In an article in the current edition of OMB Watch's Watcher, we discuss serious concerns about the extent of the wireless communications industry's influence over regulators. Following San Francisco's move to inform the public about potentially dangerous exposures to cell phone radiation, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the agency in charge of regulating cell phone radiation levels changed its website. The FCC deleted a suggestion to consumers to seek phones with lower radiation levels (known as SAR values), and added a lot of industry-speak downplaying the legitimate concerns raised by public interest groups. Now the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is demanding to know why the FCC made the changes and what role the wireless trade association might have played.
EWG a long-time watchdog on cell phone radiation concerns accuses the FCC of having "essentially cut and pasted the wireless industry's position into its revised websites." In a new blog post, EWG announces it just submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking all records related to the website changes, especially all relevant correspondence between FCC and the main wireless industry trade association, CTIA.
EWG earlier submitted a FOIA request to see what influence on FCC the industry group was wielding regarding the industry's law suit against the city of San Francisco seeking a halt to the city's cell phone radiation right-to-know law.
EWG has put together a useful critique of the FCC's changes to its website. The group finds the new information to be "full of internal inconsistencies and at odds with latest research on cell phone radiation." They also point out that there's no standardized method used by cell phone manufacturers to test a phone's SAR value. FCC asserts that this makes SAR values unreliable when used to compare phones and that many additional factors influence the level of radiation exposure. But if the testing is so unreliable, why doesn't FCC standardize the test in order to provide consumers with useful information? FCC's position also ignores that Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom recommend the use of low-SAR phones. FCC also fails to consider the impacts of radiation on children.
Clearly, in the absence of scientific consensus on the long-term health impacts of cell phone radiation especially on children cell phone users should be provided as much information as possible, so they can decide what actions are best for them. FCC doesn't seem to think providing the public with information is a good idea. In addition to downplaying the value of using SAR values (like San Francisco is doing with its right-to-know law), the commission states in big bold letters, "The FCC does not endorse the need for these practices" - that is, practices that reduce users' exposure to cell phone radiation.
The striking similarity between industry claims and the new language on the FCC's website raises serious concerns about the independence of the regulatory agency. FCC should immediately disclose its interactions with industry representatives. The commission should also address the growing concerns based on scientific studies about cell phone radiation levels and conduct a transparent and thorough review of the scientific data.
(Brian Turnbaugh 09/30/10)
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