House Democrats asked the federal government to examine if more research is needed on cell phone safety Wednesday, following a World Health Organization announcement that they might cause a certain type of cancer.
The WHO designation has reignited flagging interest in cell phone safety on Capitol Hill, prompting House Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., to ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate what research is needed.
“Ten years ago, I requested that the Government Accountability Office produce a report on the status of research about the safety of mobile phone use. The conclusion at that time was not far off from where we find ourselves today: More research remains to be done,” Markey said in a statement.
Eshoo said the letter was a first step to identify if funding for research is needed. She said questions from constituents would fuel greater attention in Washington. The WHO announcement received front-page coverage across the country.
“First we need to get the ball rolling, and if there’s a need for resources, then we can request them,” Eshoo told National Journal Daily. “I really think this is going to be a growing question on part of constituents—what do we know? Can it be depended on? Is there really a risk? We have a responsibility to secure that information for them.”
Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, held the last hearing on the topic in 2009. Several federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, monitor the long-term health effects of cell phones through an ad hoc committee. Both agencies maintain that research is needed on health effects, but only one government-funded study is operating in the United States and results are not expected until 2014.
In Tuesday’s announcement, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC, said there is some evidence that cell phone use may cause gliomas, a class of brain tumor. While the WHO agency doesn’t say they do cause cancer, it says the question needs close study.
The statement reverses WHO’s years-long stand that there is no evidence linking cellphone use with cancer. It puts cell phones on a par with caffeine and talcum powder, both of which have potential links with cancer without definitive evidence.
Incidence of brain tumors, which only account for about 1 percent of malignant cancers in the United States, has fallen in recent years.
This article appears in the June 2, 2011 edition of NJ Daily.