Is FCC Slow To Reveal Cell Phone Risks?

June 1, 2011

A May 31 finding by a World Health Organization panel that cell phone radiation might present a cancer risk elevated concerns stated by scientists for years. But it also spotlighted ongoing reluctance by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to share publicly all the health information it has on the subject — and possible complicity with industry in hushing the research.

The city of San Francisco had passed a "Cell Phone Right to Know" ordinance June 15, 2010, requiring retailers to display the amount of electromagnetic radiation each cell phone emits. This did not please the CTIA, the trade association representing the wireless telephone industry. CTIA sued San Francisco and announced it would not hold its annual meetings there anymore (except for the scheduled 2010 meeting).

The FCC actually publishes a database listing the amount of radiation emitted by each phone — and sets limits on how much radiation a phone can emit. But the FCC database has been criticized for being hard to search, and the FCC has been criticized for deleting from its website information on how consumers can reduce their radiation exposure (for example, by using an earphone).

Then on September 13, 2010, the Environmental Working Group ( EWG) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Federal Communications Commission seeking records of all communications between the FCC and CTIA about CTIA's suit to stop the San Francisco ordinance from being implemented.

EWG has published a report on possible cell-phone health effects, its own database of emissions for each model, and advice for reducing exposure.

FCC eventually responded to the EWG FOIA requests with documents that showed a series of meetings between FCC and cell phone industry officials in 2010. The documents clearly showed that cell phone safety and the San Francisco ordinance were discussed, but did not show direct evidence of collusion, since the FCC kept most content of the meetings secret.

After those meetings, however, the FCC removed from its website advice that consumers minimize their exposure to cell phone radiation — a position which the industry had advocated.