Author(s): Peter Bryer
The city of Berkeley in California is moving ahead with an approved city ordinance which requires retailers to display health warning labels about potential exposure to radiation from close proximity to handsets. The ordinance had been challenged by CTIA (which has recently rebranded itself as CTIA – The Wireless Association).
The CTIA's request for an injunction to the ordinance has been rejected by a US federal judge, who said Berkeley's health warning, for the most part, aligns with a recommendation about specific absorption rates made by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the 1990s.
The City of Berkeley was probably inspired not just by the FCC's original guidelines, but also concerns about the non-stop use of smartphones among its citizens and the potential long-term health implications. Berkeley originally proposed that handset sellers display the following warning to shoppers:
"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 judge did rule that the sentence about the risks being greater to children should be removed, but otherwise found the language of the warning "factual and uncontroversial" and in the best interest of public health.
While there is currently no conclusive scientific evidence proving any health risks associated with exposure to normal levels of radiation from handsets, Berkeley's ordinance and the judge's supporting ruling indicate the issue is still an emotional one and concerns remain.
Berkeley's new ordinance appears quite unique, though other cities have tried to pass similar regulations. San Francisco recently gave up on its plans to require stores to display a similar warning.
Berkeley is an academic city of only 120,000 population, and the direct effects on the mobile industry will be limited. However, there is a possibility that the story could turn into a larger news event, raising concerns among consumers and prompting interest by politicians. Industry players will need to prepare in the event of a viral news storm.