Wireless Carriers Sue Over Berkeley's Cell Phone Radiation Warnings
from the premature-encapsulation dept
While there have been arguments for years now about whether or not cellphones cause cancer, the general consensus tends to be that cell phones emit so little radiation as to generally be safe. That's not to say that you might not run into a problem should you duct tape a dozen cell phones to your face, and I won't go so far as some to declare there's absolutely no risk, as that would certainly be quick to draw the ire of the Internet's "electromagnetically sensitive," whom I've found to have incredible hearing. But studies that have claimed a cancer risk have fairly consistently been contradicted by studies that claim the opposite, and agencies like the FCC state they consistently monitor the latest studies and have found cell radiation is not something that should keep you up at night:
"Some health and safety interest groups have interpreted certain reports to suggest that wireless device use may be linked to cancer and other illnesses, posing potentially greater risks for children than adults. While these assertions have gained increased public attention, currently no scientific evidence establishes a causal link between wireless device use and cancer or other illnesses. Those evaluating the potential risks of using wireless devices agree that more and longer-term studies should explore whether there is a better basis for RF safety standards than is currently used. The FCC closely monitors all of these study results. However, at this time, there is no basis on which to establish a different safety threshold than our current requirements."
Still, Maine, San Francisco, and numerous other states and municipalities have pushed for new labels on cellular devices warning consumers about the potential cancer risk, much to the chagrin of the wireless industry. The problem isn't that many towns and cities are worried about the possible risk, it's that they choose to enact ordinances before the science fully supports them. That recently occurred in Berkeley, where the local government passed an ordinance (pdf) that requires all cellular devices sold to prominently feature the following warning:
"To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines. 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."
The nation's biggest industry association, the CTIA, has since filed a lawsuit (pdf) against the city of Berkeley that claims, among other things, that the ordinance violates wireless carrier First Amendment rights. That's pretty much a standard claim used by all telecom lawyers as part of "throw it at the wall to see what sticks" effort (they're using it to fight net neutrality, too). But the suit also correctly notes how the government's guidelines are well above where any actual health impact might actually occur:
"The lawsuit said the instructions falsely imply that the federal guidelines are safety limits. The Federal Communications Commission has stated, based on “overwhelming” scientific authority, that exceeding its radiation-exposure guidelines “does not pose a safety concern,” because the standards are set 50 times lower than the danger levels, CTIA’s lawyers said. "According to the federal government, no cell-phone model approved for sale in the United States creates a safety concern," the suit said.
And while I'm probably the last person to buy what comes out of the CTIA's mouth, the idea that municipalities should wait for real science before terrifying the local populace and building a nation of paranoids generally seems like a good idea. You get massively more radiation from all manner of technology from microwaves and computer monitors to light bulbs, so if municipalities really want to rush ahead and affix extra labels every potential radiation threat under the sun (including the sun itself), they really ought to get busy. And if you really need to worry about radiation, as XKCD recently noted, there's far better repositories for your anxiety.