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Posted at 02:30 PM ET, 08/07/2012

Cellphone exposure limits should be reassessed, GAO recommends

This story has been updated.

Mobile phone exposure limits and testing requirements should be reassessed, according to a Government Accountability Office study released Tuesday.

The study, the culmination of a year-long review done at the urging of lawmakers, comes at a time of heightened concern about the possible impact of cellphone radiation on human health. Its findings may prompt the Federal Communications Commission to update its standards to more accurately reflect how people use their cellphones.

While the report did not suggest that cellphone use causes cancer, the agency did say that FCC’s current energy exposure limit for mobile phones, established in 1996, “may not reflect the latest evidence on the the effects” of cellphones. The study recommends that the FCC reassess two things: the current exposure limit and the way it tests exposure.

In its conclusions, the report says that the FCC has not formally coordinated with the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency on the exposure limits. The report also raised questions about the FCC’s decision to only test exposure at a distance from a body while using an earpiece, simulating, for example, someone setting their phone on a nearby table rather than in their pocket while speaking.

The FCC, the report said, “may not be identifying the maximum exposure, since some users may hold a mobile phone directly against the body while in use.”

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who called for the GAO to conduct the report said that the study highlights that the FCC is behind the curve when it comes to evaluating the effects cellphones have on the human body.

“With mobile phones in the pockets and purses of millions of Americans, we need a full understanding of the long-term impact of mobile phone use on the human body, particularly in children whose brains and nervous systems are still developing,” Markey said.

Ahead of the study’s release, there’s been renewed interest in the area of cellphone radiation. The FCC has already said that it will investigate whether it should take a new look at the issue.

Last year, a World Health Organization report found that cellphone radiation might possibly be carcinogenic — a point that the GAO study does not raise.

On Monday, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) introduced a bill that would put warning labels on cellphones and tap the Environmental Protection Agency — not the FCC — to lead the way in examining the effects that radiation has on the human body.

In a statement, Kucinich said that cellphone users have a right to know how much radiation their phones give off, particularly as people spend more time with them, and not wait for scientists to prove whether there are harmful effects behind cellphone radiation or not.

“It took decades for scientists to be able to say for sure that smoking caused cancer,” Kucinich said. “While we wait for scientists to sort out the health effects of cell phone radiation, we must allow consumers to have enough information to choose a phone with less radiation.”

The city of San Francisco is looking at a labeling measure similar to the one proposed by Kucinich. CTIA, the wireless industry’s trade group, has filed a lawsuit against the proposed ordinance.

In response to the report, the FCC said that it will ask multiple stakeholders — including federal health agencies — for input as it assesses its standards.

"The U.S. has among the most conservative standards in the world,” said FCC spokesman Neil Grace in a statement. “As part of our routine review of these standards, which we began earlier this summer, we will solicit input from multiple stakeholder experts, including federal health agencies and others, to guide our assessment. We look forward to reviewing today's GAO report as part of that consideration."

By  |  02:30 PM ET, 08/07/2012

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