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Bay Area City Presses Cell Radiation Right-to-Know

The City Council of Burlingame, California, is moving ahead with plans to come up with a cell phone right-to-know ordinance.

Council members said last week (Oct. 18) they are working to draft the measure. If passed, it would require stores to post on their shelves the specific absorption rate (SAR), a measure of how much electromagnetic radiation our bodies absorb, of every cell phone sold in the city.

The ordinance would likely be very similar to the right-to-know legislation passed by San Francisco in June, making it the first city in the nation to require cell phone radiation disclosure at the point of sale. No vote was taken in Burlingame, but four of the five Council members spoke in favor of enacting such a measure as early as January, 2011.

The Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) opposes radiation disclosure. After losing a bitter battle to stop the measure in San Francisco, it has done everything short of disabling cell towers to block it from taking effect.

The industry’s first retaliatory move was moving its annual conference out of San Francisco. (You may have seen similar tactics employed by first graders who strategically un-invite former friends from their birthday parties.)

The industry group then filed a lawsuit against the city, arguing that the measure would mislead consumers into thinking that some phones were safer than others and that the city does not have the authority to require SAR disclosure.

What happened to the customer always being right? Or at least, the customer’s right to be informed?

“The fact that EWG’s cell phone radiation database has seen more than 2 million page views since September 2009 shows that consumers want access to basic information about the amount of radiation their cell phones are emitting,” said EWG’s California Director Renee Sharp. “The way CTIA is behaving about the simple issue of public disclosure only makes it look as if the industry has something to hide.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet to respond to EWG’s Freedom of Information Act request regarding its communications with CTIA. As a consumer watchdog group, EWG suspects that CTIA hopes to enlist the FCC in its battle with San Francisco. The agency has a history of siding with industry in legal disputes concerning cell phones.

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