Cell phone safety ratings readied

SAN MATEO, Calif. -- Reflecting the public's concern over the safety of cellular phone usage, the major handset manufacturers on Monday said they would meet or beat the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) deadline of Aug. 1, 2001, for rating and labeling all new cell phones with a frequency emissions measurement.

Unless a handset manufacturer meets this labeling requirement, in addition to complying with the maximum specific absorption rate (SAR) level determined by the Food and Drug Administration, the CTIA would withhold certification, according to Travis Larson, a CTIA spokesman in Washington. An SAR rating is a measurement of how much radio-frequency energy is absorbed into the body.

The labeling program will include a sticker on the outside of the box indicating that the model has been tested and meets Federal Communications Commission and FDA guidelines. It will also give the FCC identification number and the URL for the FCC's Web site. Carrier and handset manufacturer Web sites will carry the same information. Enclosed in the box will be the actual SAR rating and a pamphlet with more information on radio frequencies. The pamphlet will also explain the SAR rating and how the government tests phones. The major cell phone makers include Ericsson Inc., Motorola Inc. and Nokia Inc.

The labeling and brochure are meant to reassure a nervous public, according to Tole Hard, a senior analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

However, it's not just the public that is concerned. Ever since the 1950s, when Motorola strapped two-way wireless radios to the heads of pigs to measure for possible harmful levels of radiation, government scientists have been trying to determine whether the use of such devices poses a danger to humans, according to Martin Cooper, who is credited with inventing the cell phone when he worked for Motorola in the 1970s and is now the CEO of ArrayComm, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based wireless data-technology company.

"Back then, it was walkie-talkies; today it is cell phones," Cooper said.

According to Larson, phones usually operate at levels significantly below the maximum SAR, but levels do change depending on such variables as distance from the cell station, how the cell phone is held next to the head and whether there are obstacles in the way of the signal.

Cooper agrees with Larson that the vast majority of science has found no adverse health effects.

"Nobody has demonstrated that there are any absorption effects that have an influence on human beings," Cooper said.

At the same time, Cooper said he was not defending cell phones and that further investigation should continue.

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This story, "Cell phone safety ratings readied" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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