We’ve Been Told Our Cell Phones are Perfectly Safe. Is That True?

We’ve Been Told Our Cell Phones are Perfectly Safe. Is That True?

“Mobile phones are now an integral part of modern telecommunications. It is important to investigate, understand, and monitor any potential public health impact.”
-World Health Organization 

The debate surrounding cell phone safety has come to public attention in recent years. With the potential health risks of RF exposure, many are concerned whether decades-old regulations can still hold true in light of rapid technological advancements. At the center of it all is the FCC and their refusal to update their standards in the interest of public health.

Table of Contents

  • Who is the FCC
  • Calls for Updated Regulations
  • Consumer Protection Innovations
  • Industry Influence & Regulatory Capture
  • International Initiatives
  • Hope for the Future

    Who is the FCC?

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the government agency responsible for regulating all interstate and international communications. It was formed nearly a century ago, when the Communications Act of 1934 called for organized federal regulation of all communications over telephone, telegraph, and radio. Under the Act, the FCC was formed “for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.”

    The FCC's Current Stance on RF Exposure

    According to the FCC’s website, “The FCC is required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, among other things, to evaluate the effect of emissions from FCC-regulated transmitters on the quality of the human environment.” The last time these emissions were evaluated was on August 1, 1996, when the FCC adopted the recommendations of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) for human exposure to EMFs. 

    The FCC is responsible for establishing standards for EMF exposure. Their current guidelines are based on preventing thermal effects, or the heating of human tissue caused by radio frequency (RF) radiation. They regulate devices sold in the U.S., ensuring nothing exceeds the established limits. Their guidelines have remained largely unchanged since 1996. However, communication technology has changed drastically in the past 30 years. 

    The current guidelines established by the FCC are based on short-term exposure to RF radiation. What about the long-term, consistent exposure from today’s frequent use of wireless devices? Recent research suggests there are possible non-thermal effects of RF radiation that are not being addressed under the FCC’s current standards.


    Calls for Updated Regulations

    Recent studies have identified troubling risks potentially associated with EMF exposure. Radio frequency radiation can cause changes at the cellular level and damage to the DNA, possibly leading to serious health concerns. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) identified EMFs as possibly carcinogenic to humans, specifically based on an increased risk for glioma - a malignant form of brain cancer. 

    The World Health Organization has stated, “Increasing use of mobile phones and lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrants further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk.” Other organizations have been speaking out, calling for the FCC to update their regulations based on new information. In 2020, the Children’s Health Defense (CHD) challenged the FCC in the U.S. Court of Appeals over their lack of action in reviewing their outdated guidelines. The Court ruled in favor of the CHD, determining that in deciding their 1996 guidelines adequately protect the public’s health, the FCC failed to consider evidence regarding negative health effects of wireless technology.

    Central to the theme of this lawsuit was the FCC’s dismissal of research and concerns. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended stronger regulations to protect children and pregnant women. According to the Court’s decision, the FCC failed to explain why it ignored current research showing that children’s developing brains are more sensitive to wireless radiation. Not only do they absorb higher levels or RF, they will also have a lifetime of exposure.


    Voices were heard, and the court’s decision called the FCC to act. In May of 2021, the FCC released a public notice announcing its “comprehensive evaluation of its RF exposure standards.” What action will come from this remains to be seen.

    More recently, the Environmental Health Trust (EHT) has “strongly criticized the FCC over their delayed disclosure of test results showing that cell phones from four major manufacturers exceeded the agency’s radio frequency (RF) exposure limits.” These findings were only made public last fall after the EHT made a request under the Freedom of Information Act, but only some results were released. Concerned that both the FCC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were not providing all of the test results, the EHT made an appeal to release these remaining records. This lack of transparency on our government agency’s part only furthers the feelings of distrust many Americans have been feeling in recent years.

    Consumer Protection Innovations

    While waiting for government agencies to take action that will protect the country from EMFs, people are turning to new innovations to mitigate their own risk. Completely disconnecting from cell phones is difficult and often unrealistic in this modern world. Our work, leisure, and social life are largely dependent on our devices, but we know cell phones put off a measurable amount of RF energy. One demonstration that proves a measurable output of RF energy shows that cell phones emit enough energy while operating to power an LED light bulb.

    The answer to protecting our bodies from potential harm caused by RF radiation involves neutralizing the harmful effects of EMFs. This refers to transforming the EMF waves our electronic devices emit into a form that is compatible with our biology. For decades, Aires Tech has taken the lead in researching innovative products to protect consumers. Starting with developing technology to protect military personnel from radar emissions in the 1990s and 2000s, they brought this innovation to the consumer market in 2012. Aires Tech products offer versatile, passive protection from RF radiation while still allowing devices to work as intended.

    Industry Influence & Regulatory Capture

    Over the past two decades, the FCC has shown consistent reluctance to update their EMF standards despite the significant changes in communication technology. This has led many to question if the FCC could be acting in the interest of the telecommunications industry and not public health. 

    According to a report published by Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, the FCC is a “captured agency.” This term describes agencies that are controlled by the industries they are supposed to be regulating. According to the report, “The National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and CTIA have annually been among Washington‘s top lobbying spenders.” According to this report, the FCC has proven time and again through their actions (and lack of action) to echo the concerns of these lobbyists and grant the wireless industry whatever it wants. With the FCC essentially on the wireless industry’s payroll, how can we trust their regulations to be in the best interest of public health?

    International Initiatives 

    Regulations for RF radiation exposure vary from country to country. Over a dozen countries, including Canada, have set stricter limits for cell antenna emissions near schools, homes, and other sensitive areas. Many of these governments also measure RF radiation levels and provide this information to the public. Governments around the world are advising their citizens on steps to minimize cell phone radiation exposure to the brain, specifically with children.

    Globally, many countries are taking aggressive action to protect their citizens. The Council of Europe recommends levels of RF exposure that are significantly lower than those prescribed by the FCC. Switzerland has placed strict limits on radiation levels from cell network towers. Chile has banned network towers from schools and hospitals. In India, recent research led the government to enforce stricter cell tower radiation limits at only 10% of the previous limit. France specifically tests cell phones for compliance, and the Supreme Court of Italy officially ruled that wireless phones cause tumors. 

    Protecting children from RF radiation is a common theme throughout many of the regulations found globally. Research has proven that children are more susceptible to EMFs, but in the United States, the FCC has not provided any additional guidelines or regulations to protect children from exposure. Meanwhile, countries around the world have banned towers from near schools, nurseries, and hospitals. Some are removing wireless internet from schools. Other countries, such as France and Belgium, have prohibited the sale of cell phones to children altogether. It raises the question, why is the U.S. so far behind the rest of the world in establishing stricter guidelines to protect the public from potentially harmful exposure?

    Arthur Krijgsman

    Hope for the Future

    The lack of action by federal agencies is concerning, but individual states are taking steps to pave the way for safer technology use in our country. New Hampshire formed a commission to specifically study the health and environmental effects of 5G. The commission, made up of doctors, engineers, and scientists, called for US federal agencies to work together “to protect people, wildlife, and the environment from harmful levels of radiation.” Other states are following suit, such as Michigan, Maine, New York, and Massachusetts in which legislators are considering bills focusing on the effects of RF radiation on children’s health.

    Across the country, groups are taking initiative to mitigate exposure to potentially harmful levels of EMFs. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the New Jersey Education Association, and the California Department of Health, among many others, have published recommendations based on current research to help guide us towards healthier technology use. 

    As stated by the World Health Organization, “Mobile phones are now an integral part of modern telecommunications. Given the large number of mobile users, it is important to investigate, understand, and monitor any potential public health impact that can be attributed to their use.” With growing evidence and proven research, will the FCC step up and fulfill their role in protecting public health?

    Time will tell. But in the meantime, we as consumers have the opportunity to take advantage of innovations that help us protect ourselves and our families.

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