More Protection From Microwave Radiation Hazards Needed

HRD-79-7: Published: Nov 30, 1978. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 1978.

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Microwave radiation emitted by products such as microwave ovens, medical and dental diathermy apparatus, alarm systems, radar, communication relay systems, and power devices poses a potential hazard because of its biological effects. Under the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is required to establish a radiation control program which must include: (1) development of performance standards; (2) research and investigations into effects and control of radiation emissions; (3) compliance activities to make sure that manufacturers meet program requirements; and (4) training activities to minimize unnecessary radiation exposure.

FDA identified two microwave products, microwave ovens and medical diathermy equipment, which need performance standards. It issued a standard for the ovens but not for the diathermy equipment. FDA has not always reviewed manufacturers' reports promptly so that problems could receive early attention. There are no federal standards to protect the public and workers from potential hazards of microwave exposure, but voluntary guidelines setting 10 milliwatts per square centimeter as a maximum safe level of occupational exposure were published. The adequacy of this level of exposure was questioned because studies indicated undesirable biological effects resulting from such exposure. Since this exposure guideline was a consideration in the FDA microwave oven emission standard, the standard should be reevaluated. FDA diathermy equipment surveys identified several operator practices which could result in unnecessary radiation exposure to patients and operators.

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