Leszczynski: Wheeling and dealing at the FCC

Mr. Tom Wheeler, a former CTIA Chairman was nominated for the Chairmanship of the FCC, a clear-cut conflict of interest. Photo: fox image is a fragment of the painting by Markshausen “The singing fox in front of a henhouse”

HELSINKI, Finland, May 2, 2013 – In my previous post, I urged the FCC to tighten exposure safety standards for cell phone radiation, as we do not have sufficiently good scientific evidence to support the validity of the current safety standards. On the other hand, we have evidence of the possible problem – as I called it ‘red flags’.

Epidemiological studies, unexpectedly, have shown that long term exposure to mobile phone radiation (30 min./day for 10+ years) might increase the possibility to develop brain cancer – glioma. Individual risk for the user is not very high. However, when considering the omnipresence of the cell phones, the monetary cost and the social burden of this increased glioma risk might be very high for the healthcare and for the social services.

Because this epidemiological red flag was obtained in human populations that used cell phones meeting all current safety standards, it means that the safety standards might be inadequate to protect long term users, especially when exposures will be lasting for not only ten years but for several tens of years.

In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its subordinate organization International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) understood the potential problem and classified cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen. The full scientific basis for this decision, taken by the 30 experts invited to the IARC Working Group, was just recently published in form of the IARC Monograph 102. Importantly, we should remember that the IARC monographs are considered a ‘golden standard’ in classification of the carcinogenic agents.

The FCC, still under the Chairmanship of Mr. Julius Genachowski, has decided to revise the already very old cell phone radiation safety standards. The current general notion is that FCC might loosen, instead of tightening, the safety standards. Appointment of the new Chairman of the FCC seems to strengthen this possibility.

Mr. Tom Wheeler, yesterday nominated for the Chairmanship of the FCC, has a clear conflict of interest to deal with, if his appointment ise confirmed by the Senate. As the New York Times  pointed out “…Once he takes office, Mr. Wheeler, 67, will be under pressure not only to demonstrate that he understands rapidly changing technologies, but also to make clear that his previous work as a top lobbyist for the cellphone and cable television industries will not prejudice his F.C.C. decision-making…”. Among others, Mr. Wheeler was the Chairman of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, the cell phone industry trade group.

Supporters of Mr. Wheeler’s nomination might argue that his past work, as telecom industry lobbyist is well known and, thus, his conflict of interest is not hidden, but it is out in the open, for everyone to examine.

However, admission of the conflict of interest does not remove the problem of the conflict of interest itself. As presented in the book “Conflict of Interest in Medical Research, Education, and Practice” published by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the authors consider that: “…Disclosure [of the conflict of interest]: an essential but insufficient element of policy…”.

In spite of the disclosure, decisions will be made by the person having conflict of interest.

Should the risk be taken by letting the fox into the hens’ house, even when his ‘conflict of interest’ – zeal for chicken’s meat – is well known and out in the open for everyone to examine?

In my personal opinion – the fox should never be let into the hens’ house.

Lastly, this likely forthcoming ‘conflict of interest’ situation at FCC will not be unique when examining the cell phone safety issues. It reminds very much the situation when the IEEE committee setting safety standard for the cell phones was chaired by the scientist employed by the Motorola company.

It seems like the new FCC appointment will strengthen the already strong hold of the telecom industry over the safety related issues of cell phones and alike-radiation-emitting gadgets.

Will the nomination of Mr. Wheeler help the telecom industry to do “wheeling and dealing” at the FCC?


Read more from Dariusz Leszczynski in his science blogs “BRHP - Between a Rock and a Hard Place” and “The Round-Table Initiative“.

Follow Dariusz on twitter: @blogBRHP

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are author’s own and should not be automatically considered as opinions of his employer

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Dariusz Leszczynski

Dariusz Leszczynski is an expert in the biological and health effects of cell phone radiation.

Since 2009 he publishes a science blog dealing with the issue of cell phone radiation and health: http://betweenrockandhardplace.wordpress.com  

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are authors' own and SHOULD NOT be considered as opinions of any of his employers.

Contact Dariusz Leszczynski


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