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San Francisco backtracks on cell phone radiation bill

The FCC declares all cell phone radiation levels safe as long as they stay below 1.6 W/kg.
The FCC declares all cell phone radiation levels safe as long as they stay below 1.6 W/kg.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The controversial cell phone radiation disclosure bill has been put on "indefinite hold"
  • A "watered-down version" will probably be enacted instead
  • It unclear what specific technical qualms the city now has about the law it passed
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(Ars Technica) -- The City of San Francisco's controversial cell phone radiation disclosure bill has been put on "indefinite hold," and a "watered-down version" will probably be enacted instead.

So reports Friday's San Francisco Chronicle, which says that it's not just that the City has the jitters about a lawsuit coming from cell phone industry.

"It's also questions about the accuracy of the radiation labels," the article notes, "which some say could actually lead shoppers to buy phones that emit more radiation than others."

Easily accessible information

As we reported, last June San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted by ten to one to require city cell phone stores to post the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of their retail mobiles somewhere next to the sample device. These SARs max out at 1.6 watts per kilogram (1.6 W/kg), the highest level permitted by the Federal Communications Commission.

"Telephone manufacturers currently disclose cell phone radiation levels to the federal government," declared our then Mayor Gavin Newsom -- now Lieutenant Governor of California. "This same information should also be made easily accessible to the consumer."

It unclear what specific technical qualms the city now has about the law it passed, but one possible problem is that cell phones have multiple specific absorption rates.

Last we checked, the Blackberry Curve 8330, for example, clocked in at a maximum SAR value of 1.54, but only 0.99 on a hip holster. One version of the iPhone logs in at 1.19 to 0.16 depending on in what position the handset is being used.

So is it these rates or some average exposure rate that consumers should worry about? Or any? Add to the confusion that the FCC declares all these levels safe as long as they stay below 1.6 W/kg. As our John Timmer notes, this is one of those moments when public anxiety seems to be racing ahead of the actual science on the issue.

Somewhat less

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos says that when the Supes return from the drawing board, a revised version of the law will require "somewhat less" information of retailers -- something along the line of a tip sheet on how to avoid radiation exposure via head sets and speaker phones.

Perhaps it will also require device makers to more prominently post the safety advice that they include in the fine print of the instructions and product disclosure documentation that comes with a mobile.

The disclosure could even read something along the lines of what Mayor Newsom originally noted in his press release supporting the now delayed law.

"I am not suggesting by any means that people should be fearful of using a cell phone," Newsom declared. "Cell phones are an integral part of modern life; however, there are simple things that can be done to minimize exposure to the radiation emitted by the telephone such as using a head set, speaker phone or texting, and turning off the phone when it's not in use."

But don't expect this issue to cool off any time soon. California State Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco says he's going to propose a new version of a cell phone radiation disclosure bill in Sacramento -- with the blessing of The SF Chronicle.

"All Californians deserve to know more about the potential dangers of the devices they are holding against their ears," the newspaper declared in an editorial published on Saturday.

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