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FCC Seeks to Reassess RF Exposure Limits


On March 27, the FCC released a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and a Notice of Inquiry (ET Docket Nos. 13-84 and 03-137). The documents seek to reassess the FCC’s RF exposure limits and policies, as well as to propose changes to the FCC’s rules regarding human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields. These proposed changes would affect the Amateur Radio Service (Part 97) rules.

In the 201-page document, the FCC noted that “[p]eriodic review of the government’s rules and regulations to ensure they have kept pace with current knowledge and changing needs is an important characteristic of good government, and we here will advance the process of providing a comprehensive review and modification, where appropriate, of this Commission’s various rules pertaining to the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements for environmental reviews, specifically those reviews related to health and safety of radiofrequency (RF) emissions from radio transmitters. Our actions herein are intended to ensure that our measures are compliant with our environmental responsibilities and requirements and that the public is appropriately protected from any potential adverse effects from RF exposure as provided by our rules, while avoiding any unnecessary burden in complying with these rules.”

The document is divided into three parts: a First Report and Order (First R&O) and a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) in ET Docket No. 03-137, and a Notice of Inquiry (Inquiry) in a new docket, ET Docket No. 13-84. In the R&O, the FCC looks at several technical and semantic issues -- initiated in 2003 -- to be revised and updated; in the FNPRM, the FCC proposes to further update and revise its procedures and treat all services equally.

In the Inquiry, the FCC seeks comments to determine whether its RF exposure limits and policies need to be reassessed. “Since consideration of the limits themselves is explicitly outside of the scope of ET Docket 03-137, we propose with the Inquiry to open a new docket to consider those limits in light of more recent developments,” the FCC said. “The Inquiry is intended to open discussion on both the currency of our RF exposure limits and possible policy approaches regarding RF exposure. We look forward to developing a complete record to determine whether the current rules and policies should remain unchanged, or should be relaxed or tightened.”

According to the FCC, mitigation matters are “post-evaluation procedures to ensure exposure limits are not exceeded, such as labels, signs, barriers, enforcement and occupational issues.” In its Notice of Inquiry, the FCC included clarifications related to the application of occupational exposure limits for devices and at fixed transmitter sites. The FCC noted that it “should be helpful to licensees to codify our earlier adopted policy with regard the use of occupational/controlled limits at Amateur Radio stations.”

This policy was first established in the RF Report and Order of 1996, but it was not incorporated in the rules at that time. It allows amateur stations to be evaluated “with respect to occupational/controlled exposure limits, as long as appropriate training and information has been provided to the amateur licensee and members of his or her immediate household. Other nearby persons who are not members of the amateur licensee’s household must be evaluated with respect to the general population/uncontrolled exposure limits.” The FCC will codify this policy by adding a paragraph as a new sub-section in Section 1.1310 -- radiofrequency radiation exposure limits -- to its rules.

The FCC pointed out that one goal of the general exemptions from routine RF exposure evaluation proposed “is to avoid specific exemptions for particular services and ensure a consistent set of rules without exceptions.” With this in mind, the FCC is proposing to delete the special exemptions from evaluation in the Amateur Radio Service in Section 97.13(c) of its rules.

“We appreciate that Amateur Radio operators are knowledgeable about the appropriate use of their equipment, such that separation distances are likely to be maintained to ensure compliance with our exposure limits,” the FCC said. “However, since the existing amateur exemptions are based only on transmitter power and do not consider separation distance or antenna gain, exempt transmitting antennas that are unusually close to people could potentially lead to non-compliant exposure levels.” The FCC said that a separation distance of at least 24 feet would meet its proposed exemption criteria, “considering a currently exempt 50 W transmitter at VHF in accord with Section 97.13(c) and assuming an antenna gain of 6 dBd.”

The FCC noted that existing classification of amateur exposure as occupational “is consistent with use of our proposed general exemption criteria based on general population exposure limits because awareness of exposure greater than the general population limits is required in all occupational settings, including amateur households. Application of the general exemptions proposed here to Amateur Radio installations would preclude the possibility of overexposure and require further evaluation only when necessary, giving guidance for both fixed and mobile transmitting antennas.”

The FCC invited comments on how this would affect the amateur community: “Parties that support maintaining the current exemption based on power alone are requested to explain how it provides adequate assurance that the public is protected against exposure to RF energy in excess of our limits and the extent of the burden imposed by this proposal. We encourage interested parties to comment on the relative costs and benefits of the proposed changes in this section, as well as those of alternative approaches.”

“The ARRL has an RF Safety Committee, consisting of experts in the field,” explained ARRL Chief Executive Officer David Sumner, K1ZZ; “The committee members, as well as Board members and staff are reviewing the lengthy document and will formulate a response.”

Comments will be accepted until 90 days after the R&O, FNPRM and Notice of Inquiry are published in the Federal Register (this can take up to six weeks after its release by the FCC). Reply comments will be accepted until 150 days after publication in the Federal Register.




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