The Cellphone Radiation Health Debate: Coming to a Court Near You?

By  Mike Cole — July 27, 2010

The debate whether radiation from cellphone can lead to cancer or cause other adverse health effects took another twist on July 23 when industry trade association CTIA - The Wireless Association filed a lawsuit against San Francisco's ordinance which requires cell phone retailers to publicly display how much radiation each device emits.

The law was the first of its kind in the nation. CTIA says it will mislead consumers into thinking that one phone might be safer than another based on radiation measurements.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, also contends that the city is usurping the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which establishes limits for phone radiation.

The San Franscisco ordinance, passed by its city council on June 17, requires cell phone retailers to disclose a measure of much energy will be absorbed by a user's head. The FCC limits the specific absorption rate (SAR) to an average of 1.6 watts per kilogram.

The new law requires larger cell phone retailers to place SAR notices beginning in February 2011, and requires smaller stores to post the SAR notices in 2012.

"Nobody should be suggesting to consumers that they ought to be shopping for phones based on a difference in SAR values," said John Walls, vice president for public affairs at CTIA. "There's no scientific basis to suggest, as the ordinance does, that two phones with different values have a safety distinction between them."

CTIA fired another salvo against the city, announcing it would pull its annual show from the city after this year. The event attracts an estimated 68,000 attendees.

"We thought it was a clear message from the mayor that we weren't wanted there," Walls, told the Associated Press.

In a statement, San Franscisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who signed the ordinance into law in late June, said, "I am disappointed that the association representing the wireless communication industry has decided to challenge our landmark consumer information law in court. This law is not an attack on the wireless industry or their products."

A flux of studies -- many of them with opposing conclusions -- have been released the last couple years about the health effects of cellphone radiation. One of the most recent, published in May 2010 in the International Journal of Epidemiology found no increased risk for the two most common types of brain tumors.

The journal study also concluded that in the most extreme cellphone uses, there was a small increase in a type of cancer that attacks the cells that surround nerve cells, but its researchers found that finding inconclusive.

Related 
Study Refutes Cancer-Cell Phone Connection -- But Rancorous Debate Persists
Cell Phones & Cancer: Fresh Findings From The World Health Organization
Is This Your Brain On A Cellphone? The Cancer Debate Continues

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