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  The FCC Standard

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Doesn't the FCC Standard Protect Us?

    [I]ndications that the technology is potentially less than safe have been, and continue to be, studiously ignored, both by the industry and by national and international regulatory bodies ... The concern of the public is thus not unfounded ...
    March 2001 report by the European Parliament STOA


The FCC standard was originally intended to prevent interference between pieces of electronic equipment and was later modified to protect workers exposed to microwaves from heating effects (the only effects recognized at the time). It was not created to protect the general public, including those most vulnerable (children, the elderly, the infirm). It was created by engineers, not anyone with knowledge of physiology or biology. It was, and still is, created with heavy industry involvement. Therefore, to suppose that it provides adequate protection is erroneous.

The FCC standard is purely arbitrary and unrealistically high. Many countries do not permit levels anywhere near the FCC standard, as can be seen from the following listing. Only the U.K. is higher. The unit in which microwave exposure is often measured is “microwatts per square centimeter” (μW/cm2), referred to as the “power density.” The idea behind this is that if you consider a transmitter a point source, microwaves radiate from it in all directions, forming an imaginary sphere. The energy falling on a square centimeter of the sphere at a particular distance is the power density at that distance.


Exposure level (μW/cm2)

United Kingdom


Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, U.S.




Auckland, New Zealand






Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, Switzerland


Salzburg, Austria (pulsed transmissions)


New South Wales, Australia


 Source: Radio Wave Packet, Cellular Phone Taskforce

What the FCC standard protects you from is high levels of radiation. If you’re worried about being fried by microwaves, the FCC standard is just the ticket. If your next-door neighbor installs an army-surplus radar station pointed directly at your home and you call the FCC, they’ll be there in minutes to make your neighbor take it down — no question about it.

But what about lower levels of radiation? At a distance of one meter, the output of these microwave meters (about 2–4 nanowatts, or thousandths of a microwatt) is about 200,000 times lower than the FCC standard. However, extensive research has shown adverse health effects as a result of long-term, low-level exposure (see the Health Effects — Western page). The industry chooses to ignore this—understandably, since no industry will voluntarily admit that its product could cause adverse health effects.

Here’s an analogy. You might expect that if you touch a 480,000-volt high-tension wire, you could experience an adverse health effect. You could probably touch a 110-volt (U.S.) household power line briefly and feel only a mild jolt. But would you want to touch it 24 hours a day, even though it’s thousands of times lower than the power from the high-voltage line?

And what about something much less—a 1-volt battery, say. Would you be willing to have it hooked up to you around the clock? Does anyone seriously think there wouldn't be any effect over the long term, even though it’s nearly 500,000 times less than the high-voltage line? What about a tenth of a volt? A hundredth of a volt?

What is the lowest level at which you can be assured of no long-term effect? And what about vulnerable members of the population — children, the elderly, and the infirm? They couldn't withstand even what others could.

The point is that if you start with an arbitrary, unrealistically high number, you can always say that something is a million times less, and it will sound impressive, but it has no relation to actual effects. The body is a low-voltage system, and effects have been documented at levels not previously thought possible.

A more reasonable comparison is to naturally occurring background radiation, which is 10–17 to 10–14 microwatts per square centimeter, because the absorption rate of the atmosphere depends on the frequency of the radiation. Then, instead of saying that the meter output is 200,000 times lower than the FCC standard, we could point out that it’s ten thousand to ten million times higher than natural background radiation — which is what the human organism developed in. The amount of radiation we’re receiving began to increase during the mid-1900s and has increased dramatically in the last few years.

For a decades, it was thought that the only effects of microwaves were due to heating of tissue: “thermal” effects. However, some research at the time and much more recently has shown that so-called “nonthermal” effects occur at levels where no measurable heat increase occurs. “Nonthermal” is a misnomer, since some heating always occurs at the cellular level from molecular excitation. However, the industry and the military still maintain that the only effects possible from microwaves are due to heating and that “nonthermal” effects do not exist.

Part of it is adopted from a standard set by a committee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and later approved by the American National Standards Institute. However, even the FCC recognizes that the ANSI/IEEE standard is too high at higher frequency levels, so it also incorporates part of the National Commission on Radiation Protection (NCRP) standard.

The IEEE is a professional association with heavy industry representation. Its Standards Coordinating Committee (SCC) 28 decides the standard. The 1991 standard, which has been modified only slightly since, did not include any studies later than 1986. Only a few were on non-thermal effects (many more have been done since the mid-90s), and in any case, the SCC-28 committee still does not seem inclined to take any notice of non-thermal effects.

Arthur Firstenberg, president of the Cellular Phone Taskforce, submitted an affidavit to the Irish High Court in January 1998 regarding a cell-tower case. The affidavit contained a copy of the ANSI/IEEE Ballot Summary of May 14, 1991, for the adoption of the standard by the IEEE SCC-28 committee.

Firstenberg says, “The voting membership was overwhelmingly dominated by military and industrial interests, to the total exclusion of the general public and the health care community. Of the three health and safety agency representatives on the voting committee, two voted ‘no’ on the adoption of this standard.”

He also says the following: 

Further, the ANSI/IEEE C95.1 1992 standard ... has been criticized on health grounds by every health and safety agency in the United States which commented on its proposed adoption as a national standard by the Federal Communications Commission. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended “against adopting the 1992 ANSI/IEEE standard because it has serious flaws that call into question whether its proposed use is sufficiently protective of public health and safety.” ... The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in its comments, said “... We do not believe this standard addresses the issue of long-term, chronic exposures to RF fields.” The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was “concerned about the lack of participation by experts with a public health perspective in the IEEE RF standards setting process.”

The chairman of the SCC-28 committee is John Osepchuk, a Concord, Massachusetts, resident who is a consultant and has acted as a representative of the wireless industry at town meetings, attempting to assure boards and residents that microwave antennas are safe. To some, this might seem a conflict of interest: chairing a committee that sets safety standards for an industry that pays him to represent it.

An editorial in the March/April 2001 issue of Microwave News said this: 

The Pentagon’s new microwave weapon has been brought to you by the U.S. Air Force and Raytheon. ... These are the same organizations that control the IEEE’s SCC-28 committee that writes the standard for exposures to RF and microwaves.

Dr. John Osepchuk, the chair of SCC-28, worked for Raytheon for most of his professional career. And three of the other five members of the SCC-28 executive committee work either at Brooks Air Force Base or for Raytheon. 


It seems obvious, but it’s worth repeating: Health standards should be written by medical and public health professionals, not those who make weapons for the military-industrial complex.