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SF Gives Up On Cell Phone Radiation Warning

May 10, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted earlier this week to settle a lawsuit brought against it by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association. As a result, it’s dropping its effort to force retailers to warn consumers that cell phones emit potentially cancer-causing radiation.

The ordinance, enacted in 2011, would also have required retailers to post notices stating that cancer experts from the World Health Organization have listed the electromagnetic fields produced by cell phones as possibly carcinogenic.

The board rescinded the warning requirement reluctantly, after advice from the city attorney’s office that it was likely to lose the lawsuit. Reuters quoted Supervisor David Campos as saying:

I think the legal reality is that if we don’t approve the settlement, we’re talking about having to pay $500,000 in legal fees.

The Reuters story also asserted, “Despite mounting evidence the phones may cause brain tumors, scientists disagree and are hesitant to draw conclusions.”

Um, what “mounting evidence”? Research to date has been overwhelmingly inconclusive. The National Cancer Institute provides a matter-of-fact assessment on its Web site, summing up: “Studies thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain, nerves, or other tissues of the head or neck.”

In support of its implication that dithering scientists are trying to hold back a rising tide of truth, Reuters cited a single study that found an increase from 1992 to 2006 in malignant tumors in the parts of the brain closest to where people hold their cell phones. But the study said the cause of that increase was unknown. Its lead author, Gabriel Zada of the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, “told Reuters he could not draw any conclusions about the dangers of cell phones from his findings.”

So Reuters drew conclusions instead. So did Ellen Marks, who supported the warnings. “This is just a terrible blow to public health,” she said after the vote to rescind the ordinance. She said her husband suffers from a brain tumor on the side of his head where he usually held his cell phone.

We sincerely express sympathy for Marks and her husband and hope for a recovery. We understand why she might blame cell phones and want to protect others from suffering. But a brain tumor’s appearance near where a cell phone is held does not demonstrate causation any more than would the development of a brain tumor by a person who avidly watches American Idol.

As for the World Health Organization, yes, cell phone radiation is among the 274 agents on its “possibly carcinogenic” list. So are carbon black, which is used in tires and other rubber products, and coffee. Hey, San Francisco, why no warnings at tire shops and coffee bars? Where’s your concern for public health?

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