FCC Chairman Julius Genochowski is asking his commissioners whether 20th century methods can safely be applied to evaluating 21st century technology of cell phones and other wireless devices. Should the U.S. join most of the developed world in barring cellphones designed for and advertised to young children, improving safety testing of devices and strengthening precautionary advice—issues it has not addressed for nearly two decades?
In fact, U.S. phone testing standards are stricter than European ones, because they rely on smaller volumes and weaker maximum exposures. But, all of the world’s current standards are set to keep cellphones’ microwave radiation below levels that can heat up the brain of a big man, not protect the average sized person or child. None addresses the growing body of evidence that finds that cellphone radiation at power levels that do not warm tissues, can disrupt DNA, weaken membranes, impair memory and hearing, enhance the uptake of toxic chemicals already in the body, and damage the ability to have healthy children.
This newly announced FCC review of cellphone standards may in fact be ‘routine’. But perhaps the agency is positioning itself to deflect the imminent release of a year-long General Accountability Office assessment that notes that current FCC standards rely on outdated studies that used rectal probes to find out how warm starved, trained rodents had to become to stop trying to press bars for food. Yes, that is how safety levels are determined—determining at what exposure levels a rat will stop eating foot. The first heat-avoiding guidelines for testing phones were then extrapolated from this data for a man weighing 220 pounds standing 6 feet 2” tall with an eleven pound head who spoke for 6 minutes.
Today, the U.S. has more phones than people—some 332 million according to the CTIA—cellphone industry association, and the majority of users are smaller, shorter and lighter than the big guy on which standards now rest.
The last study of brain cancer and cellphones in the U.S. was published in 2002. No training programs educate physicians and engineers in the field of bioelectromagnetics and no major studies are underway of the massive experiment we are conducting on ourselves with the rollout of wireless radiation in primary schools and communities around this nation.
Just one year ago, the WHO declared cellphone and other wireless radiation— a “possible human carcinogen.” In fact, research published since then strengthens the case for that view, as do the actions of Canada, Israel, Finland, France, India and many other tech-savvy nations.
Yes, it is true, that the kind of radiation emitted by cellphones— unlike that emitted by X-rays or nuclear bombs—cannot directly damage DNA by breaking ionic bonds that hold chemicals together. But evidence has been mounting that cellphone radiation does damage DNA indirectly by disrupting the blood-brain barrier, increasing the production of free radicals and other molecular markers linked with increased risk of cancer and other diseases, and impairing DNA’s ability to repair itself.
Those who advise that we should do nothing to reduce exposures to cell phones at this time ignore public health history. It took more than five decades from the time science reported the dangers of tobacco, before widespread government steps were taken to curb this dangerous habit. As a consequence, the U.S. is just now recovering from a massive epidemic of smoking-related disease that could have been halted much earlier.
The good news is that sales of headsets and other devices are up, and people are texting more and talking less. While some commercial phone cases increase our radiation exposures drain batteries and also cut off signals, others, like the Pong, have been independently tested and shown to deflect radiation and extend phone performance. With the WHO report and other writing on the wall, insiders say companies are in fact racing to make phones that reduce radiation and modulate their signals but are reluctant to admit doing so.
So how hard will it be to get this one right? When it comes to reducing cellphone radiation we should not repeat our trip down tobacco road and wait for deadly confirmation of its dangers. Taking a cue from San Francisco’s right to know legislation, while it waits for better test methods to be devised that examine biological impacts of today’s devices, the FCC could simply join with other nations s and trumpet advice now buried in fine print warnings with all smart phones today– keep cellphones off your body and out of your pocket and bra. There’s one other technique that reduces radiation. You can actually turn your phone off.