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Friday, July 29, 2011

San Francisco passes cell phone radiation law, but what's the risk?

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a new ordinance requiring cell phone retailers to display and distribute a state-produced fact sheet that explains radio frequency emissions from cell phones and how consumers can minimize their exposure.

This ordinance amends the city's controversial Cell Phone Right to Know Act, a similar but more cumbersome law passed last year that required cell phone retailers to post and distribute radiation information for every make and model of cell phone they sell. That would have been a significant challenge to retailers, given how many types of phones any store sells and how quickly that inventory changes.

Implementation of the original law was scuttled after the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (the lobbying arm of the wireless industry) sued the city. So far it is unknown when the new law will take effect.

The possible health risk of cell phone radiation is a hot-button topic for many people, and this controversy is definitely not just about science. In fact, it's probably more about the perception of risk, rather than the level or nature of risk.

What does the science say? Concerns resurfaced in May when the World Health Organization classified electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" after analyzing the body of scientific research. In that announcement, WHO stated:

"A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use. ... While an increased risk of brain tumors is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. ... WHO will conduct a formal risk assessment of all studied health outcomes from radio frequency fields exposure by 2012." (more)