Renewed interest in whether prolonged cell phone use and exposure to radiation can cause cancer has caused the Federal Communications Commission to revisit the potential risks. In April, the FCC announced it's soliciting information from health experts on the current research.
Some scientists and consumer groups have been critical of the FCC, since it has not revised its standards for mobile devices since 1996.
Kerry Crofton, Ph.D., author of "A Wellness Guide for the Digital Age: With Safer-Tech Solutions for All Things Wired and Wireless," believes that by not updating the industry standards for the past 17 years, the government has been lax in protecting the public.
"The BioInitiative Report 2012, an international group of scientists who reexamined these standards, did an exhaustive study of the evidence of a potential link between mobile phone use and brain cancer, as well as other concerns, and found flaws in the standards," said Crofton, co-founder and executive director of Advisory Board Doctors for Safer Schools.
"There were very few cell phones in service back in 1996, and now, by some estimates, there are 5 billion globally," Crofton said. "The other concern is that the standards were based only on testing a 200-pound male mannequin, but the standards do not apply to more sensitive groups, such as children, pregnant women and teens."
Current research has delved far more deeply into the potential risks. David Gultekin, a researcher at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, is conducting research into Specific Absorption Rates (SAR) of radiation into brain tissue via cell phone radiation.
"This needs further study, but what we know right now is that it is heavily absorbed by brain tissue," said Gultekin. "Radiation penetrates the brain and gets absorbed. It also causes the temperature of the tissue to rise. We also know that absorption is not uniform throughout the brain, that there are hot spots that cause variations in energy inside the tissue."
Gultekin says his research represents the first time absorption is measured in real brain tissue. The methods FCC approved in 1996 for wide certification of cell phones was not derived from research that penetrated the tissue to measure absorption.
This leaves researchers and epidemiologists to wonder: Is there a direct correlation between SAR of radiation and disease, such as brain cancer?
"Brain cancer can take 20 to 30 years to develop," said Crofton, so the concern with having the FCC not up to date on its standards and not responsive to the science is that by the time regulators wake up to the facts there could be a global health crisis."
Crofton draws comparisons with the delayed response to the asbestos problem in America. "It took a hundred years for regulators to respond to that crisis, but the threat from not just cell phones, but WiFi networks and cell towers is immediate and widespread," she said.
Both Gultekin and Crofton see an urgent need for the FCC to update its standards for mobile devices.
Recently President Obama chose former telecommunications industry lobbyist Tom Wheeler to head the FCC. Reaction to his nomination has been mixed, with some saying his appointment would make American telecommunications more competitive. Others are concerned that he is too closely associated with the industry to be depended upon to update standards for certification of mobile devices.
"The FCC chairman in June called for further investigation," said Crofton. "Scientists were solicited to send in data, but nobody is very hopeful that much change is going to take place. This could just be a public relations exercise."