New consumer advisory in place after concern of cell phone radiation dangers

UPDATE: Judge William Alsup denied the majority of a city ordinance that would have required retailers to warn customers about harmful cellphone radiation and health effects Oct 27. Alsup ruled that city officials needed to reword the fact sheet because it implied that cellphones were ultimately dangerous and unregulated by the FCC, which he determined to be false. The ordinance is on hold until Nov. 30 and City Attorney Dennis Herrera said he will appeal the decision.

While it might be common knowledge that smoking and asbestos cause cancer, there’s a new danger lurking that could be just as deadly, and almost all students are exposed every day.

Elijah Nouvelage
SF State junior Lauren McGill talks on her cell phone while walking on campus at SF State on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011. Photo by Elijah Nouvelage.

Recent studies have found that cell phones, devices used by billions of people around the world every day, may cause cancer due to radiation levels, according to the World Health Organization.

“While evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there is sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary advice on cell phone use,” said Dr. Ronald B. Herbermann, cancer institute director at the University of Pittsburgh.

Some government agencies have recognized the potential risks of long-term cell phone use. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently approved the addition of an amendment to the environmental code which now makes it mandatory for cell phone retailers to alert customers of radiation emission levels.

“We cannot afford to wait years or decades,” Hebermann said. “Where children are concerned, it is especially crucial to err on the side of caution. Young brains are more vulnerable to harmful rays that are transmitted by cell phones. Children should only use cell phones in emergencies.”

Cell phone companies are required by the Federal Communications Commission to disclose radiation levels measured in Specific Absorption Rate values to the government. Consumers, however, had no way of knowing the radiation levels, or of the harmful effects cell phones cause because the retailer was not required to inform the customer until now.

“If a customer asked me about cell phone radiation I would have no idea what to tell them,” said Verizon Wireless manager Travis Zosh, 27. “I haven’t heard anything about having to put up these SAR values and don’t even know what it means. I would probably just recommend a blue tooth headset if it was brought up.”

By Feb. 1, 2012, all cell phone retailers must comply with the new amendment. The SAR value of each make and model of cell phone offered for sale at that retail location must show the maximum allowable SAR value for cell phones set by the FCC. A statement must explain what a SAR value is, and a statement that additional educational material regarding SAR values and cell phones are available from the cell phone retailer must be present.

Failure to comply with the new regulations will be punishable by administrative fines in the amount of up to $100 for the first violation, $250 for the second violation within a twelve-month period, and up to $500 for the third and subsequent violations within a twelve-month period.

Some have speculated whether or not alerts about radiation levels will impact the way people use cell phones, since most people are incredibly connected to their devices.

“I think this is a very important first step for cell phone consumers,” said junior Matisse Tolin, 23. “Radiation and health are a big deal, but I seriously doubt anyone will take notice to this. People are way too addicted to their cell phones and I feel like the cell phone companies are still not going to make the information easily obtainable, but hopefully in the future things change.”