Measurements Standards vs. Guidelines - The Rationale for
Home Radiation Protection
Regulations adopted by the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) in 1996, and fully implemented in 2000, limit human
exposure to electromagnetic radiation from cell phone,
broadcast, and other radio communication systems. Both U.S.
and international standards governing exposure to radio
frequency (RF) fields have long existed, and the FCC
regulations were adapted from a pre-existing standard. They
establish Maximum Permissible Exposures, or MPEs, for the
full range of frequencies encountered near transmitting
equipment, towers, and antennas. These are the formal
exposure standards in the U.S., and have full regulatory
For cellular antennas on towers, the level of RF energy that
one would realistically be exposed to is usually less than
1% of the MPE. For broadcast towers and building mounted
cellular antennas, much higher exposures are possible,
although the MPEs are still unlikely to be exceeded in areas
accessible to the public. So why are people concerned about
cell towers, or RF exposure in general?
Is some caution warranted? Three reasons for this concern
1. Some people don't trust the cell phone companies or the
government to act with the public's best interest in mind.
2. Many people equate the potential adverse health effects
of cell phone use, which has received a lot of media
coverage, with the presence of cell towers. (In reality, the
energy that one is exposed to while holding a cell phone to
the head is far greater than one is exposed to in the
vicinity of a cell tower.)
3. The existing exposure limitations are based primarily on
the avoidance of energy deposition in the body sufficient to
cause heating of tissue. More recent research data indicates
that some types of radio frequency fields influence cellular
function through mechanisms that do not involve heating.
Therefore, the existing limitations may be based upon
incomplete and outdated science, and thus not fully
To address the issues raised by recent health effects
research (#3 above), it is necessary to look beyond the
current exposure limits. Through a review of research on
exposure to radio frequency radiation, it is possible to
identify a range of numbers below which no adverse effects
have been noted (or which have been reported only in limited
or questionable studies), and above which potentially
adverse effects have been seen.
This range of numbers can form the basis for a
"precautionary guideline." The science from which it is
derived is not, at this time, sufficient in strength or
consistency to permit the revision of existing standards.
However, reference to such a precautionary guideline will
permit those individuals who seek a level of protection
beyond that conferred by existing standards to do so in a
rational manner while research proceeds on this important
public health issue.
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