By: Mark Leno and Ellie Marks
Published: July 21, 2020, in the San Francisco Chronicle
In 2015, the city of Berkeley passed an ordinance requiring cell phone retailers to advise consumers, in a flyer at the point of sale, that keeping a cell phone in their pocket or near their body could expose them to wireless radiation above Federal Communications Commission safety levels. Council members understood that manufacturers deceptively hide this federally mandated information deep within user manuals or in the phone that few ever see. The council also understood that cell phones are allowed to be tested for compliance away from the body— not as used.
A survey of Berkeley residents found overwhelming support for Berkeley’s ordinance. Eight-five percent of residents never saw recommendations from manufacturers about how to best protect against overexposure to cell phone radiation and 82% want this information at the point of sale.
America’s trade association representing the wireless communications industry (CTIA) challenged this ordinance all the way to the United States Supreme Court twice and lost every step of the way. Now this well-funded industry, along with support from the FCC, is again fighting to prevent the public from simple truthful information. Despite losing, the industry has now asked a federal court in California to rehear the case. Industry is repeating its failed argument that the FCC claims cell phones are safe no matter how used. A federal district court hearing is set in San Francisco for Thursday, July 23, on this motion.
FCC regulations mandate consumers be given “conspicuous” information regarding safe use of cell phones. Hiding safe-distance information deep within the phone and their own manuals is hardly conspicuous. We must ask ourselves what other critical information industry and the FCC are hiding from the public.
The FCC’s General Counsel, Thomas Johnson, recently submitted documentation to the court in support of the wireless industry. Johnson, conveniently, formerly worked for Gibson Dunn, the firm representing the wireless industry against Berkeley. The FCC is claiming that the manner in which manufacturers currently disclose the cell phone “safety” information is adequate, thus Berkeley’s ordinance is “over-warning” and therefore federally pre-empted.
This is not so.
Why is a federal agency aggressively defending the billion-dollar industry that it is mandated by Congress to regulate? Why are the FCC and CTIA so adamant about stopping this simple advisory at the point of sale? Berkeley’s ordinance merely alerts consumers that wearing or using a phone in a pocket, or tucked into a bra, may expose them to radio-frequency radiation that could exceed the federal safety limit. Again, this is basic information provided by the industry itself, though in a hidden fashion.
I, Mark Leno, championed a similar bill in the California Senate in 2011, the same year the World Health Organization put wireless radiation in the same category as lead and diesel fuel. They declared this radiation possibly carcinogenic to humans based on an increased risk of brain tumors associated with mobile phone use. My bill would have put minimal safety information at the point of sale. I experienced the intense lobbying and mistruths of this industry. This is corporate special interest at its worst.
This intense legal battle is an abuse of our legal system and exhibits the flagrancy of the FCC and the wireless industry in covering up independent science in regard to public health. The $30 million U.S. National Toxicology Program released results in 2018 stating “clear evidence,” the highest certainly level, that cellphone radiation causes cancer.
Why should we ignore the science?
This industry and the FCC are putting public health at great risk concerning a device used daily by nearly every American including the most vulnerable — our children and grandchildren. Consumers should have the right to know critical information at the point of sale so that they can make informed decisions as to safe use for themselves and their loved ones.
Mark Leno is a former state senator from San Francisco; Ellie Marks is a co-founder of the California Brain Tumor Association.
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