Telecommunications:

Research and Regulatory Efforts on Mobile Phone Health Issues

GAO-01-545: Published: May 7, 2001. Publicly Released: May 22, 2001.

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The consensus of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the World Health Organization, and other major health agencies is that the research to date does not show radiofrequency energy emitted from mobile phones has harmful health effects, but there is not yet enough information to conclude that they pose no risk. Although most of the epidemiological and laboratory studies done on this issue have found no adverse health effects, the findings of some studies have raised questions about cancer and other health problems that require further study. The Cellular Telecommunication & Internet Association (CTIA) and FDA will jointly conduct research on mobile phone health affects. Although the initiative is funded solely by CTIA, FDA's active role in setting the research agenda and providing scientific oversight should help alleviate concerns about the objectivity of the report. The media has widely reported on the debate over whether mobile phones can cause health problems. Thus, the federal government's role in providing the public with clear information on this issue is particularly important. FDA has a consumer information update on mobile phone health issues but has not revised that data since October 1999. Consequently FDA does not discuss the significance of major, recently published research studies that have been reported in the press. FDA said that it has not revised the update because the scientific picture has not changed significantly.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FDA has used its public web site to report on the extent to which CTIA is following FDA's recommendations in choosing and funding the specific research proposals conducted under the cooperative research and development agreement between FDA and CTIA.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the Food and Drug Administration should direct the Center for Devices and Radiological Health to publicly report on the extent to which CTIA is following FDA's recommendations in choosing and funding the specific research proposals conducted under the cooperative research and development agreement between FDA and CTIA.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Communications Commission has implemented this recommendation by hiring two additional engineers to work on radiofrequency exposure and testing issues.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission take the following actions: Direct the Office of Managing Director, as part of human capital planning, to develop a strategy for meeting the need for additional expertise in radiofrequency exposure and testing issues.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), working with the Food and Drug Administration, has improved its consumer information on mobile phone safety issues. FCC has also made its data base on radiofrequency emissions from mobile phones more accessible and useful to the public.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should direct the Consumer Information Bureau and the Office of Engineering and Technology to work together to develop clear, consistent, and easily accessible consumer materials on mobile phone radiofrequency exposure issues. In particular, these offices should modify the product authorization database Web site so that it links consumers to clear, concise information on radiofrequency exposure issues and the meaning of SAR data.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) staffs have met to discuss the nature of and reasons for differences in how each agency advises manufacturers on how to incorporate measurement uncertainty in their testing of radiofrequency-emitting devices for compliance with safety standards. FDA staff provided FCC with information and ideas on this matter. FCC is evaluating these ideas and will meet with FDA again to discuss possible modifications to its guidance to manufacturers on mobile phone testing. FCC hopes to make a decision on this issue by the end of 2001.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should direct the Office of Engineering and Technology to consult with FDA on the advisability of adopting FDA's method of incorporating measurement uncertainty in determining compliance with radiofrequency safety limits, and make the results of this communication publicly available.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued revised guidance on procedures to be used by mobile phone manufacturers in testing whether their phones meet safety standards for radiofrequency emissions. The revised guidance will reduce the degree of variation in test results and speed up the FCC equipment authorization process.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission should direct the Office of Engineering and Technology to issue revised guidance on Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) testing procedures to reduce variations in test results caused by a lack of standardized procedures. This guidance should be kept current as industry standards evolve.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On July 18, 2001, the Food and Drug Administration released a new consumer update on mobile phone health issues. This update is more current, more comprehensive, and more appropriate for a broad consumer audience. As a result, American consumers concerned about mobile phone health issues now have access to more timely and relevant information about this topic.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the Food and Drug Administration should direct the Center for Devices and Radiological Health to develop a new consumer update document that provides a current overview of the status of health issues and research related to mobile phones. Because the industry trade association requires manufacturers to include the text of this document in the packaging of mobile phones that it certifies, the document should be written with a broad consumer audience in mind. Given the fast pace of developments on these issues, FDA should revise this document as significant research and policy events occur.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: Food and Drug Administration

 

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