Communications and Media

Cell Phone Radiation Sparks New Reactions

  • Related Item: Cell phones called possibly carcinogenic by World Health Organization
  • Update: A cell phone trade group filed a lawsuit to block the San Francisco ordinance that requires stores to post cell phone radiation levels
  • The cell phone radiation debate started in earnest in US in 2008
  • By June 2010, the debate led San Francisco, California to pass a first-of-its-kind law on radiation
  • In India, a study was made on the effects of radiation on honey bees
  • What's next? Perhaps lawsuits over radiation and recalls of phones
  • There are things you can do to protect yourself



Related Item

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has published a report stating cell phones are a possible source of cancer. The Agency is part of the World Health Organization. The report is based on a reanalysis of existing studies of the effects of cell phone radiation.

This puts cell phone radiation among other substances classified as possible carcinogens by the World Health Organization, including gasoline fumes and coffee. Practically speaking, it's not clear this report will have any effect on the legal landscape. The statement does not appear to add to any scientific evidence that could be used in a personal injury action, by an individual or a class, against cell phone manufacturers.


A trade group for the wireless telecommunications industry filed a lawsuit against the City of San Francisco to block the city’s new cell phone ordinance. The trade group, CTIA – The Wireless Association, wants to stop the city from requiring stores to post the specific absorption rate (SAR) for each phone sold. The group argues that it’s up to the US Federal Communications Commission, not the city, to regulate cell phone radiation.

Original Article

 In the US, the debate about the health effects of cell phone radiation probably began in earnest in 2008. That's when a British report linked radiation to insomnia and headaches. Ultimately, it led to a hearing in the US Senate in 2009.

The debate goes on, sparking some new and extraordinary developments.

San Francisco

In mid-June 2010, San Francisco, California's Board of Supervisors passed a new ordinance and the first of its kind in the US. If signed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, as is expected, the law requires cell-phone retailers to post information on the specific absorption rate (SAR) of each phone they sell. The information has to be visible for buyers.

Retailers who violate the law face a $300 fine. The law goes into effect in February 2011.

Bees in India?

Meanwhile, thousands of miles across the globe, scientists in India completed a study on cell phone radiation and honey bees. The conclusion: Cell phone radiation is disturbing honey bees and may be a cause for the world-wide decline in honey bees. The study showed that, compared to hives exposed to no cell radiation, a hive exposed to radiation reproduced less. And, there was no evidence of pollen or honey in the hive.

Your Health and the Law

The debate is centered on concerns that long-term exposure to cell phone radiation may cause brain cancer and other illnesses. There's no conclusive proof, though, as noted by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Nonetheless, both the FCC and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate the cell phone radiation limits. The FCC, for instance, can order manufactures to stop selling or repair, replace, or recall phones that exceed the limits.

In opposing San Francisco's new law, cell phone manufacturers and retailers argued these rules are enough to protect consumers. Perhaps. The problem is, right now most retailers don't openly display SAR information, so consumers like us can't make informed decisions on which phone to buy if we're concerned about radiation.

What's Next?

No one can see the future, but don't be surprised if you see some more developments, such as:

  • More cities and states passing laws similar to San Francisco's
  • More federally-funded research and studies into the health effects of cell phone radiation
  • Possible lawsuits by environmental groups or those in the honey and other bee-related industries pushing for tighter regulation
  • An increase in lawsuits by cell-phone users complaining of the radiation-related illnesses

Protect Yourself

If you're concerned about cell phone radiation, there are some things you can do to protect yourself, such as:

  • Before you buy a new phone, do some research on your own or ask the salesperson about the phone's radiation level. Buy one a low SAR
  • Use a headset or ear piece, or use the speakerphone, when using a cell phone
  • Use text messaging instead of talking
  • Watch out for scams, such as radiation shields or similar devices promising to block or deflect cell phone radiation

    Time and research will let us know, and probably very soon, whether or not cell phone radiation actually poses serious health risks. Until then, laws like San Francisco's and some common sense buying practices certainly can't hurt.

    Questions for Your Attorney

    • How can I prove an illness was caused by cell phone radiation?
    • Who do I contact about having a law like San Francisco's passed in our city?
    • Do people who sell old cell phones at garage sales and flea markets have to follow San Francisco's new law?
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