquire whether it could be efficient and practical.”
…because today’s cell phones are smaller and typically have no external antenna, the phone may be placed in a shirt or pants pocket against the body without the consumer appreciating that it is still transmitting. Handsets may also include wireless router functions that require simultaneous transmission of multiple transmitters to support unattended body-worn operations, where, unlike with a traditional voice call, users are unaware that transmissions are occurring…Commission calculations suggest that some devices may not be compliant with its exposure limits without the use of some spacer to maintain a separation distance when body-worn.”
For a more extended discussion of the Notice, see the Environmental Health Trust’s report on the Notice.
For a look at some of the comments see the FCC Electronic Comments Filing System webpage, click on Search for Filings, and enter 03-137 as the Proceeding Number. Here is an excerpt from the comment of B. Blake Levitt, author of Electromagnetic Fields, A Consumer’s Guide to the Issues:
I strongly urge the FCC to: (1) Update the RF safety standards to be more protective of the public health, particularly women, children, workers, the disabled, and the elderly from possible adverse exposures to EMF emissions. (2) I urge the FCC to adopt and use the updated standards as stringent, enforceable technical requirements for all transmitters within the FCC’s radiofrequency jurisdiction. (3) I urge the FCC to re-establish regional field offices to better monitor ambient background levels, especially in the presence of multiple transmitters. (4) I urge FCC to eliminate categorical exclusions through which many current wireless technologies enter the marketplace, untested, and potentially unsafe. (5) I urge the FCC to take peak exposures into consideration rather than time-averaging exposures – a method that serves to negate the most pertinent biological factor. (6) I urge the FCC to issue warnings and create standards regarding cumulative exposures from myriad sources.
Photo credit: Mark_Smith’s Flickr photostream