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.

In June, at a meeting of scientific counselors to the toxicology agency, Donald Stump, one of the members, worried that the study “will be vulnerable to criticism that it was conducted using outdated technology.” The challenge, he added, is how to move forward with experiments that are large enough to be significant yet nimble enough to keep pace with the rapidly evolving devices.

But scientists disagree on how real—or how serious—these risks really are, and studies have not established any definitive links between health problems and radiofrequency (RF) energy, the type of radiation emitted by cell phones. “This document is intended to provide guidance for people who want to reduce their own and their families’ exposure to RF energy from cell phones,” the guidelines state, “despite this uncertainty.”


Unfortunately, however, we’ll probably never have an RCT on cellphones and cancer in humans. It’d be too difficult and too expensive to randomly assign particular levels of cellphone use to thousands of people and have them stick with those plans for enough time (we’re talking at least five years) to figure out whether certain types of phones or phone use patterns cause cancer to develop. That’s not to mention the fact it’d be nearly impossible to find a group of people willing to not use cellphones and then make sure they actually stick to their promise.
That’s why randomized controlled trials (RCTs) often yield fairly clear answers about the effectiveness of treatments compared to other study designs. (Fun fact: Scottish doctor James Lind, a clinical trial pioneer, figured out that citrus fruits seemed to have an effect on scurvy using one of the earliest RCTs.) RCTs can also be used to study whether something, like cellphone radiation, can cause disease.
Manufacturers conduct government-required certification tests using a bare phone, set to transmit at maximum power, with no accessories. The recorded maximum SAR is reported to the FCC and listed in the phone’s manual. A phone tested with accessories under the same conditions can produce a higher SAR because the materials surrounding the antenna can affect the amount of radiation that reaches and is absorbed by the user’s body. A case can influence both the overall amount of emitted radiation and how it is directed.
Researchers need funding to move fast to study the potential health effects of 5G networks and how they might change our exposures to radiation. “So far, we’ve got research that’s done on 3G and 4G but not 5G,” said Brawley of the American Cancer Society. “We do think the answers [about cell radiation’s cancer effects] for 5G may be different from the answers for 4G or 3G. ... As these types of radio waves and energy change over time, the answers [about their health effects] may change.”
According to this sub-regulation, “a speakerphone is a device that enables use of the phone without holding it, providing that if the device is installed on the phone, the phone will be positioned in the vehicle in a stable manner that prevents it from falling”. For the regular mobile phone instrument in the vehicle, it is advisable to install an antenna outside the vehicle and not inside it, and to prefer wire connections between the phone and the speaker over use of a blue tooth.
Another part of the INTERPHONE study compared more than 1,000 people with acoustic neuromas to more than 2,000 people without tumors, who served as matched controls. As with gliomas and meningiomas, there was no overall link between cell phone use and acoustic neuromas. There was again a suggestion of a possible increased risk in the 10% of people who used their cell phones the most, but this was hard to interpret because some people reported implausibly high cell phone use, as well as other issues.

As to increases in brain tumors tied to cell phone use, it’s too early to tell due to a lack of hard data, says Dr. Carlo. “We’re never going to see that in time to have it matter. Here in the US, we’re six years behind in getting the brain tumor database completed, and currently the best data are from 1999. By the time you see any data showing an increase, the ticking time bomb is set.”
Radiofrequency radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Electromagnetic radiation can be categorized into two types: ionizing (e.g., x-rays, radon, and cosmic rays) and non-ionizing (e.g., radiofrequency and extremely low frequency, or power frequency). Electromagnetic radiation is defined according to its wavelength and frequency, which is the number of cycles of a wave that pass a reference point per second. Electromagnetic frequencies are described in units called hertz (Hz).
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