Court Considers Challenge to FCC RFR Guidelines for Wireless Devices


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A federal appeals court heard arguments Monday from groups that want the FCC to update its RFR exposure guidelines. Specifically, the public groups Environmental Health Trust and Children’s Defense Fund want the court to tell the FCC to overturn its recent ruling concerning 25-year-old RFR exposure guidelines for cell phones, cell towers, WiFi, 5G and other wireless communications devices.

The FCC, under former Chairman Ajit Pai, said in 2019 there was no need for the update, because the current guidelines protect the public.  

Judges Karen Henderson, Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit showed concern, saying it appeared the agency relied on a “cursory” sign-off by the Food and Drug Administration. They noted the record contained no input from the FDA committee, or FCC working group charged by Congress with reviewing RF standards, according to Broadcasting and Cable. They asked the FCC to find out by close of business today whether those committees existed and reviewed the standards. 

The Commission must periodically evaluate the impact of RF devices–these days most prominently smart phones–on quality of the “human environment.”

The petitioners challenging the FCC guidelines contend the agency ignored “extensive evidence” submitted to the agency showing that non-thermal levels of pulsed and modulated RF radiation emitted by wireless technology are harmful to humans, wildlife and the environment.

They said the agency’s record in developing the guidelines did not show that they were the product of reasoned decision making, making them arbitrary and capricious. They said the agency failed to take into account the environmental or public safety impact, reported Broadcasting and Cable.

The group’s chairman, Robert F. Kennedy Jr, called it a landmark case. “The FCC’s guidelines are decades-old and are based on scientific assumptions that were proven false. Its failure and disregard of public health is evident in the growing and widespread conditions involving brain damage, learning disabilities, and a host of complex neurological syndromes,” he stated.

In 2019, the Commission cited the FDA’s findings that, “the weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.” The Commissioners voted to retain the current limits, but to adjust the rules “to ensure the health and safety of workers and consumers of wireless technology, while also clarifying and streamlining rules to reduce regulatory burdens on licensees.”

In oral arguments, the agency argued it relied on FDA’s input and also contributions from other agencies. The groups want to impose power limits of a million times less powerful, for example. The agency argued that at those limits, relevant communications systems, such as 5G and WiFi, won’t work.

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