San Francisco to require stores to post cellphone radiation levels

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to make the city the nation’s first to require that retailers post cellphone radiation levels prominently in their stores.

The cellphone right-to-know ordinance, which passed 9 to 1, arose out of officials’ concerns about possible long-term health effects of using the ubiquitous gadgets, even though there is no scientific consensus regarding their potential danger.

“Government agencies and scientific bodies in the European Union and Israel have recognized the potential harm of long-term exposure” to radiation from cellphones and have issued warnings about their use, especially by children, the ordinance states.

But a long-awaited study of cellphone use in 13 countries, which was published in May, concluded that “overall, no increase in the risk of glioma or mengioma was observed with use of mobile phones” and suggested further investigation. Glioma and mengioma are brain tumors.

The study also found that there were “suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels,” but said a direct causal link had not been established. The United States did not take part in the study, which was conducted under the auspices of the World Health Organization.

John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA — The Wireless Assn., said the San Francisco ordinance will confuse consumers.

“The ordinance will potentially mislead consumers with point-of-sale requirements suggesting that some phones are ‘safer’ than others based on radiofrequency (RF) emissions,” Walls said in a statement. “In fact, all phones sold legally in the U.S. must comply with the Federal Communications Commission’s safety standards for RF emissions.”

Walls also said that because of the vote, his trade group will pull its fall show from San Francisco after this October’s event. The group has met in the city in five of the last seven years.

The ordinance requires that cellphone retailers posting price information alongside models for sale include the amount of radiation emitted. The maximum radiation level allowed by the FCC also must be included.

Such a radiation level is call the “specific absorption rate,” and it corresponds to the amount of radiation absorbed by the body when the phone sends a signal to the network. The maximum SAR level set by the FCC is 1.6 watts per kilogram of body tissue.

The Environmental Working Group’s 2010 cellphone guide lists the Sanyo Katana II as the model giving off the least radiation, 0.55 w/kg. In comparison, the BlackBerry 8820 gives off the most radiation of the phones rated by the organization, at 1.58 w/kg.

Chain stores must comply with the ordinance by Feb. 1. All other cellphone retailers have until Feb. 1, 2012. Fines range from $100 for a first violation to $500 for the third violation and subsequent violations within a 12-month period.

Mayor Gavin Newsom intends to sign the bill, spokesman Tony Winnicker said.

“We believe it’s a rather modest and common-sense measure that allows for greater transparency and disclosure for consumers,” Winnicker said. “This is not about discouraging people from using or purchasing a cellphone. Nobody loves his iPhone more than Mayor Newsom.”

Similar measures failed in the California and Maine legislatures.

In addition to purchasing a phone with the lowest radiation level possible, the Environmental Working Group suggests using a headset, holding the phone away from the body while in use, limiting cellphone use by children and texting instead of talking.