FCC takes up phone safety ahead of GAO report


Meagan Whiten chats with her boyfriend while Pamela Owens works on her BlackBerry in Farragut Square in Washington. (Bonnie Jo Mount/WASHINGTON POST)

The expected report offers one reason for why the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Friday took the first steps toward updating the agency’s 15-year-limits for radio frequencies from mobile devices. The FCC puts limits on the specific absorption rates of the devices — which is the measure of radio frequency energy absorbed by the body during cell phone use.

Here is our story from Friday on the FCC’s preliminary exploration of specific absorption rates it sets for devices. The agency said its review was routine, but the GAO report and a push by some lawmakers for further review into cell phone safety puts new renewed focus on the issue.

One year ago, Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) called on the GAO to review the FCC’s standards. Some lawmakers and regulators have called on the Food and Drug Administration to also take up the issue after an international panel of experts said cell phones were “possibly carcinogenic.”

To be clear, the science on cell phone safety is inconclusive. But the rules are outdated too and the GAO report may put pressure on the agency to take a more active stance on ensuring safety — particularly for young users.

Related:

WHO says cell phones “possibly carcinogenic”

Wireless group sues San Francisco over cell phone safety label

Cell phone industry strikes back at San Francisco

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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