Wednesday, November 23, 2022

What's Wrong with Cell Phone Radiation Exposure Limits?

A leading expert, Professor Om Gandhi, blames the inadequacies of the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) safety standard and the Specific Anthropomorphic Mannequin (SAM) model used to test cell phones on industry and military engineers who dominated the IEEE standard setting meetings. He discusses the dangers of 5G radiation.

The We Know Show / PodBean, Nov 21, 2022

Meet the man whose research inspired the SAM campaign. Om P. Gandhi, Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering with the University of Utah, taught courses on biological effects of antennas, RF and microwave electromagnetic fields for over 50 years.

Prof. Om P. Gandhi is a world expert on how mobile phone radiation penetrates the human brain. Once a consultant to major cell phone companies, Gandhi now refuses to work with them. 

He has authored or co-authored several book chapters, and over 200 journal articles in electromagnetic dosimetry, microwave tubes, and solid-state devices. He also edited a book entitled Biological Effects and Medical Applications of Electromagnetic Energy and co-edited a book entitled Electromagnetic Biointeraction.

Dr. Gandhi was elected as a fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in 1997. He was the Chairman of the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Utah, from 1992 to 1999, the President of the Bioelectromagnetics Society from 1992 to 1993, the Co-Chairman of the IEEE SCC 28. IV Subcommittee on the RF Safety Standards from 1988 to 1997, and the Chairman of the IEEE Committee on Man and Radiation from 1980 to 1982. He received the d’Arsonval Medal of the Bioelectromagnetics Society for pioneering contributions to the field of bioelectromagnetics in 1995, the Microwave Pioneer Award of the IEEE MTTS in 2001, and the State of Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology in 2002.

“The SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) for a 10-year old is up to 153% higher than the SAR for the SAM model and MRI scans of children between 5 and 8 years of age and found approximately 2 times higher SAR in children compared to adults. When electrical properties are considered, a child’s head’s absorption can be over two times greater, and absorption of the skull’s bone marrow can be ten times greater than adults”

– O. P. Gandhi et al, 2012

“It is a fact that humans of all sizes and ages from children to older individuals are using cell phones, and testing for compliance testing for a 220 lb., 6 feet 2 inch tall adult male underestimates the actual energy absorbed by up to a factor of two, thus releasing into the market telephones that would not pass if a proper safety compliance testing method was used.”

- Dr. Om P. Gandhi Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in his FCC Submission

The We Are Not SAM movement is not based on opinion - it's backed by science and the leading independent scientists from around the world have a lot to say about this testing dummy called SAM.  Tune in to hear some of the mind-boggling insights from Om’s research, the specifics around the SAM test which has allowed mobile phones to proliferate the market with unsafe devices, the FDTD Method - an alternative solution to the SAM test which can detect radiation with precision, the antenna affect, why humans absorb radiation and act like a conductor + so much more!

Show notes:

1:58 – Why are they testing mobile phones on a plastic dummy, how it violates SAR (specific absorption rate) testing standards

7:39 –  As a professor, they can’t stop me publishing research

10:25 – Mobile phone tower proximity matters – a weak signal requires more radiation

12:54 – Uncovering different radiation absorption rates for children and adults

16:22 – Children 5-12 years are absorbing twice the amount of radiation compared to adults

31:10 – FDTD method, the alternative biological test for safety, why is this hidden?

33:26 – The Antenna Effect, why humans absorb radiation then act like a conductor

38:13 – Does the 5G technology have the potential to create human transmitters?

42:16 – Revealing studies conclude you should stay away from mobile phone towers

44:19 – Biggest health risks of 5G infrastructure is higher rates of cancer

49:00 – The FCC does not take long-term exposure into account

57:22 – "5G is being rolled out unnecessarily without proper testing, that’s a fact!"


Download and read Om Gandhi's 2012 research paper titled “Exposure Limits: The underestimation of absorbed cell phone radiation, especially in children

Link to more of Om Gandhi’s research papers

Watch Dr. Gandhi share his research showing children receive higher cell phone radiation exposures than adults + more details of his ground-breaking research.

To download this interview (mp3):


Sep 28, 2017

Does the FCC Adequately Enforce its Cell Phone Radiation Exposure Limits?

Last September, the Washington, DC law firm, Swankin & Turner, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that questioned whether the agency adequately enforced its cell phone radiation exposure limits.

The letter raised four areas of concern about current testing procedures and posed twelve specific questions.

One concern is that the FCC's two-decade-old cell phone testing procedures allow for a 30% margin of error. This means that a cell phone with a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) greater than 1.231 W/kg can actually exceed the FCC's exposure limit of 1.6 W/kg. The law firm's clients estimate that about 75% of the cell phones on the market may exceed the current exposure limits.

In 2012, the U.S. General Accountability Office, an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, presented a report to the FCC which raised concerns about the adequacy of cell phone testing procedures. The Commission has yet to address the GAO's concerns so it is unlikely that the FCC will provide a timely response to Swankin &Turner.

The FCC's lack of responsiveness to the Congress and to the American people is explained in a Harvard publication by Norm Alster, "Captured agency: How the Federal Communications Commission is dominated by the industries it presumably regulates."

Swankin & Turner sent the letter to the FCC on behalf of its clients -- The National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy and Environmental Health Trust.

The eleven page letter can be downloaded at:

June 19, 2017

Current Cell Phone Radiation Standards 
Do Not Protect Human Health

National and international regulatory limits for radiofrequency radiation (RFR) exposure from cell phones and cell towers are outdated according to Dr. Yuri Grigoriev. Moreover, the standards are inadequate to protect human health, especially the health of children and those who are hypersensitive to RFR.

Dr. Grigoriev calls for research on the biological effects of chronic exposure to low-intensity RFR in order to develop stronger RFR standards, “bearing in mind, above all, long-term exposure on the brain at all levels of development.”  He argues that until we adopt protective regulations, we should “provide the public with full information on the possible dangers of mobile communication for their health. “ 

Finally, he appeals to his colleagues “Do not sin against the truth!”

Dr. Grigoriev is the Chairman of the Russian National Committee on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (RNCNIRP), and  a member of the International Advisory Committee on Electromagnetic Fields and Health for the World Health Organization.

Following are excerpts from Dr. Grigoriev's book chapter and a link to download the document.

Grigoriev Y. “Methodology of Standards Development for EMF RF in Russia and by International Commissions: Distinctions in Approaches." In Markov, M (Ed.), Dosimetry in Bioelectromagnetics. Chapter 15. pp. 315-337. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis. 2017.


“The ultimate goal of electromagnetic field (EMF) standards is to protect human health. Exposure limits are intended to protect against adverse health effects of EMF exposure across the entire frequency range and modulation.”

“The Russian standard for base stations has already been in existence for more than 30 years and is more rigid than the maximum level recommended by the International Commission of Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). This distinction has been discussed at scientific meetings for many years—unfortunately, without result.
The second EMF source of mobile communication—the mobile phone—has no sufficient substantiation on exposure limits. The irradiation of a brain is not limited and is not supervised. The children using mobile phones are especially at high risk.”

“The first RF EMF standard for the population, SanPiN 848-70, was approved by the Ministry of Health of the USSR in 1970 and was considered for the population exposure limit of 1 μW/cm² in the microwave band of 300 MHz to 300 GHz. In 1978, the USSR  Ministry of Health approved the next SanPiN No. 1823-78. In this document, MPL for the population in the frequency range of 300 MHz to 300 GHz was set as 5 μW/cm².”

“Currently, three questions remain relevant for standardization: 
1. Are there nonthermal biological effects of low levels of RF EMF?
2. Is it possible that the irradiation of the population with RF EMF throughout human life leads to increased adverse biological effects?
3. Is there a “threshold” level of exposure to RF EMF, and if so how do we define it?”
“….These results together with numerous studies conducted by scientists from many countries provide direct evidence that RF EMF intensity of up to 10 mW/cm² may have a nonthermal mechanism of action.”

“There is evidence that RF EMF can cause development of tumors in the brain of mobile phone users after a 10–12 year “waiting period” (Hardell and Calberg, 2009). The term 'heavy users' that appeared in some publications linked the unfavorable bioeffects of the prolonged mobile phone use to accumulative processes of adverse biological effects.

It has been shown that after a single exposure to low-intensity RF EMF, certain changes in the brain EEG occur (Lukyanova, 1999, 2015). During the first hours after exposure, there is a restoration of bioelectrical activity of the brain, which indicates the insinuation of compensatory processes. Naturally, in these conditions, a repeated exposure might weaken compensatory processes and lead to development of the process of accumulation (Lukyanov et al., 2015).”

“The threshold level is the lowest level of exposure of the physical factor (EMF RF), below which the risk to public health does not exist, is introduced in analogy with the principles of ionizing radiation.  Given the complexity of this problem, we propose to determine the threshold level as a criterion for the body’s response to RF EMF exposure, but on the condition that this response should not be pathological. This reaction may be compensatory/ adaptive and should exist within the physiological range.”

“When determining the limit values for base stations, the RNCNIRP decided to leave the limit value for the general public of 10 μW/cm² unchanged, as it was set in 1984. This value was well justified by previous research, and so there was no need for changing it (Vinogradov and Dumanskiy, 1974, 1975; Shandala and Vinogradov, 1982; Shandala et al., 1983, 1985; Vinogradov and Naumenko, 1986; Vinogradov et al., 1999).

It is important to note that the MPL of 10 μW/cm² for the population has remained intact for more than 30 years. Previously, the standard was used only in Russia and the countries formerly in coalition with the Soviet Union. Now, MPLs of 10 μW/cm² or less are used as RF legal exposure limits or nonbinding recommendations for national, regional, urban, or sensitive areas for at least 20 countries worldwide (Figure 15.1).”

“The adoption of the standard in 2003 for the mobile phone in terms of formalizing requirements for methods of measuring the near field and for the establishment of a threshold for the evaluation of RF EMF exposure on brain function as a critical organ was not optimal….There was a proposal to use a safety factor of 5 and set to the cell phone MPL at 100 μW/cm² (Russian Standard, 2003—SanPiN 2.1.8/ It should be emphasized that SanPiN 2.1.8/, for the first time, introduced the recommendation to limit cell phone use for persons younger than 18 years as well as pregnant women.”

“The following factors allow us to conclude that the potential risk to the health of children who use mobile phones is very high:

– Absorption of electromagnetic energy by the head of a child is much higher than in the head of adults (children’s brain tissue has a higher conductivity, the size of the child’s head is smaller, and the skull bone of the child is thin).
– The distance from the antenna to the brain is short, because the child’s ear shell is very soft and has almost no layer of the cartilage.
– The child’s body is more sensitive to EMFs than adults.
– The child’s brain is more vulnerable to the effects of EMF.
– The brains of children have a greater propensity to accumulation of adverse reactions in the context of repeated exposures to EMF.
– EMF RF may have an adverse effect on cognitive functions.
– Today’s children use mobile phones at an early age and will continue to use them during their lifespan, and so the duration of the exposure of children to electromagnetic radiation will be substantially larger than that of modern adult users.”

“According to the members of the Russian National Committee of Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (RNCNIRP, 2008), some possible disorders that might originate in children who use mobile phones include weakened memory, decline of attention, reduction  of mental and cognitive abilities, irritability, sleep disturbance, tendency to stress reactions, and increased epileptic readiness.

It is also possible to expect the development of the adverse effects in older age as the result of the accumulation of adverse effects both in cells and in various functional systems of the body: brain tumors, tumors of the auditory and vestibular nerves (at age 25–30 years), Alzheimer’s disease, “dementia,” depressive syndrome, and other manifestations of degeneration of the nervous structures of the brain (at age 50–60 years).

Children users of mobile phones are not able to know that their brains are subjected to EMF, risking their health. This is a significant factor in moral ethics for parents. Also important is that the risk of EMF RF exposure is not less than the risk for children’s health from tobacco or alcohol.”

“Currently, international standards are developed by ICNIRP, IEEE, CENELEC, and other international and national commissions. Their methodology uses only the results of experimental animal studies obtained under the conditions of acute effects and thermal-level EMF RF (Bernhard, 1999).

Any standard safety margin depends on the predetermined threshold. Outside Russia, the threshold level is determined on the basis of “stable pathological reactions” in the conditions of acute exposure to RF EMF heat level (WHO Handbook, 2002).”

“Our long experience with ionizing and non-ionizing radiations led us to formulate the following postulate: “The development of hygiene standards for the population should take into account the actual conditions of EMF RF exposure of the population—local or total exposure, acute single exposure or chronic, constant, or repeated exposure; the functional importance of ‘critical organ’ or ‘critical body systems’; and effect on all population groups or only on certain limited groups of the population” (Grigoriev, 1997, 2008a).

Taking into account this postulate, we can make a clear conclusion that the Western standards do not meet the basic hygienic requirements …. Western regulations do not take into account events that occurred for the first time during the life of our civilization. Children who use mobile phones voluntarily irradiate their brains. This EMF RF exposure of the brain occurs every day, and the fractional exposure is projected for many years.

We criticized the Western standards because they do not correspond to the actual conditions of RF EMF exposure on the population (report in 2003 at an international seminar in China, Grigoriev et al., 2003b).”

“This analysis of the methodology of RF EMF regulation abroad allows us to conclude that the current so-called International Recommendations/Guidelines (ICNIRP, 1998) and the IEEE Standards (S95.1-2005), CENELEC (EN 50166-2.2000) do not correspond to existing conditions of RF EMF exposure on the population and cannot guarantee the safety of the public health.

Interestingly, this view was confirmed by the European Parliament in 2009 ….”

“We believe that it is necessary within the framework of the development problems of the methodology of EMF RF standards to specifically consider additional criteria for risk assessment related to the exposure of children to RF EMF who became active users of mobile phones.

Western experts working on new standards, completely ignoring the problem of childhood cell phone use do not take into account the WHO opinion on the higher sensitivity of children to environmental factors in the International standards: ‘children are different from adults.’

Children have a unique vulnerability. As they grow and develop, there are “windows of susceptibility”: periods when their organs and systems may be particularly sensitive to the effect of certain environmental threats (WHO, 2003).”

“The electromagnetic burden on the population is growing daily. At the same time, over the last 20 years, debates are still continuing on the following topic: Is the health of the population at risk because of increasing pollution due to RF EMF from the base stations and mobile phones?

The brains of almost all people on earth are exposed to EMF radiation. However, practically, there are no restrictions for the use of mobile communications. Having the advantages and convenience of mobile communication, the population is ignoring the information about the possible risks to their health. This threat affects everybody, including children aged 3–4 years. Pregnant women do not protect their fetuses from exposure to EMF.

The scientific community is watching this picture and is waiting for the results of this uncontrolled global experiment (Markov and Grigoriev, 2013). We saw similar hazards during the Victorian period in Britain (wallpaper with mercury and toys with lead).”

“…there are four postulates that show the risk to public health from mobile communication (Grigoriev, 2013). It is necessary to convince the population and to create an environment of reasonable restrictions on the use of this  communication.

The first postulate: ‘EMF—harmful type of radiation.’ Mobile communication uses RF EMF. This type of electromagnetic radiation is considered harmful. Exceeding the permissible levels can cause disease; therefore, it requires hygienic control. This is the absolute truth.

The second postulate: ‘The brain and EMF.’ The mobile phone is an open source of EMF, and there is no protection for valuable human organs. EMFs affect the brain during mobile phone use. Nerve structures inside the internal ear (the vestibular and the auditory apparatus) are located directly under the beam of EMF. This is the absolute truth.

The third postulate: ‘Children and EMF.’ For the first time, in history the child’s brain is subjected to RF EMF. There are no results of the study of chronic local RF EMF exposure on the brain. Children are more vulnerable to external environmental factors. This opinion was expressed by WHO (2003) and in the Parma Declaration (WHO European Region, 2010). This is the absolute truth.

Fourth postulate: ‘The lack of adequate recommendations/standards.’ There is no agreement on the methodology for determining the EMF RF remote control and for the development of international standards, and there are no results from 20 years of debate on this issue. This is a real fact.”

“I believe that the time has come to provide the public with full information on the possible dangers of mobile communication for their health. The abovementioned four postulates allow the public to comprehend the likely risks to their health from uncontrolled use of mobile communication.”

“I appeal to colleagues: Do not sin against the truth!”


“Of course, new sources of electromagnetic radiation are creating additional problems in the development of standards. Public health protection issues in connection with the use of mobile communications have become completely different. The use of mobile phones has led to the local long-term RF EMF exposure to the brain. The normative level is not considered a permanent RF EMF exposure on the brain of the user. Existing regulations do not address to the real hazard RF EMF exposure. Given these circumstances, standards cannot currently guarantee the well-being of adults and children.

Children mobile phone users were included in the group of high risk. In this regard, there is a need to develop more appropriate stringent standards to ensure absolute security for growing children. Existing standards should take into consideration the vulnerable group of people hypersensitive to RF EMF.

Given that the current regulations are outdated, it is necessary to carry out complex research into possible biological effects on conditions of chronic exposure to low-intensity EMF RF, bearing in mind, above all, long-term exposure on the brain at all levels of development.

As a temporary measure of limiting exposure to EMF on the population, it is necessary to introduce the concept of “voluntary risk”; that is, mobile telephony should be a product of self-selection on the background of the official public information about possible health hazards.”

The document can be downloaded from the Radiation Research Trust:

June 23, 2014

What's Wrong with Cell Phone Radiation 
Exposure Limits?

In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a cell phone radiation exposure limit based upon a measure called the Specific Absorption Rate or SAR.  A SAR testing procedure was developed that is applied to all cell phones sold in the U.S.

In the U.S and about a half dozen other countries, cell phones are allowed to have a maximum SAR of 1.6 watts per kilogram of tissue averaged over one gram of tissue.  Many countries, however, adopted a more permissive standard, that was developed by a self-appointed body, known as the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection or ICNIRP. The ICNIRP standard allows for up to 2.0 watts per kilogram of tissue averaged over ten grams of tissue. 

Recent studies have determined that the head can absorb 2-3 times the radiation from a phone based on the ICNIRP standard as compared to the U.S. standard. Nonetheless, the cell phone industry in the U.S. has been lobbying the FCC to adopt the ICNIRP standard using the euphemism, "harmonization," to justify this weakening of the regulatory standard.

Considerable research, however, suggests that both the U.S. and ICNIRP standards do not adequately protect us from health risks due to exposure to cell phone radiation. The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) and testing procedures are based upon four fallacies:

1) The SAR standards assume that a thermal (or heating) effect is the only way that microwave radiation emitted by cell phones can harm tissue.

However, many studies have found that exposure to low-intensity, microwave radiation at non-thermal levels where there is no measurable temperature change can produce DNA damage, reactive oxygen species, and stress proteins, and can alter brain activity and open the blood-brain-barrier. The SAR standards do not protect mobile device users from these non-thermal effects.

2) The standards are based upon averaging cell phone radiation exposure over one or ten grams of tissue and over time.

However, peak exposures and/or "hot spots" which damage tissue are not considered.

3) The standards only consider the immediate, acute effects of cell phone radiation exposure.

However, chronic effects due to long-term exposure are ignored.

4) The SAR test procedure uses a Specific Anthropomorphic Mannequin (SAM) which simulates a very large man's head and body.

The standards do not address exposure to fetuses, children, or women, different tissue types, or metallic objects worn on the body that influence the absorption of radiation (e.g., metal eye glasses, earrings, or dental braces).  Research indicates that a child's brain absorbs 2-3 times the radiation of an adult's brain.


Evaluation of Specific Absorption Rate as a Dosimetric Quantity for Electromagnetic Fields Bioeffects

DJ Panagopoulos, O Johansson, GL Carlo. Evaluation of Specific Absorption Rate as a Dosimetric Quantity for Electromagnetic Fields Bioeffects. PLoS One. 2013; 8(6): e62663. Published online 2013 Jun 4. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0062663


Purpose  To evaluate SAR as a dosimetric quantity for EMF bioeffects, and identify ways for increasing the precision in EMF dosimetry and bioactivity assessment.

Methods  We discuss the interaction of man-made electromagnetic waves with biological matter and calculate the energy transferred to a single free ion within a cell. We analyze the physics and biology of SAR and evaluate the methods of its estimation. We discuss the experimentally observed non-linearity between electromagnetic exposure and biological effect.

Results  We find that: a) The energy absorbed by living matter during exposure to environmentally accounted EMFs is normally well below the thermal level. b) All existing methods for SAR estimation, especially those based upon tissue conductivity and internal electric field, have serious deficiencies. c) The only method to estimate SAR without large error is by measuring temperature increases within biological tissue, which normally are negligible for environmental EMF intensities, and thus cannot be measured.

Conclusions  SAR actually refers to thermal effects, while the vast majority of the recorded biological effects from man-made non-ionizing environmental radiation are non-thermal. Even if SAR could be accurately estimated for a whole tissue, organ, or body, the biological/health effect is determined by tiny amounts of energy/power absorbed by specific biomolecules, which cannot be calculated. Moreover, it depends upon field parameters not taken into account in SAR calculation. Thus, SAR should not be used as the primary dosimetric quantity, but used only as a complementary measure, always reporting the estimating method and the corresponding error. Radiation/field intensity along with additional physical parameters (such as frequency, modulation etc) which can be directly and in any case more accurately measured on the surface of biological tissues, should constitute the primary measure for EMF exposures, in spite of similar uncertainty to predict the biological effect due to non-linearity.


For further information about the FCC review of the SAR exposure limits in the U.S. see ...

FCC Needs Input on Radio Frequency Radiation

Does The FCC Plan To Rubber Stamp Outdated Cell Phone Radiation Standards?

Comments submitted to FCC re: "FCC Proposes Changes in the Commission's Rules and Procedures Regarding Human Exposure to RadioFrequency Electromagnetic Energy" (Proceeding Number 03-137), Feb 5, 2013

What's Wrong with the GAO Report on Cell Phone Radiation?

Monday, November 14, 2022

How the FCC Shields Cellphone Companies from Safety Concerns (ProPublica)

Peter Elkind. How the FCC Shields Cellphone Companies From Safety Concerns. ProPublica, November 10, 2022. This story was originally published by ProPublica. Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

by Peter Elkind, ProPublica, Nov. 10, 2022

The health complaints started rolling in within weeks of the activation of a new cellphone tower in August 2020 in Pittsfield, an old factory town in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains. Seventeen residents reported headaches, dizziness, insomnia or confusion. A few children had to sleep with “vomit buckets” by their beds.

Like many people, Bobbie Orsi had never paid close attention to questions about the health effects of cellphone technology. She mostly viewed it as an issue that had long ago been put to rest. But after becoming the chair of Pittsfield’s Board of Health as the complaints emerged, Orsi, a 66-year-old registered nurse who had spent much of her career in public health, decided to educate herself. She combed through a stack of research studies. She watched webinars. She grilled a dozen scientists and doctors.

Over several months, Orsi went from curious, to concerned, to convinced, first, that radio-frequency emissions from Verizon’s 115-foot 4G tower were to blame for the problems in Pittsfield, and second, that growing evidence of harm from cellphones — everything from effects on fertility and fetal development to associations with cancer — has been downplayed in the United States.

Orsi and the Pittsfield board decided to try to do something about Verizon’s tower. They quickly discovered that they would get no help from federal regulators. The Federal Communications Commission, which has responsibility for protecting Americans from potential radiation hazards generated by wireless transmitters and cellphones, has repeatedly sided with the telecom industry in denying the possibility of virtually any human harm.

Worse, from Orsi’s perspective, federal law and FCC rules are so aligned with the industry that state and local governments are barred from taking action to block cell towers to protect the health of their citizens, even as companies are explicitly empowered to sue any government that tries to take such an action. It turned out that Verizon, in such matters, has more legal rights than the people of Pittsfield.

Still, the lawyers for Orsi and her colleagues thought they saw a long-shot legal opening: They would argue that the FCC’s exclusive oversight role applied only to approving cell tower sites, not to health problems triggered after one was built and its transmitters switched on. In April 2022, the Pittsfield Health Board issued an emergency cease-and-desist order directing Verizon to shut down the tower as a “public nuisance” and “cause of sickness” that “renders dwellings unfit for human habitation.” (Several families had abandoned their homes.) The order was the first of its kind in the country. It was, Orsi said, “a gutsy move — maybe naively gutsy.”

Almost as quickly as the battle began, it ended. On May 10, Verizon sued the city in federal court. The company contended that the Pittsfield residents’ medical complaints were bogus. And, in any case, Verizon argued, the cease-and-desist order was barred because federal law gave the FCC the sole power to regulate wireless-radiation risks. Fearing a hopeless and costly David-and-Goliath battle, Pittsfield’s City Council refused to fund the fight. A month later, the Board of Health withdrew its cease-and-desist order.

But it was a signal of a growing fear — other cities have fought cell sites only to be forced to back down — and evidence of a striking shoulder-to-shoulder partnership between a federal agency and the industry it is supposed to regulate. The build-out of a new generation of wireless networks, known as 5G, is amping up the stakes of this conflict for localities across America. It will require an estimated 800,000 new base stations, including both towers and densely spaced “small cell” transmitters mounted on rooftops and street poles. That means nearly tripling the current number of transmitters, and many of them will be placed close to houses and apartments.

The FCC has held firm to its position that there’s no reason for concern. In a statement for this article, a spokesperson said the agency “takes safety issues very seriously” but declined to make officials available for on-the-record interviews.

The FCC is an improbable organization to serve the role of protecting humans. It specializes in technical issues that make the communications system function, not in health and safety. “At the FCC, they feel like this is really not their problem,” said Edwin Mantiply, who dealt with cellphone-radiation issues before retiring from the agency four years ago. “It’s not their job to do this kind of thing. They might have a token biologist or two, but that’s not their job.” The result, Mantiply said, was that in situations where the science isn’t black and white — and it isn’t when it comes to cellphones — the agency tended to listen to the telecom industry, which vehemently insists that cellphones are safe. “They don’t really want to deal with uncertainty,” Mantiply said of the FCC.

In the view of Mantiply and a rising number of scientists, there’s more than enough evidence about cellphone risks to be concerned — and some of the strongest evidence comes from the federal government itself. In 2018, a massive, nearly-two-decade study by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, found “clear evidence” that cellphone radiation caused cancer in lab animals. “We’re really in the middle of a paradigm shift,” said Linda Birnbaum, who was director of the NTP until 2019. It’s no longer right to assume cellphones are safe, she said. “Protective policy is needed today. We really don’t need more science to know that we should be reducing exposures.”

The FCC rejected the need for any such action when it reviewed its standards on cellphone radiation in 2019. The agency decided it would continue to rely on exposure limits it established in 1996, when Motorola’s StarTAC flip phone was considered cutting edge.

The way the FCC went about reexamining its standards so dismayed a federal appeals court that, in 2021, it excoriated the agency for what it called a “cursory analysis.” The court accused it of “brushing off” evidence of potential harm and failing to explain its reasoning. The agency’s “silence,” the court said, left unclear whether the government even “considered any of the evidence in the record.” The appeals court ordered the agency to revisit the adequacy of its safeguards.

All this has left Orsi frustrated. Petite and intense, she has been through these sorts of fights before. Years ago, with the eventual support of the Environmental Protection Agency, she helped push General Electric to clean up the toxic chemicals it had dumped in Pittsfield.

Now she feels powerless. “The Board of Health has a mandate to protect the citizens of Pittsfield,” she said. “But the bottom line is the FCC has made it impossible for us to do anything. If a company can come in and do something to make people sick, and the Board of Health has no authority to act, that’s ludicrous.”

To see how completely the U.S. telecom industry has prevailed in the rhetorical war over cellphone safety so far, consider this example. In February 2019, near the end of a hearing largely devoted to extolling the wonders of 5G technology, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked representatives of two wireless industry trade groups what sort of research the industry was funding on the biological effects of 5G, which remains largely untested. “There are no industry-backed studies, to my knowledge, right now,” replied Brad Gillen of the CTIA (originally called the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association). “I’m not aware of any,” replied Steve Berry of the Competitive Carriers Association.

Wireless companies maintain that cellphones and base stations operating within the FCC’s exposure limits pose no proven risk. A CTIA spokesperson wrote in a statement, “The consensus of the international scientific community is that radiofrequency energy from wireless devices and networks, including 5G, has not been shown to cause health problems.” Included in that list was the National Cancer Institute. The spokesperson also said the industry is in favor of additional science. (Verizon itself declined to comment on the record for this article.)

In a September 2021 meeting with Pittsfield’s Board of Health, for example, Verizon’s chief expert was a University of Pittsburgh theoretical physics professor named Eric Swanson. He testified that wireless radiation is far too weak to cause cancer or any of the problems the Pittsfield residents were reporting. He suggested they have psychological problems.

Fears of radio-frequency radiation, Swanson declared in the videotaped meeting, are based entirely on “fringe opinion,” backed only by cherry-picked evidence. Swanson said he’d spotted one such study on “an Alex Jones website” and voiced exasperation: “This is the kind of stuff I have to deal with.” Concerns about wireless radiation, he said, are at odds with the overwhelming scientific consensus. “All international bodies,” he said, “declare cellphones to be safe.”

The FCC has been similarly scornful. In a June 2020 Washington Post op-ed, Thomas Johnson, general counsel for the agency during the administration of President Donald Trump, wrote: “Conjectures about 5G’s effect on human health are long on panic and short on science.” Johnson has since decamped to a law firm that represents telecom companies. (Johnson declined requests for comment.)

“It’s a slog at the moment to convince people this isn’t just crazy stuff,” said Louis Slesin, an MIT-trained environmental policy Ph.D. and the editor of Microwave News, an industry newsletter that has chronicled the wireless-radiation debate for four decades. “This is part of the organized campaign to devalue the science, with the government as a co-conspirator. The other really important factor is nobody wants to hear this because everybody loves the technology. If you shut down people’s phones, the country would come to a stop.”

But a growing body of international research asserts that there is reason to worry about harms — many of them unrelated to cancer — from wireless radiation. Henry Lai, an emeritus professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington, has compiled a database of 1,123 peer-reviewed studies published since 1990 investigating biological effects from wireless-radiation exposure. Some 77% have found “significant” effects, according to Lai. By contrast, an earlier review by Lai found that 72% of industry-sponsored studies reported no biological effects.

One branch of research has studied radiation impacts on test animals, mostly rats and mice, but also guinea pigs, rabbits and cows. Another has examined epidemiological patterns, looking for health effects on human groups, such as heavy long-term cellphone users or people living near cellphone towers. Studies have found impacts on fertility, fetal development, DNA, memory function and the nervous system, as well as an association with an array of cancers. Several investigations reported a significantly increased risk of brain tumors, called gliomas, among the heaviest cellphone users. And the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, in 2011 classified wireless radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

Individual studies underline the value of simple precautions, which include using a headset or speaker and keeping the phone away from direct contact with your body. In 2009, Ashok Agarwal, director of research at the Cleveland Clinic’s American Center for Reproductive Medicine, found that exposing human semen to cellphone radiation for an hour caused a “significant decrease” in sperm motility and viability, impairing male fertility. He advises patients to avoid carrying phones in their pants pockets.

Epidemiological studies show a rise in behavioral disorders among children whose mothers were heavy cellphone users while pregnant, while lab research found hyperactivity and reduced memory in mice exposed in the womb to cellphone radiation. “The evidence is really, really strong now that there is a causal relationship between cellphone radiation exposure and behavior issues in children,” said Dr. Hugh Taylor, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Yale School of Medicine and past president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The period of fetal brain development is a “very vulnerable time,” he said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has written that the FCC’s safeguards “do not account for the unique vulnerability and use patterns specific to pregnant women and children.” It urged the agency to adopt measures “protective of children,” warning that their thinner skulls leave them “disproportionately impacted” by cellphone radiation, and called for better consumer disclosure about exposure risks.

Both the FCC and Food and Drug Administration websites dismiss the existence of any special health risk to children. And the agencies don’t counsel people to limit their exposure. Instead they list safety steps, while insisting they’re really not necessary. The FCC’s “Wireless Devices and Health Concerns” page, for example, notes that “some parties” recommend safety measures, “even though no scientific evidence currently establishes a definitive link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses.” It then states, in bold: “The FCC does not endorse the need for these practices.” Only then does it list “some simple steps that you can take to reduce your exposure” to radio-frequency energy from cellphones.

Efforts in the U.S. to promote awareness of wireless-radiation risks have sparked fierce industry resistance. In 2014, the CDC added this modest language to its website: “Along with many organizations worldwide, we recommend caution in cellphone use.” An influential industry consultant emailed the CDC within days, as a public-records request later revealed, complaining that “changes are truly needed” in the CDC’s language. The agency quickly softened its warning, which now says: “Some organizations recommend caution in cellphone use.”

The industry’s main trade group, CTIA, has beaten back local consumer-disclosure measures. For example, in 2015, CTIA sued Berkeley, California, after its City Council passed an ordinance requiring retailers to post a safety notice warning customers that carrying a cellphone tucked in a pocket or bra might expose them to excessive radiation. (This was based on FCC guidelines, typically buried in small-print information included with new phones, that phones shouldn’t be kept in direct contact with the head or body.) A five-year legal battle, including a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court, ensued. It ended after the FCC weighed in, saying the ordinance interfered with its exclusive authority by “over-warning” consumers and frightening them “into believing that RF emissions from FCC-certified cellphones are unsafe.” With that, the judge ruled against the city.

“The industry doesn’t want you to pay any attention to that stuff because that just creates anxiety among users,” said Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California-Berkeley, who advised the city in its fight. “They want you to think these devices are perfectly safe.”

By contrast, more than 20 foreign governments have adopted protective measures or recommended precautions. France requires new phones to be sold with headsets and written guidance on limiting radiation exposures; it also bans phones marketed to small children and ads aimed at anyone younger than 14. Greece and Switzerland routinely monitor radio-frequency radiation levels throughout the country. Britain, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, India and South Korea urge citizens to limit both their own exposure and cellphone use by children. The European Environment Agency does too, noting: “There is sufficient evidence of risk to advise people, especially children, not to place the handset against their heads.”

When the FCC’s rules on radio-frequency emissions from phones and transmitters were adopted 26 years ago, just 1 in 6 Americans owned cellphones, which they typically used for short periods. Today, 97% of adults own a cellphone, and they use the device for an average of five hours a day. More than half of children under 12 own a smartphone.

Then and now, the FCC’s rules targeted just one health hazard: the possibility that wireless radiation can cause immediate “thermal” damage, by overheating skin the way a microwave oven heats food. Most experts agree that risk is nonexistent under any but the most unusual circumstances.

Meanwhile, the FCC doesn’t even consider “biological” impacts: the possibility that wireless exposure, even at levels well below the FCC limits, can cause an array of human health problems, as well as harm to animals and the environment. The FCC’s approach matches the industry’s long-standing position: that wireless radiation is simply too weak to cause any nonheating damage.

Of course, the wireless industry has every incentive to take this position. Going back to the 1990s, the industry has recognized the financial peril posed by health concerns over radiation, and it has pressed the public and government to reject them altogether.

In 1994, for example, Motorola swung into action when it learned of troubling research by Lai and a University of Washington colleague, Narendra Singh, who found that two hours of exposure to modest levels of wireless radiation damaged DNA in the brains of lab rats. Such changes can lead to cancerous tumors.

Motorola’s then-PR chief described a strategy to discredit the findings in a pair of memos that were later leaked to Microwave News. Motorola’s approach would serve as a template for the industry’s response to troublesome research over the three decades that followed. The researchers’ methodology would be challenged for raising “too many uncertainties” to justify any conclusions. The scientists’ credibility would be questioned and their findings dismissed as irrelevant. Finally, friendly academics, “willing and able to reassure the public on these matters,” would be recruited to rebut the findings. (At the time, Motorola defended its conduct as the “essence of sound science and corporate responsibility” and affirmed that there was “a sound scientific basis for public confidence in the safety of cellular telephones.”)

Doubters in the government would be neutralized too. As the FCC moved toward adopting wireless-radiation limits in 1996, EPA officials, whose experts had conducted the most extensive government research on wireless-radiation risk, affirmed their concern about possible biological harm in a presentation to the FCC. They urged the FCC to follow a two-stage strategy: to meet a looming congressional deadline by first setting interim limits covering known thermal effects; then to commission a group of experts to study biological risks and develop permanent exposure guidelines.

But the FCC never pursued “Phase 2.” Instead, just months later, Congress completed a multiyear defunding of the EPA’s wireless-radiation group, sidelining the agency from researching the issue. This left most independent study of the issue to scientists in other countries. At the EPA, a lone radio-frequency radiation expert named Norbert Hankin remained, periodically rankling the wireless industry by publicly rebutting “the generalization by many that the [FCC] guidelines protect human beings from harm by any or all mechanisms.”

Going forward, the FCC, which has no in-house health or medical expertise of its own, would increasingly rely on the FDA and industry-influenced technical organizations. (The FDA itself has collaborated with the CTIA, the wireless industry trade group, to study cellphone safety. That research found “no association” between exposure to “cell phones and adverse health effects.”)

Still, there was enough concern among government scientists from multiple agencies that, in 1999, the FDA asked the NTP to “assess the risk to human health.” The NTP conducts detailed lab studies, typically on rodents, to evaluate environmental hazards. Its findings, widely regarded as the gold standard for toxicology work, routinely prompt federal public-health actions.

The FDA requested that the NTP conduct its own animal experiments, which were “crucial” to assess cancer risk because of the long delay between human exposure to a carcinogen and a tumor diagnosis. As an FDA memo put it, “There is currently insufficient scientific basis for concluding either that wireless communication technologies are safe or that they pose a risk to millions of users.”

The NTP study was the biggest the agency had ever conducted and lasted over a decade. It used an unusually large number of rats and mice — some 3,000 — and involved both setting up a lab in Chicago and designing and constructing special radiation-exposure chambers for the rodents in Switzerland. The final report was released in November 2018.

The results were dramatic. The study found “clear evidence” of rare cancerous heart tumors, called schwannomas, in male rats; “some evidence” of tumors in their brains and adrenal glands; and signs of DNA damage. The percentage that developed tumors was small, but, as the study’s authors noted earlier, “Given the extremely large number of people who use wireless communication devices, even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure” could have “broad implications for public health.”

The federal government’s scientists had spoken. But the parts of the government charged with following the science and protecting people responded (in the case of the FCC) by publicly ignoring the results or (in the case of the FDA) pooh-poohing them. The study changed nothing, said Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, and the chief official advising the FCC on wireless issues, in a statement at the time of the study’s release. Shuren disputed several key findings and asserted that the study “was not designed to test the safety of cellphone use in humans,” even though his own agency had commissioned it specifically for that reason. He added: “We believe the existing safety limits for cellphones remain acceptable for protecting the public health.” (An FDA spokesperson said Shuren declined to comment.)

The NTP findings, combined with similar results that year from the Ramazzini research institute in Italy and other studies, demanded a strong response, according to three long-time former government experts who spoke to ProPublica. “It should have been the game-changer,” added Moskowitz, the Berkeley public-health researcher.

The former government officials believe the NTP findings should have led to a detailed statistical risk assessment by federal health agencies, spelling out the possible incidence of cancer in the general population; development of stricter FCC limits to address biological risks; prominent user warnings detailing simple steps people should take to minimize their exposure; and dramatically increased research funding.

None of that happened. “Their conclusion was, ‘Oh, there was nothing going on,’” said Birnbaum, the NTP’s then-director and a toxicologist. “Many of us found that very hard to believe.”

Today Birnbaum, who retired in 2019 after 40 years with government health agencies, is tempered in her assessment of the evidence. “Do I see a smoking gun? Not per se. But do I see smoke? Absolutely. There’s enough data now to say that things can happen.” Birnbaum said the NTP results should have triggered a consumer advisory akin to “the black-box warning on a drug, to say this has been associated to possibly cause cancer.”

Even as the NTP study was happening, the FCC in 2013 had been prodded by a Government Accountability Office report to review its radio-frequency exposure limit, unchanged since 1996. “We recognize that a great deal of scientific research has been completed in recent years and new research is currently underway, warranting a comprehensive examination,” the FCC wrote, in opening its inquiry.

Over the six years that followed, 1,200 comments poured into the FCC’s docket, including scores of studies (and a briefing on the NTP findings); appeals for stronger protections signed by hundreds of international scientists; and 170 personal accounts of “electro-sensitivity” radiation sickness, similar to the complaints in Pittsfield, resulting from neighborhood cell towers. An Interior Department letter voiced concern about the impact of radiation from towers on migrating birds, noting that the FCC’s limits “continue to be based on thermal heating, a criterion now nearly 30 years out of date and inapplicable today.”

The FCC was overwhelmed by the flood of comments, according to Mantiply, the agency official most involved in radio-frequency issues during this period. “We didn’t have the resources to even read all the comments,” he told ProPublica.

Mantiply thought higher-ups were ignoring the issue. “There was really nothing being done on it,” he said. “The inquiry was just on a back burner, and the back burner was turned off.” So Mantiply, a soft-spoken physical scientist, decided to take action. In 2017, as the FCC’s review of its wireless standards entered its fourth year, he said, he and three colleagues proposed hiring an outside consulting firm to conduct an environmental assessment, a detailed formal examination, of the submissions on the radiation safety limits. But their boss, Julius Knapp, the head of the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology, summarily rejected the proposal, according to Mantiply. “He said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’ He let us know in no uncertain terms. He just rejected it in a single meeting.”

(Knapp, who is now retired, declined to comment on the record. FCC officials, through a spokesperson, declined requests to discuss the matter. Former FCC engineer Walter Johnston, one of the colleagues Mantiply identified as backing his proposal, said he didn’t remember it ever being presented as a “formal recommendation.”)

Mantiply’s proposal came at a time when the Trump White House and FCC commissioners were aggressively promoting 5G. FCC leadership was “not really thrilled with us pushing these inquiries,” Mantiply said. “They just felt like it’d get a lot of attention, that it would be in The Washington Post.”

On his final day at the FCC in August 2018, as he was retiring after 42 years in government, Mantiply raised the issue with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during a brief courtesy visit. “Don’t dismiss all this stuff because you’re hearing from industry, and they’re dismissing it,” Mantiply told her. “There’s uncertainty, and we don’t know what’s going on. It’s a very, very difficult problem.” Rosenworcel, he said, listened politely.

Fifteen months later, the FCC voted unanimously to shut down its review after six years. There was no need to change anything, the commissioners concluded. After examining the record, the FCC declared in a written order, it had seen no evidence that the science underlying its standards was “outdated or insufficient to protect human safety.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., disagreed. Responding to a pair of lawsuits filed by the Environmental Health Trust and other activist groups, the court ruled in August 2021 that the FCC had failed to meet “even the low threshold of reasoned analysis” in finding that its limits “adequately protect against the harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation unrelated to cancer.” (The FCC had responded sufficiently to fears that wireless radiation causes cancer, the judges wrote.)

It was a striking rebuke, given the judiciary’s practice of offering agency decisions a high degree of deference, especially on technical matters. The court wrote that it was taking “no position in the scientific debate” on wireless radiation’s effects, but it was scornful of the FCC’s heavy reliance on three “conclusory” statements from the FDA about safety. In oral argument, one judge also challenged the FCC’s claim that an interagency working group was closely monitoring concerns about wireless exposure on the FCC’s behalf; in fact, the group hadn’t met since 2018.

The FCC’s actions, the court wrote, waved off any concern about protections for children and ignored “substantive evidence of potential environmental harms.” And the FCC had said nothing about the potential impacts of the many technological changes, including 5G, that had taken place since 1996. “Ultimately,” the court wrote, “the Commission’s order remains bereft of any explanation as to why, in light of the studies in the record, its guidelines remain adequate.”

With that, the court sent the issue back to the FCC, for either a fresh review of its 26-year-old standard or better explanations to justify it. In the 15 months since, the FCC, now led by Rosenworcel, who was elevated by President Joe Biden, has taken no formal action.

In its statement to ProPublica, the FCC said it is exploring “next steps” with its “federal partners.” However, the FDA, the FCC’s chief partner on health concerns, said in its own statement that it is not currently working with the FCC on any response to the court ruling. There’s been no visible sign of any preliminary FCC steps, according to four lawyers and representatives of the environmental groups that brought the court challenge.

In the past few years, with the appearance of more neighborhood cell towers and transmitters, pressure has begun to rise on this issue beyond environmental groups, longtime activists and officials in liberal jurisdictions. In November 2020, a bipartisan state commission in New Hampshire charged with investigating 5G issued a detailed report concluding that wireless radiation “poses a significant threat to human health and the environment.” Among its recommendations: that all new cell towers be at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) from any residence, school or business. And in April, Mark Gordon, the Republican governor of Wyoming, wrote to Rosenworcel, urging the agency to reexamine its radiation limits based on “current scientific research” to make sure “the health and safety of our citizens is prioritized.”

In Pittsfield, Orsi and her colleagues on the board have grown resigned to their inability to take action against Verizon. Reactions have varied around town. One group of affected neighbors is waging its own separate long-shot legal battle with the company. Others are coping with dark humor. Before Halloween, the local daily suggested dressing up as a cellphone tower to “strike fear in the heart of your neighbors.” Nobody in Pittsfield is holding out hope that the federal government will intervene.

“It’s very natural for the FCC to listen to the industry,” said Mantiply, the former agency staffer. “That’s their audience and who they deal with most of the time.” But, he added, “They’re answering to industry more than anything.”