San Francisco Surrenders Over Mobile Phone Radiation Law

The city of San Francisco has reluctantly agreed to revoke a local law demanding radiation warnings on mobile phones

The question of whether mobile phones cause brain tumours has been thrust back into the limelight after the city of San Francisco reluctantly agreed to drop a controversial ‘radiation labelling scheme’ for new mobile phones.

The city had proposed a local law requiring retailers to warn consumers about the radiation levels of the mobile handsets they are buying. The mobile phone industry argued in court that there was no evidence of harm from phones, and the law – which would have been the first of its kind in the US – has been withdrawn. However, the decision to back down seems to be a result of legal costs, rather than a resolution of fears about phone radiation.

Radiation Surrender

Mobile phones © Fernando Gonzalez S, Shutterstock 2012According to Reuters, the city’s Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to settle a lawsuit with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade body which represents most of the mobile phone operators in the United States.

San Francisco reluctantly accepted a permanent injunction against the right-to-know cell phone ordinance, after the trade body successfully argued in court that the law violated its free-speech rights. The city said it decided to call it quits because of the costs associated with continuing to fight the case.

“This is just a terrible blow to public health,” Ellen Marks, an advocate for the measure was quoted as saying outside the supervisors’ chambers. She said her husband suffers from a brain tumour on the same side of his head to which he most often held his mobile phone.

The mobile industry trade body had argued that the San Francisco ordinance, if put into effect, would have misled consumers about the relative risks posed by mobile phones and contradicted the FCC’s determination that all wireless phones legally sold in the Unites States are safe.

Too Costly

It seems that San Francisco’s decision was based on the likely legal costs involved in pursuing this legal battle against the mobile phone industry, and not because it has been convinced of the safety of phones.

Deputy City Attorney Vince Chhabria was quoted by Reuters as saying that a federal appeals court decision last year upholding a preliminary injunction against the measure, signalled that trying to win the case at trial would be a long shot for San Francisco.

If the city lost, a judge could have awarded the industry group as much as $500,000 (£321,667) in attorneys’ fees, he said.

Supervisor David Campos also reluctantly supported the settlement: “I think the legal reality is that if we don’t approve the settlement, we’re talking about having to pay $500,000 in legal fees,” he was quoted as saying.

The Californian city adopted the local ordnance back in June 2010, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted overwhelmingly in favour of a bill requiring  mobile phone retailers to display the amount of radiation that was emitted by each phone they sell.

This meant that mobile phones sold in San Francisco would have had to carry health warnings like those found on cigarette packets. Other US states, such as Maine, have in the past closely followed the San Francisco stance.

However the San Francisco ordnance was blocked by a US judge before it could be implemented.

Radiation Scaremongering?

The question of whether mobile phones cause brain tumours has been hotly debated in recent years.

Yet for years now, some people have argued that there has been a rise in the number of brain tumours in recent decades as more and more people use mobile phones. But  there is no concrete evidence for this, and study after study has dismissed any such link. Critics and the mobile industry say that health campaigners are simply scaremongering.

Powerwatch, a pressure group which investigates the safety of mobile phones, has previously urged mobile phone companies to more prominently display radiation health warnings. And campaigners have pointed to the World Health Organization, whose cancer experts hedged their bets back in 2011, saying that mobile phones were “possibly carcinogenic”, despite there being no clear scientific evidence to suggest a link between cancer and mobile phone use.

Reuters quoted Dr. Gabriel Zada, a neurosurgery professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, who found in a 2012 study that the age-adjusted incidence of malignant tumours in the parts of the brain closest to where people hold their phones rose significantly from 1992 and 2006 in California. But Zada told Reuters he could not draw any conclusions about the dangers of cell phones from his findings.

But this is countered by another analysis by Dr Isabelle Deltour of the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, Danish Cancer Society, in Copenhagen, which looked at brain tumour occurrences in Scandinavian countries from the mid 1970s to the early 2000s. It found no substantial change in brain tumour rates in adults, 5 to 10 years after mobile phone usage rose sharply in the 1990s.

Last year, an independent report from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) also found no conclusive evidence that the radiation emitted from mobile phones poses any health risks, but advised children not to use them too much, to be on the safe side. That report was based on a major survey of all the scientific evidence currently available.

Worried smartphone users can however now download an app designed to show how much ‘non-ionising radiation’ their smartphone is producing.

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