The Jackson Hole-based Environmental Health Trust has won what it calls a “historic” lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission.
On Friday, Aug. 13, the 9th District Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., the country’s second-highest court, ruled in favor of the nonprofit and its fellow petitioners. They argued that the federal agency had not taken into account new scientific evidence in drafting guidelines for exposure to radiation from cellphones and cell towers.
The last time the FCC updated its guidelines for safe levels of radiation exposure was 1996.
Environmental Health Trust Executive Director Devra Davis opened a Monday press conference by listing a few events from 1996: Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were early in their Hall of Fame careers; a gallon of gas cost $1.23.
“Times have changed, but the FCC has not,” Davis said.
The crux of the case rested on the argument that the agency had ignored recent scientific evidence, based on animal studies, that radiation can increase risks for diseases like cancer and childhood health problems for in-utero children, especially at levels emitted by 4G and 5G devices and infrastructure. In 2013, the agency asked for comment regarding the guidance and whether the science had changed in the intervening years, but it decided in 2019 to keep the 1996 guidance in place.
The Environmental Health Trust challenged that decision, and the appeals court sided with the nonprofit. The court said the decision not to restart the rule-making process and update the guidance needed to be “reasoned,” and that the FCC had failed to meet that standard.
In the ruling, the court called the radiation rules too complicated for it to set them, but it did say the agency must in good faith review the science once again and provide its reasoning for changes or a decision to stick with the 1996 guidance.
Dr. Hugh Taylor, chair of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine, talked about his research, which he said found damage to mice that were exposed to radiation from cellphones in utero. Applying the findings to humans, he said pregnant women should limit their cellphone use or exposure because it is unclear how long it might take for the FCC to update the guidance.
“We can’t wait for this to work through the courts and through rethinking these broad federal regulatory processes,” he said. “I think we need to act now.”