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FCC may re-examine cell phone safety standards

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski today circulated an order that asks his fellow commissioners if the agency should re-examine rules regarding the safety of wireless devices.

Specifically, the commission will look at whether it should re-examine the radio frequency emission limits for cellular devices, which have not been reviewed since 1996.

"We are confident that, as set, the emissions guidelines for devices pose no risks to consumers," FCC spokeswoman Tammy Sun said in a statement. "The United States has the most conservative emissions standards in the world. Our action today is a routine review of our standards. We hope and expect that other federal agencies and organizations with whom we work with on this issue will participate in the process."

Circulating an order is a preliminary move; it has to be reviewed and approved by the other four commissioners before it's considered an actual FCC proceeding. If it passes, a public comment period will begin.

In a statement, John Walls, vice president of public affairs for wireless trade industry association CTIA said that he welcomed the chairman's "careful oversight of this issue."

"We fully expect that the FCC's review will confirm, as it has in the past, that the scientific evidence establishes no reason for concern about the safety of cell phones," Walls continued. "Indeed, after years of study, a comprehensive review of the science by the Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation, part of the United Kingdom's Health Protection Agency, recently reached the same conclusion. Expert agencies and scientific advisory groups around the world have concluded that cell phones operating within government standards pose no known health effects and are safe for normal use."

The debate over whether cell phone radiation is unhealthy has made the rounds for years, but the general consensus is that the medical community does not yet have enough data to make an official determination. At this point, it really depends on who you ask.

In May 2011, for example, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified mobile phones as a possible risk for a specific type of cancer in humans. Two months later, however, experts from Sweden, the UK and the US looked over published research on the issue and determined that the evidence is not substantial enough to support a link between cell phones and cancer.

In June 2010, the City of San Francisco officials weighed an initiative to require retailers to label phones with the amount of radiation they produce. That initiative was later passed into law, but CTIA sued the city, arguing that officials had no right to pursue regulations on an issue overseen by the FCC, and the debate continues today.