San Francisco rules on cellphone radiation

Posted by Emma Woollacott

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a law requiring retailers to display the amount of radiation emitted by cellphones. It's likely to become law after a ten-day comment period.

Under the new law, retailers will have to display the specific absorption rate (SPR) of each phone - the amount of radiation it produces that is absorbed into the user's body - or face a $300 fine. The SPR varies from phone to phone.

The supporters of the ruling say that it's all about giving the consumer as much information as possible.

“In addition to protecting the consumers’ right to know, this legislation will encourage telephone manufacturers to redesign their devices to function at lower radiation levels," said Mayor Gavin Newsom, announcing the legislation. 

"This is similar to Prop 65, which dramatically reduced public exposure to toxic materials because chemical companies removed toxic ingredients from their products in order to avoid product warnings."

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of the highest- and lowest-emitting cellphones. Samsung tends to come out best. Other popular cellphones, though, are given significantly higher ratings.

"For some models, like Motorola’s Droid, Blackberry Bold 9700, LG Chocolate Touch and HTC Nexus One by Google, consumers pay a hidden price: exposure to the highest legal levels of cell phone radiation," says the EWG.

But it is still unclear, to say the least, whether cellphone use actually has any effect on health. A recent ten-year study concluded that there was no effect on most people, although heavy users might have a small increase in their risk of cancer.

There's already a maximum SPR level set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of 1.6W/kg. The FCC's current position is that there's no provable health risk from cellphones, although it is monitoring research.