Current U.S. government regulations do not reflect the latest research into the possible cancer-causing effects of mobile phone use and may fail to correctly set maximum exposure levels in all possible usage conditions, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Noting that current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations setting radio frequency (RF) energy exposure limits for mobile phones are still based on research done in 1996, the GAO recommended in its July 2012 report to Congress that the FCC should "formally reassess and, if appropriate, change its current RF energy exposure limit and mobile phone testing requirements related to likely usage configurations, particularly when phones are held against the body."
Based on research conducted by international health organizations since 1996, several other countries, including countries in the European Union, have updated their mobile phone RF exposure limits. In some cases, these new limits actually allows for more RF energy exposure as long as the phone is held away from the head during use. However, notes the GAO, the "FCC has not adopted the new recommended limit."
The GAO pointed out that while mobile phone manufacturers typically provide health effect information in their user manuals and on their websites, that information is neither required nor regulated by the FCC. "There are no federal requirements that manufacturers provide information to consumers about the health effects of mobile phone use," states the GAO report.
The U.S. government's responsibility for regulating mobile phone use is currently shared by the FCC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.
Under this shared responsibility, the FCC regulates RF energy emitted from radio transmitters, including mobile phones. The FDA is responsible for carrying out programs designed to protect public health from excessive electronic product radiation.
While the FDA does not review the safety of all radiation-emitting electronic products, such as mobile phones, before they are marketed, the agency does have the authority to require manufacturers to replace or recall mobile phones that are shown to emit RF energy at levels determined to be hazardous. To date, notes the GAO, the "FDA has not taken such action, but the agency regularly evaluates scientific studies on mobile phones and health to determine whether they raise public health questions."
The GAO further noted that while the websites of both the FCC and FDA provide what the GAO called "broadly consistent" mobile phone use health information on their websites, that information often varies, "because of the agencies' different missions."
What Did the GAO Recommend? The GAO recommended that the FCC "formally reassess and, if appropriate, change," its current RF energy exposure limit and mobile phone testing requirements to better reflect new research and to take into account how people actually use mobile phones, particularly when phones are held directly against the head.