#1023: Congressional committee questions adequacy of RF exposure limits
The following is the text of a letter sent to Kevin Martin, Chairman of the FCC by the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It raises a number of important issues such as the safety of new wireless devices and the adequacy of the RF standards. It also backs up the recommendations of the Bioinitiative report.
CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES
COMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM
Mr. Kevin J. Martin,
Chairman Federal Communications Commission
445 l2th Street SW
Washington D.C. 20554
Re: “White Spaces” Unlicensed Operation in the TV Broadcast Bands (ET Docket No. 04-186)
Dear Mr. Martin:
I write in reference to the Federal Communication Commission’s vote on the authorization of new unlicensed “White Spaces” devices for wireless communications in the TV Broadcast Bands, scheduled for its November 4th meeting. FCC adoption of rules to authorize use of White Spaces spectrum for wireless devices operating in the home will lead to the repeated, chronic, long-term exposure of individuals, at all age levels, and to more frequencies and quantities of radiofrequency (RF) radiation at very close range than is currently the case. Whether these exposures pose human health risks is under investigation by members of the scientific and public health research communities. I am writing to remind FCC to consider the potential for serious human health effects that could result from the proliferation of these devices in the home, before allowing the proliferation of such devices.
By design, the White Spaces devices rule will increase the bandwidth available for wireless devices operating at close range, for general use in the home and elsewhere. As a result, it is expected that the number of transmitters in the broadcast frequency range will increase exponentially with the roll out of White Spaces devices and infrastructure. The Commission has classified unlicensed broadband White Spaces devices to be used in the TV bands into two general functional categories. The first category consists of lower power “personal/ portable” unlicensed devices, such as Wi-Fi cards in laptop computers or wireless in-home local area networks (LANs). The second category consists of higher power “fixed/access” unlicensed devices that are generally operated from a fixed location and may be used to provide a commercial service such as wireless broadband Internet access. Whereas high-powered analogue broadcast transmitter sites have traditionally been found at locations somewhat removed from business centers and residential neighborhoods, the new White Spaces devices that will also transmit in the digital broadcast frequencies are designed to operate at close range to members of the public who choose to use them as well as to their colleagues and neighbors who may choose not to use them.
This proliferation of RF exposure follows the September 25,2008 hearing before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee on “Tumors and Cell Phone Use-What the Science Says” at which witnesses raised serious concerns about the potential public health implications of RF exposures through cell phones. Some specific concerns were raised about FCC RF radiation exposure limits. Namely, they may not be adequate to protect humans from adverse biological effects; may not provide protection from long-term exposure; are only based on tissue heating reactions on a non-representative sample of the total population (a six-feet tall male); do not address the current state of scientific research establishing non-thermal biological effects; and do not err on the side of precaution.
While RF exposures from cell phones are different than the RF exposures that will be generated through the White Spaces auction, there is much that is unknown about the health effects of these exposures that corresponds with concerns raised in the hearing. In its 2005 Fact Sheet entitled, “Studies on Radiofrequency Radiation Emitted by Cellular Phones,” the National Toxicology Program (NTP) at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences states:
Over 100 million Americans currently use wireless communication devices with over 50 thousand new users daily. This translates into a potentially significant public health problem should the use of these devices even slightly increase the risk of adverse health effects. Cellular phones and other wireless communication devices are required to meet the radiofrequency radiation (RFR) exposure guidelines of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, August 1996). The existing exposure guidelines are based on protection from acute injury from thermal effects of RFR exposure. Current data are insufficient to draw definitive conclusions concerning the adequacy of these guidelines to be protective against any non-thermal effects of chronic exposures.
In January 2008 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a report entitled: Identification of Research Needs Relating to Potential Biological or Adverse Health Effects of Wireless Communication Devices. The following excerpts from the NAS Report support the NTP’s conclusion that the research record upon which FCC’s RF Safety Guidelines are based does not adequately safeguard the public from non-thermal chronic exposures:
l. There is a need to characterize exposure of juveniles, children, pregnant women, and fetuses, both for personal wireless devices (e.g., cell phones, wireless personal computers, [PCs] and for RF fields from base station antennas including gradients and variability of exposures, the environment in which devices are used, and exposures from other sources, multilateral exposures, and multiple frequencies.
2. Wireless networks are being built very rapidly, and many more base station antennas are being installed. A crucial research need is to characterize radiated electromagnetic fields for typical multiple-element base station antennas and for the highest radiated power conditions with measurements conducted during peak hours of the day at locations close to the antennas as well as at ground level . . .
3. The use of evolving types of antennas for hand-held cell phones and text messaging devices need to be characterized for the Specific Absorption Rates (SAR) that they deliver to different parts of the body so that this data is available for use in future epidemiologic studies.
4. RF exposure of the operational personnel close to multi-element newer base station antennas is unknown and could be high, These exposures need to be characterized. Also needed are dosimetric absorbed power calculations using realistic anatomic models for both men and women of different heights. (P. 5)
Most of the reported studies to date have involved one base station antenna and have used mostly homogeneous models, often of simplified circular or rectangular cross sections of the exposed human . . . In other words, the studies to date do not pertain to the commonly used multiple-element base station radiators. Also, unlike highly localized cell phone RF energy deposition, the base station exposures involve much, if not all, of the body and would have slightly different radiator origins (for multiple-element base stations) and may be multi-frequency as well, particularly if several different-frequency base station antennas are co-located. Furthermore, because of the whole-body resonance phenomenon, the SIR is likely to be higher for shorter individuals due to the closeness of the frequency/frequencies of exposure to the whole -body resonance frequency. (P. 15)
FCC has committed detailed and thorough analysis of what this White Spaces technology might do to cause interference with other commercial uses. I call upon the Commission to match its concern for commercial interests with concern for human health of the future consumers of this technology. To that end, I hereby request that the Commission stay its November 4, 2008 vote pertaining to “White Spaces” devices. In the interim, I urge you to immediately take appropriate agency action to consider what RF human exposure guidelines FCC should set to protect the health and safety of the American public before authorizing this technology to be licensed or deployed. I also request that the Commission provide my Subcommittee with a detailed description of the measures FCC has taken to date to ensure public health will not be jeopardized by the auctioning of the White Spaces spectrum, given the scientific concerns and unknowns about RF exposure and the proliferation of new RF exposures that will result.
The Oversight and Government Reform Committee is the principal oversight committee in the House of Representatives and has broad oversight jurisdiction as set forth in House Rule X. An attachment to this letter provides information on how to respond to the Subcommittee’s request. We request that you provide these documents as soon as possible, but in no case later than 5:00 p.m. on Monday, November 17, 2008. If you have any questions regarding this request, please contact Jaron Bourke, Staff Director, at (202) 225-6427.
Dennis J. Kucinich
Domestic Policy Subcommittee