Telecommunications:

Status of Research on the Safety of Cellular Telephones

RCED-95-32: Published: Nov 4, 1994. Publicly Released: Nov 22, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the biological effects of radio-frequency radiation emitted by portable cellular telephones and the federal government's regulatory actions to ensure the safety of these telephones.

GAO found that: (1) no research has been completed on long-term human exposure to low levels of radiation from portable cellular telephones, and research findings on exposure to other sources of low-level radio-frequency radiation are inconclusive; (2) existing research does not provide enough evidence to determine whether portable cellular telephones pose a risk to human health; (3) although the cellular telecommunications industry is planning to carry out both epidemiological and laboratory studies on the effects of portable cellular telephone use on human health, federal regulators need to ensure that these studies are carried out objectively; (4) the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working with cellular telephone manufacturers to minimize cellular telephone users' exposure to radiation; (5) the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is assessing the status of scientific knowledge on prolonged exposure to radio-frequency radiation; and (6) the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has relied on a 1982 American National Standards Institute (ANSI) safety standard to regulate cellular telephones, but is considering adopting the revised version of the ANSI standard for equipment it approves for use.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a letter to the Comptroller General, dated April 24, 1995, FDA indicated that it will review the research conducted by the Cellular Telephone Industry Association's research program when it is completed (estimated to be around June, 1998), and that it would be pleased to work with the industry to oversee the research if requested to do so. In a letter dated April 10, 1995, the chairman of the science advisory group--the research group conducting the research on the safety of cellular telephones for the industry association--reported that the advisory group had established regular, day-long "working sessions" with federal agencies, including FDA, for input into the research program.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner, FDA, and the Administrator, EPA, in coordination with the Chairman, FCC, should work with the industry's Science Advisory Group on Cellular Telephone Safety to maximize the usefulness, independence, and objectivity of its planned research initiative. This effort could include participating in the selection of research proposals to determine whether they meet federal research standards and reviewing research results. This effort would be in addition to ongoing and planned federal research.

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

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a letter to the Comptroller General, dated April 3, 1995, EPA indicated that it has informally worked with the Cellular Telephone Industry Association's Science Advisory Group--the group conducting the research on the safety of cellular telephones for the industry association--since Spring 1994. As a result of meetings with the advisory group to discuss strategy and mechanisms for sharing information, a representative from EPA became a participant in the advisory group's Peer Review Committee that will review and recommend proposed research projects for funding. In addition, the chairman of the science advisory groups reported in a letter dated April 10, 1995, that the advisory group had established regular, day-long "working sessions" with federal agencies, including EPA, for input into the research program (which is estimated to be completed around June, 1998).

    Recommendation: The Commissioner, FDA, and the Administrator, EPA, in coordination with the Chairman, FCC, should work with the industry's Science Advisory Group on Cellular Telephone Safety to maximize the usefulness, independence, and objectivity of its planned research initiative. This effort could include participating in the selection of research proposals to determine whether they meet federal research standards and reviewing research results. This effort would be in addition to ongoing and planned federal research.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a letter to the Comptroller General, dated January 3, 1995, FCC indicated that it has already begun to engage in recommended activities including attending meetings and seminars with officials from EPA, FDA, and the science advisory group relating to cellular telephone safety, and intends to continue these efforts to the extent that the agencies' resources and expertise allow. In addition, the chairman of the science advisory groups reported, in a letter dated April 10, 1995, that the advisory group had established regular, day-long "working sessions" with federal agencies, including FCC, for input into the research program (which is estimated to be completed around June, 1998).

    Recommendation: The Commissioner, FDA, and the Administrator, EPA, in coordination with the Chairman, FCC, should work with the industry's Science Advisory Group on Cellular Telephone Safety to maximize the usefulness, independence, and objectivity of its planned research initiative. This effort could include participating in the selection of research proposals to determine whether they meet federal research standards and reviewing research results. This effort would be in addition to ongoing and planned federal research.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

 

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