Retreats On Relaxed RF Guides
Journalist: Jeffrey Silva
January 21, 2002
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has retreated from a
grass-roots effort to relax mobile-phone radiation safety guidelines, but
the group continues to dismiss non-thermal biological effects that some
studies suggest could be harmful to human health.
An IEEE working group made the decision to scrap a preliminary draft of the
radio-frequency radiation standard at a meeting with federal regulators in
Motorola Inc.'s laboratories at Plantation, Fla. The draft sparked
controversy after news reports revealed it would significantly lower
radiation exposure limits and eliminate the distinction between workers and
"This approach takes time," said C.K. Chou, chief radiation scientist at
Chou said the media blew the issue out of proportion. Chou said the
preliminary draft was the work product of one man, the IEEE's Richard Tell.
A working draft of a new RF standard should be ready by the
Bioelectromagnetic Society's meeting June 23-27 in Quebec.
IEEE has come under close scrutiny in proliferating mobile-phone health
litigation because of ties of its members to the wireless industry and the
military. The military and other federal agencies do not adhere to the
stricter 1996 RF standard adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.
IEEE has taken the firm position that mobile phones do not cause non-thermal
In a summary of the Plantation, Fla., meeting, the IEEE working group
stated, "Non-thermal RF biological effects have not been established and
none of the reported effects are proven adverse to health. Thermal effect is
the only established adverse effect."
Some scientists and health advocates disagree, pointing to studies with
findings of DNA breaks, genetic damage,
memory impairment, eye cancer, brain cancer in lab rats, cell damage and
various neurological problems.
The cell-phone industry and others reply that these experiments have not
The FCC recently refused a request to re-examine the scientific basis for
the current RF standard, which the courts have upheld. The EMR Network,
which says the RF standard is based on older studies and does not take into
account newer studies that suggest a health risk from phone radiation, has
petitioned the FCC to review the bureau-level ruling not to reconsider the
The advocacy group is working with Vermont lawmakers on legislation that
would provide government funding for cell-phone research and repeal a
telecom act provision to allow health concerns to be considered in local
In the United States, most cell-phone research is conducted by industry. The
Food and Drug Administration and cellular industry are working together on
several studies being underwritten by carriers and manufacturers to the tune
of $1.5 million. The General Accounting Office is monitoring the
FDA-industry project because of concerns raised by lawmakers.
The government recently announced a $10 million phone-cancer research
program in North Carolina.
Several lawsuits that allege cell phones cause brain cancer and seek to
force wireless carriers to supply headsets with phones are heading into a
Late next month, a federal court in Baltimore will hold a key hearing on
scientific experts and evidence in an $800 million lawsuit filed against
industry by trial attorney Peter Angelos on behalf of 42-year-old
neurologist Christopher Newman, who claims mobile-phone use caused his
cancer. If the plaintiffs can get through what will be an unprecedented and
legally tough hearing, the case likely will move to trial. There is still a
possibility the case could be remanded back to state court.
Besides overseeing the Newman case, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake is
handling several class-action lawsuits that hold the mobile-phone industry
responsible for not equipping consumers with radiation-reducing headsets
from the start. Early this year, AT&T Wireless Services began to market
phones with headsets as a convenience accessory for subscribers. A hearing
on whether the lawsuits should be sent back to various state courts is
slated for next month.
Other mobile-phone health lawsuits and workers compensation claims are
playing out elsewhere throughout the country.
Last week, lawyers for former Motorola technician Michael Murray asked a
federal court here to remand a brain cancer lawsuit back to the Superior
Court for the District of Columbia. Murray is seeking $1.5 billion in
damages. The Murray lawyers say they plan to file a dozen phone-cancer
lawsuits early next month in D.C. Superior Court.
A California phone-cancer lawsuit that has bounced between state and federal
courts has been converted into a class-action. A phone-cancer lawsuit in Las
Vegas is steeped in motions over how broad discovery should be.