San Francisco Shoots Down Cell Phone Ordinance

San Francisco, home of the Giants and land of sometimes questionable mandates, like the one passed last year that would require cell phone retailers to slap a label on their devices indicating radiation levels. The measure created a bit of a firestorm on the Internet over whether such a label was really needed or simply ridiculous. For now, San Francisco is betting on the latter.

According to a report in The San Francisco Chronicle, city officials have now decided to delay implementing what is known as the "Right to Know" ordinance, placing it on indefinite hold, likely until a different version takes its place. So why the change of heart?

Image Credit: Flickr (Salim Virji)

It's not just the questionable law itself, but concerns over accuracy of the radiation labels. As originally written, the law would require retailers to label phones with their specific absorption rate (SAR), which are rates that energy is absorbed into the body. This prompted a lawsuit by the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), which not only disputes that cell phone radiation poses any health concern, but says that such a measure could ultimately end up confusing consumers into purchasing phones with higher radiation levels.

The CTIA isn't alone in its thinking. Joel Maskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley, says that the SAR is a poor measurement because it's the peak reading on a variety of tests conducted on cell phones to measure their radiation, but ignores the average amount of radiation a user would be exposed to. Think of it like a car, he says, in which gas mileage would only be reported after driving up a steep hill. If that were the case, shoppers might avoid buying hybrid cars thinking they don't get good gas mileage.

"You could buy a lower SAR phone, but on average it could produce more radiation than a higher SAR phone," Maskowitz says.

Do you think cell phones should come with radiation labels?