BERKELEY — The City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday that would require a notice to cellphone buyers regarding exposure to electromagnetic waves when they carry the devices close to their bodies.
“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 (radio frequency) radiation,” the notice reads in part, adding that consumers should check their user manual how to use the phone safely.
Under the ordinance, approved unanimously on first reading Tuesday, a copy of the notice must be given to each customer who buys or leases a cellphone or be prominently displayed at the retail outlet. Tuesday’s action grew out of a proposal for a notification ordinance sponsored in November by Councilmen Max Anderson and Kriss Worthington.
The notice itself does not contain any new controversial scientific information, and only makes reference to existing federal guidelines, but it nevertheless has raised the hackles of the cellphone industry.
The proposed ordinance “will mislead consumers, and it is unlawful,” said Gerard Keegan, senior director for state legislative affairs for CTIA — The Wireless Association, an industry group, addressing the council shortly before the vote Tuesday.
“The pending proposal will irresponsibly alarm consumers by suggesting that cellphones are dangerous and that avoidance measures increase human safety, all of which is contrary to what impartial experts say on these issues,” Keegan continued, reading from a letter submitted to the council earlier.
“Further, the proposal is unlawful because it violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” the letter continues.
Earlier, Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and director of the Edmund J. Safra Center for Ethics, had said he is increasingly concerned that the First Amendment is being used by corporations to bully residents into inaction.During his presentation, Lessig, who has offered to provide legal advice to the city and defend the ordinance pro bono, referred to several recent national and international scientific studies, including one submitted to the United Nations World Health Organization, that raise concern over the effects of increased exposure to electromagnetic fields generated by electric and wireless devices such as cellphones, cordless phones, base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, baby monitors and other devices that generate an extremely low-frequency electromagnetic field, often abbreviated as ELF EMF.
Several speakers told the council about brain tumors, breast cancer and other cancers in their families that they believe were caused by radiation from cellular devices. Another speaker, Dr. Deborah Davis, cited a study that purportedly shows that the devices, if carried too close to the body, damage human sperm, and another that showed prenatal damage to rodent fetuses exposed to the radiation.
A main idea behind the city ordinance is that many tests of the possible effects of radio frequency radiation underlying federal guidelines were done with the assumption that cellphones are carried a small distance from the body, for instance in a holster or belt clip, whereas today they are more likely to be carried close to the body, in a pocket or bra. Another is that safety advice provided with cellphones often is buried in fine print and thus ineffectual.
Worthington, speaking moments before the vote, said the proposed ordinance simply honors the consumer’s right to know, and that “we’re not telling the consumer what to do.”
Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760. Follow him at Twitter.com/tomlochner.