Long-Term RF Study On Animals Starts Amid Exposure Limits Debate
RCR Wireless News
Journalist: Jeffrey Silva
May 05, 2003
Controversy has erupted in efforts to bring radio-frequency radiation
exposure guidelines in line with a global standard, a change a leading
scientist claims would make America's mobile-phone safety limit the weakest
in the world.
The debate is playing out in a committee of the Institute for Electrical and
Electronics Engineers, which is working on revisions to the current RF
standard for mobile phones and base stations.
Much of the world adheres to the RF standard of the International Commission
on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. The ICNIRP standard, based on a
specific absorption rate of 2 watts per kilogram averaged over 10 grams of
body tissue, takes into account the largely cartilage-comprised outer ear,
or pinna, in terms of radiation exposure.
The IEEE, whose current standard is based on 1.6 watts per kilogram averaged
over one gram of human tissue, wants to exclude the ear from consideration
in the new RF standard. Thus, the ear would be subject to a looser radiation
safety limit otherwise reserved for hands, wrists, forearms, feet, ankles
and lower legs.
"By relaxing the SAR limit for the pinna ... we would abandon the
harmonization with the ICNIRP standard for cellular telephones and thus
create the most lax RF standard in the world for these globally used
devices," said Dr. Om Gandhi, of the University of Utah, in a March 28
letter to Richard Tell, chair of IEEE's Risk Assessment Working Group.
"The ramification for this major departure from ICNIRP guidelines for
handheld cellular telephones," continued Gandhi, "can be substantial when
one realizes that the ICNIRP guideline has been adopted not only in Europe,
but also in Asia, Australia, and elsewhere."
In a March 15 letter to Gandhi, Tell pointed out that IEEE members are near
unanimous in supporting a less stringent radiation safety limit for the ear
and that mobile phones increasingly do not reach their maximum radiated
"As a matter of fact, the trend has been to reduce the transmit power as the
technology has evolved," said Tell.
Whether that trend will hold as wireless carriers roll out next-generation
color phones-fueled by high-speed processors to handle data-intensive
All health lawsuits brought against industry to date have been dismissed for
lack of scientific evidence.
Federal health and safety officials plan to travel to North Carolina later
this month for a briefing by National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences officials on a $10 million long-term animal study-the largest of
its kind in the United States-that is being developed in Research Triangle
The National Toxicology Program, a unit of NIEHS selected by the Food and
Drug Administration for the project, will investigate the controversial
issue of non-thermal effects that some studies attribute to mobile-phone
"The existing exposure guidelines are based on protection from acute injury
from thermal effects for RF R exposure. Current data are insufficient to draw
definite conclusions concerning the adequacy of these guidelines to be
protective against any non-thermal effects of chronic exposures," states a
fact sheet published by the NTP in March.
The Environmental Protection Agency has embraced the same position on the RF
The wireless industry downplayed the NTP document and challenged the notion
that radiation safety guidelines may not give the nation's 140 million
mobile-phone subscribers adequate protection.
"The statement by NTP is virtually unchanged from the statement they issued
last year in the 2002 NTP Fact Sheet," said Jo-Anne Basile, vice president
for external and industry relations at the Cellular Telecommunications &
"The standards-setting bodies in the United States as well as those in other
parts of the world are continually reviewing the latest research to
determine if any changes are required," added Basile. "They have recommended
no additional protective measures beyond the substantial measure of safety
already built in to the current standard. The FDA, the Federal
Communications Commission, the National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the EPA,
as well as expert scientific panels around the world, have been consistent
in their view that the existing federal guidelines are sufficient to protect
the public health. CTIA and the wireless industry globally have always
supported sound, independent and well-focused research. Additional focused
research provides public health agencies more data upon which to base
standards, public policy and guidelines to protect the public's health."
Last month, EMR Network President Janet Newton and Jeff Munger, in-state
legislative liaison to Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.), met with FCC
Commissioner Michael Copps to seek FCC action on a 2001 petition that states
the current RF standard is dated and does not reflect results of newer
studies-including those showing non-thermal effects.
Dr. Ronald Melnick, head of the RF research program at NTP, said the animal
study could help clarify the non-thermal effects question.
"I'm not predicting that we will find something or that we will not find
something," said Melnick.
Melnick said equipment alone will cost $1.5 million to $2 million. The
remaining $8 million will cover the administration of lifetime animal
studies. Requests for proposals for the latter will go out this fall, he