For the first time in 17 years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for public comment on its standards protecting humans against overdoses of radiofrequency (RF) radiation and how to better enforce the standards. Cities and special districts need to understand and help to shape the extent of their ability to demand compliance with RF radiation standards, and their differing roles as regulators and proprietors. The deadline for initial public comment is September 3; replies may be filed by November 1.
Radio frequencies are used for voice, data and video communications. The FCC’s present standards are based on the likelihood of “thermal” harm. They establish safe distances from the radiation’s source, varying with power and wavelength. However, the FCC acknowledges that the near-ubiquity of wireless transmitters and receivers, many of these miniaturized to permit close-to-the-body operation and medical implantation, demand a fresh look.
An estimated five percent of Americans claim to be “electrosensitive” to effects from RF radiation, claiming that RF radiation deeply and chronically interferes with body chemistry. A larger group of citizens believes that “prudent avoidance” demands special protections for children and schools. Many show up at wireless zoning hearings.
The science of RF radiation harm is disputed. Even the FCC admits it is not an expert in the field of bio-effects and must rely on standards boards that are industry-dominated. As a further complication, the FCC standards are only partly preemptive. They apply to “personal wireless services,” which include cell phones, but not other forms of radio communication.