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Lawsuit Targets Cell Phone Radiation Labels

August 2, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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The cell phone industry association has sued to stop San Francisco from requiring that purchasers of cell phones be given already-public information about the phones’ radiation emissions.

Confused? Here’s another way to put it: the cell phone industry doesn’t want in-store radiation-emission labels for cell phones because it’s afraid consumers will worry that the phones aren’t safe.

In June, San Francisco established a new ordinance requiring that cell phone retailers post the Specific Absorption Rate of each phone—that’s the rate at which the body absorbs radio-frequency radiation, measured in watts per kilogram (W/kg). The ordinance cites some research indicating that such radiation might be harmful, though studies, including a large, recently released study by the World Health Organization, have not conclusively established any such harm. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found no increase in cancer rates that could be associated with cell phone use.

SF Weekly, an alternative newspaper in San Francisco, asked Fergus Coakley, MD, professor of radiology and biomedical imaging and urology at the University of California, San Francisco, about the ordinance. His response: “I think it’s bogus.”

Dr. Coakley pointed out that cell phones emit nonionizing radiation. “When you see reports in the paper about radiation causing cancer, that’s all ionizing,” he said. “I guess that, theoretically, [nonionizing radiation] may be dangerous over the long term. But no one knows. It’s not something that keeps me awake.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets a maximum cell-phone SAR of 1.6 W/kg. CTIA-The Wireless Association, which is the cell phone industry trade group, says, “The ordinance misleads consumers by creating the false impression that the FCC’s standards are insufficient and that some phones are ‘safer’ than others based on their radiofrequency (RF) emissions.” Therefore, CTIA says, “San Francisco’s attempt to regulate the sale of wireless handsets improperly intrudes upon the FCC’s exclusive and comprehensive regulation of the safety of wireless handsets.”

Should you be suffering from insomnia, you can read the lawsuit here.

In response, Matt Dorsey, press secretary for the San Francisco city attorney, said, “The cell phone lobby is arguing that improving access to information is somehow illegal. We think that’s a novel legal concept.”

An FCC online database lists the SAR values of most phones. (You’ll need the phone’s FCC ID number, which usually can be found under the battery. When you get to the entry for your phone, click on “Display Grant.”) The Environmental Working Group also has an online list that’s easier to use, albeit less dispassionate.

Is a little knowledge truly a dangerous thing? We’ll see what the courts say.

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review

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