Congress Challenges Cellphone Radiation Limits

Dennis Faas's picture

A Congressional agency has told regulators it is time to review the rules governing cellphone radiation. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said existing rules might not be doing an effective job of measuring the risk to users.

The GAO acts as support staff for Congress and also carries out audits to check that government departments are spending money effectively.

Three members of Congress recently asked the GAO to look into the way the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates public safety with respect to cellphones.

Cancer, Health Risks Not a GAO Concern

The GAO's year-long investigation into the issue was not designed to decide whether or not cellphone radiation actually increases the chances that users become more susceptible to health problems such as cancer.

Instead, it was intended merely to check on the FCC's current system for monitoring cellphone manufacturers and for setting safe cellphone radiation levels, and to see that it works well enough. (Source:

The existing limits on radiation levels were set back in 1996. Today, the Government Accountability Office says they may now be outdated. It has asked the Federal Communications Commission to review two specific areas of current regulations.

Cellphone Radiation Limits Low, Crude

First, the GAO reports the FCC may be able to raise the allowable radiation limits, since several other international bodies have set higher limits in recent years. Thus, the raw numbers the FCC currently uses may be unnecessarily strict on manufacturers.

However, the same report also says the way manufacturers must measure radiation energy may need to change.

Companies currently assume there's no radiation risk at all when people use hands-free kits such as Bluetooth headsets. But according to the GAO, this assumes a cellphone will be on a table or in a dashboard cradle during a hands-free call.

In fact, many people use a headset with their cellphone in their pocket, often pressed tightly against their body. The GAO reports the possible risk of radiation under this scenario needs to be factored in to calculations of safe levels.

The FCC says it is already considering a review of the regulations and will now ask government health agencies for their input.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the group representing cellphone networks said the industry welcomes any review of the regulations. (Source:

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