The Food and Drug Administration, in what that federal regulatory agency calls a “talk paper,” yesterday recommended temporarily limiting the use of handheld cellular telephones until their level of safety can be determined. The agency emphasized that there was no proof of any danger, but the statement also pointed out that there was not enough evidence yet to determine that cellular phones were definitely safe.

In its statement the FDA recommended that users of handheld cellular units restrict their use of the phones, when possible make more use of remote antenna telephones (such as car phones or transportables whose antennas are usually a foot or more from the body as opposed to only an inch or two with handheld units), and use standard telephones for long conversations.

Although some people would automatically expect such a report to come from the Federal Communications Commission because that agency licenses the use of radio frequencies, the FCC is concerned with and regulates interference with other services rather than safety; that is why the FCC certification on a computer is not a substitute for the UL electrical safety certification carried by some better systems.

The Food and Drug Administration is one of the federal agencies charged with determining the safety of various products and the National Cancer Institute is currently running a new study on the effects of radio frequency electromagnetic fields on humans.

Thursday’s “talk paper” from the FDA does not take any stand on the safety or non-safety of cellular phones; it is merely official recognition of the fact that this safety question is not, as some in the industry would have users believe, a mere case of hysteria unsupported by any evidence.

What it does emphasize is that whether or not handheld cellular phone radiation can cause cancer is still an open question and not a cut- and-dried judgment.

Although industry representatives are trying to put a good face on this report from the FDA, saying that it should calm fears among the public, the fact that the report recommended limiting use of the handheld cellular telephones will only add fuel to the ongoing controversy.

The Food and Drug Administration, in what that federal regulatory agency calls a “talk paper,” yesterday recommended temporarily limiting the use of handheld cellular telephones until their level of safety can be determined. The agency emphasized that there was no proof of any danger, but the statement also pointed out that there was not enough evidence yet to determine that cellular phoneswere definitely safe.

In its statement the FDA recommended that users of handheld cellular units restrict their use of the phones, when possible make more use of remote antenna telephones (such as car phones or transportables whose antennas are usually a foot or more from the body as opposed to only an inch or two with handheld units), and use standard telephones for long conversations.

Although some people would automatically expect such a report to come from the Federal Communications Commission because that agency licenses the use of radio frequencies, the FCC is concerned with and regulates interference with other services rather than safety; that is why the FCC certification on a computer is not a substitute for the UL electrical safety certification carried by some better systems.

The Food and Drug Administration is one of the federal agencies charged with determining the safety of various products and the National Cancer Institute is currently running a new study on the effects of radio frequency electromagnetic fields on humans.

Thursday’s “talk paper” from the FDA does not take any stand on the safety or non-safety of cellular phones; it is merely official recognition of the fact that this safety question is not, as some in the industry would have users believe, a mere case of hysteria unsupported by any evidence.

What it does emphasize is that whether or not handheld cellular phone radiation can cause cancer is still an open question and not a cut- and-dried judgment.

Although industry representatives are trying to put a good face on this report from the FDA, saying that it should calm fears among the public, the fact that the report recommended limiting use of the handheld cellular telephones will only add fuel to the ongoing controversy.