By not formally reassessing its current limit, FCC cannot ensure it is using a limit that reflects the latest research on RF energy exposure. FCC has also not reassessed its testing requirements to ensure that they identify the maximum RF energy exposure a user could experience. Some consumers may use mobile phones against the body, which FCC does not currently test, and could result in RF energy exposure higher than the FCC limit.
Third, most of the studies published so far have focused on adults, rather than children. (One case-control study looking at children and teens did not find a significant link to brain tumors, but the small size of the study limited its power to detect modest risks.) Cell phone use is now widespread even among younger children. It is possible that if there are health effects, they might be more pronounced in children because their bodies might be more sensitive to RF energy. Another concern is that children’s lifetime exposure to the energy from cell phones will be greater than adults’, who started using them at a later age.
While the Federal Communication Commission limits how much radiofrequency radiation can come out of your cellphone, the Food and Drug Administration can have a say about whether those limits are safe. So the FDA asked the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a division within the National Institutes of Health, to investigate. Based on the NTP’s results, as well as hundreds of other studies, the FDA is still confident that the current limits on cellphone radiation are safe, according to a statement from Jeffrey Shuren, the director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
He believes the FDA should put out guidance based on the results of the rat studies. “I would think it would be irresponsible to not put out indications to the public,” Melnick says. “Maintain a distance from this device from your children. Don’t sleep with your phone near your head. Use wired headsets. This would be something that the agencies could do right now.”
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EWG is calling on the FCC to update its testing guidelines to take account of the widespread use of smartphone cases. Such action is critical because mounting scientific studies have raised serious questions about the safety of cell phone radiation exposure over the short and long term. In the absence of meaningful action by the Commission, EWG offers consumers tips on how to reduce their exposure to cell phone radiation.
In March, however, a peer-review panel of 11 experts from industry and academia voted to advise the agency that it should raise the confidence level from “equivocal evidence” to “some evidence” of a link between cellphone radiation and brain tumors in male rats. (The female rats did not show evidence of a link between the radiation and such tumors.) Two panel members, Lydia Andrews-Jones of Allergan and Susan Felter of Procter & Gamble, proposed the risk upgrade.
A large, long-term study has been comparing all of the people in Denmark who had a cell phone subscription between 1982 and 1995 (about 400,000 people) to those without a subscription to look for a possible increase in brain tumors. The most recent update of the study followed people through 2007. Cell phone use, even for more than 13 years, was not linked with an increased risk of brain tumors, salivary gland tumors, or cancer overall, nor was there a link with any brain tumor subtypes or with tumors in any location within the brain.
The authors of these studies noted that the results were preliminary and that possible health outcomes from changes in glucose metabolism in humans were unknown. Such inconsistent findings are not uncommon in experimental studies of the biological effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation in people (4). Some factors that can contribute to inconsistencies across such studies include assumptions used to estimate doses, failure to consider temperature effects, and lack of blinding of investigators to exposure status.
Limited to rats only, the Ramazzini study tested three doses expressed as the amount of radiation striking the animal’s bodies: either 5, 25 or 50 volts per meter. The exposure measures therefore differed from the absorbed doses calculated during the NTP study. But the Ramazzini scientists also converted their measures to W/kg, to show how the doses compared with RF limits for cell phones and cell towers set by the FCC and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection; they ranged down to a 1,000 times lower. The exposures began when the rats were fetuses and continued for 19 hours a day until the animals died from natural causes.
Specifically, we looked for studies that measured rates of acoustic neuromas, gliomas, meningiomas, and thyroid cancers. We also narrowed our search to studies that looked at the effect of radio-frequency radiation originating from an actual cellphone, rather than experimental equipment. We did this because we wanted evidence that could apply to real life, not specific laboratory settings or hypothetical outcomes.
Again, non-ionizing radiation — the radiation from cellphones — doesn’t have enough energy to break our DNA, and therefore, we have traditionally thought, it couldn’t cause cancer. But there is some question about whether it’s as harmless as was once believed, or whether there might be another mechanism at play, other than direct DNA damage, that could lead to cancer or other biological problems.
In one type of study, called a case–control study, cell phone use is compared between people with these types of tumors and people without them. In another type of study, called a cohort study, a large group of people who do not have cancer at study entry is followed over time and the rate of these tumors in people who did and didn’t use cell phones is compared. Cancer incidence data can also be analyzed over time to see if the rates of brain tumors changed in large populations during the time that cell phone use increased dramatically. These studies have not shown clear evidence of a relationship between cell phone use and cancer. However, researchers have reported some statistically significant associations for certain subgroups of people.