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Ruling Backs San Francisco on Transparency for Cell Phone Buyers

(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Monday, October 31, 2011

San Francisco – U.S. District Judge William Alsup last week gave the green light to city authorities to require that retailers distribute fact sheets about cell phone radiation to their customers.

CTIA: The Wireless Association, the cell phone industry’s leading trade group, filed suit two years in a row in an effort to block city ordinances backed by the Environmental Working Group requiring that this kind of information be made available to cell phone buyers at the point of sale.

“CTIA continues to shamelessly fight tooth and nail to keep cell phone customers in the dark on potential cell phone hazards,” said Renee Sharp, senior scientist and director of the EWG California office. “New science is pointing to the possible risks of cell phone radiation exposure, particularly for children. It is important for consumers to know what steps they can take to minimize their exposure.”

Judge Alsup’s ruling allows San Francisco to require that retailers distribute informational fliers supplied by the city to customers who consider purchasing a cell phone. He dismissed the industry’s claim that the ordinance conflicts with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to regulate cell phone radiation.

“Nothing in the federal statutes or FCC regulations bars local disclosure requirements like those now required in San Francisco,” Judge Alsup wrote. Underscoring a basic point in the debate over potential health hazards from the ubiquitous technology, he added that, “The FCC has never found that cell phones are absolutely safe.”

EWG called Alsup’s decision a landmark decision in the ongoing battle to ensure that the public is kept up to date on the evolving science of possible cell phone radiation hazards.

“This is a true victory for the public’s right to know,” said Sharp. “Alsup’s decision marks the first time that any US government body will be allowed to require cell phone retailers to tell consumers about the potential health risks of using their products, and more importantly, what they can do about it if they are concerned.”

The judge ordered minor changes in the city’s proposed informational fliers for greater clarity and rejected provisions of the ordinance that required stores to display informational posters and stickers.

CTIA has used a variety of backroom tactics and legal maneuvers to limit public access to information about legitimate concerns over cell phone safety. EWG uncovered documents showing that CTIA officials met with the FCC about San Francisco’s original right-to-know ordinance, which was struck down, and that shortly thereafter the agency made changes to its website that softened earlier statements about the potential hazards of cell phone radiation.

The World Health Organization has classified cell phone radiation as possibly carcinogenic, a finding supported by long-term epidemiological studies. EWG’s own investigation of available science from around the world came to a similar conclusion. While the research continues, simple, inexpensive measures such as using a headset can help consumers reduce their exposure.

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. It has offices in Oakland, CA and Washington, D.C.

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