Berkeley Council Votes to Require Cell Phone Warnings

The City Council of Berkeley, California recently voted unanimously to require electronics retailers to warn customers about the potential health risks associated with cell phone radiation.

If they are successful and the law goes into effect as planned in July 2015, they may become the first city in the country to implement a law issuing cell phone warnings.  

A Right to Know Issue

Berkeley mayor, Tom Bates, states: “It’s an important right-to-know issue. It’s really just a note of caution.”

The note of caution that would be posted in stores that sell cell phones reads in part:

“If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF radiation.   This potential risk is greater for children. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely.”

Retailers would also be required to hand out a separate flyer to buyers who purchase or lease a phone.

Wireless Industry Responds

The ordinance will likely face a court challenge from the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), the wireless industry’s trade group. Gerard Keegan, CTIA’s senior direction of state legislative affairs, stated that the law

“violates the First Amendment because it would compel wireless retailers to disseminate speech with which they disagree. The forced speech is misleading and alarmist because it would cause consumers to take away the message that cell phones are dangerous and can cause breast, testicular, or other cancers.”

Independent Research

Hmmm…isn’t that exactly what tons of independent researchers have found? For over a decade now, non-industry scientists from across the world have issued warnings about cell phone radiation dangers.

Indeed, there is currently a plethora of peer-reviewed studies that have connected cell phone radiation with any number of health symptoms and also serious diseases such as cancer. And there are a great many scientists, public health advocates, and medical practitioners—as well as federal governments—who have given warnings about the dangers of cell phone radiation.

In fact, just one day before the Berkeley vote passed the ordinance, an open letter from 190 scientists from 39 countries was posted, raising “serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices.”

The scientists, including researchers from the University of California-Berkeley, Columbia, and Harvard, called on government agencies to impose “sufficient guidelines to protect the general public, particularly children who are more vulnerable to the effects of EMF.”

The letter reads in part:

“Numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans.”

Other Cities Attempting to Pass Similar Laws

Berkeley isn’t the first government to pass a cell phone right-to-know bill.  California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania have also considered requiring warnings, and a bill in Maine is awaiting a vote.

Similar efforts to pass such a law occurred in San Francisco in 2010, with an ordinance that would have required manufacturers to disclose each phone’s Specific Absorption Rate (the amount of RF energy absorbed by the body).

But these efforts ended two years later through a federal court defeat, in which the court ruled that the wireless industry’s First Amendment rights were being violated with such an ordinance. The Board of Supervisors was compelled ultimately to withdraw it.

Attempting to get around a similar legal defeat, the Berkeley law is more narrowly tailored.  Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig who helped draft the Berkeley law and has offered to defend the measure in court pro bono stated:

“This ordinance is fundamentally different from what San Francisco passed.  San Francisco’s ordinance was directed at trying to get people to use their cell phones less. This ordinance is just about giving people the information they need to use their phone the way it is intended.”

In the San Francisco ordinance, retailers would have been required to go beyond the existing warnings included in manufacturers’ materials and add that there was something dangerous about their cell phone and they should use their cell phone less.

Dr. Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California at Berkeley, added that the Berkeley law is specifically crafted to avoid any debate over the actual safety of wireless devices. Instead, it “narrowly” focuses on making buyers aware of the fine print most often fail to read.

Inadequate Cell Phone Warnings

If the Berkeley City Council is successful, it will be one small step in the right direction. At least people will be informed of what cell phone manuals say about keeping the phone a certain distance from the body. However, it will be a small victory compared to what people really need to know in regard to cell phone warnings—that even the manuals minimize the actual dangers.

To be really safe until the authorities catch up with what scientists are warning us about, it’s wise to simply get EMF protection for your phone.

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