Federal Report States Data on Cell Phone Does Not Address Safety

Federal efforts to research the possible health risks of cellular phones and inform the public of the results are lacking.

A new report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) criticizes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for not keeping consumers updated about the latest scientific knowledge on the safety of mobile phones.

It also expresses concerns of federal investigators that a research partnership between the FDA and the cellular wireless communication industry gives too much power to the industry to withhold study results from the public.

The report came as Sen. John Corzine (D-N.J.) and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) announced new legislation to ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving. Corzine said that mobile phone use while driving quadruples the chance of having a car accident.

Americans' cell phone use has skyrocketed -- from 16 million users in 1994 to some 110 million today. This rapid increase has been accompanied by fears that heavy use of the devices could lead to brain cancer or other health problems.

The report scrutinizes industry-funded studies on cell phone users' radiation exposure, which it says are not standardized to deliver consistent and reliable information. Industry groups and the FCC are working to come up with standards for cell phone emission testing but have not yet done so.

The report also criticizes a cooperative agreement between the FDA and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA), an industry trade group. The cooperative is supposed to fund and conduct research on cell phone safety. But investigators said the agreement allows the industry to decide who conducts safety studies and allows them final say on whether to release the details to the public.

We cannot have a cooperative agreement where an industry which has a stake in the results can handcuff a federal agency.

Both the FCC and FDA provide consumer information on cell phone safety on their Web sites.

But the FCC information does ''not meet general consumers' need for clear and concise information,'' and the FDA's information has not been updated since 1999, the GAO report states.

General Accounting Office Report, Washington DC, May 22, 2001