Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that that there is scientific evidence to suggest that cell phones do not pose a significant health risk as a result of radio frequency (RF) energy.
This has not stopped some cities from taking a hard look at cell phone use and even taking action to highlight any alleged dangers. Last month, San Francisco became the first U.S. jurisdiction to force retail stores to post the radiation levels of the cell phones they sell. The city’s board of supervisors, by a vote of 10-to-1, passed an ordinance that required stores to post the specific absorption rate (SAR) of each cell phone.
The SAR levels are a measure of the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed by the human body when using a cell phone. These rates were developed by a number of federal health and safety agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which can block devices from sale in the U.S. if the SAR levels are too high. The current SAR levels of most available cell phones are updated regularly by the FCC and posted on the agency’s Web site.
Cell phone manufacturers are, understandably, not too happy with San Francisco’s new ordinance, claiming that most every cell phone available in the U.S. is SAR-compliant and that radiation policing is best left up to the vendors rather than politicians. The CTIA, an industry trade group that represents nearly every cell phone manufacturer in the U.S. and worldwide, immediately issued a statement criticizing the ordinance as confusing.
“Rather than inform, the ordinance will potentially mislead consumers with point of sale requirements suggesting that some phones are ‘safer’ than others based on radiofrequency (RF) emissions,” said John Walls, a CTIA spokesman.
The powerful group and lobby also took the unprecedented step of pulling its annual fall trade show from San Francisco, apparently deeming the city as unfriendly to the cell phone industry. “We are disappointed to announce that the 2010 CTIA Enterprise and Applications show in October will be the last one we have in San Francisco for the foreseeable future,” stated CTIA spokesman Walls.
The CTIA has held five of its fall trade shows in San Francisco over the last seven years, reportedly attracting a total of more than 68,000 attendees and feeding $80 million into the city, according to the CTIA.
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), former chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee, supports San Francisco’s ordinance as a step in the right direction, but adds “No single study is conclusive, and ongoing research is needed to add to the body of knowledge on this important subject.”
Apple Computer recently took its own action against apparent misinformation by banning an application that reportedly measures and alerts iPhone users to increased radiation levels during a call. The application was developed by Israeli-based Tawkon, and uses an algorithm to measure the SAR rate and even consider where you are using your cell phone (since obstructions and low signals make the phone work harder to get reception and theoretically increase the radiation levels). Apple pulled the app from its catalog because the results could be too easily misunderstood, said reports.
Meanwhile, a new study out of Punjab University in India suggests that cell phone radiation may be directly responsible for a significant decline in the worldwide bee population. Researchers reached this conclusion by exposing beehives to 15 minutes of cell phone activity and radiation twice a day for three months. The result, researchers claim, was a reduction in the amount of honey produced and fewer eggs laid, according to a report by CNN.
Figures compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would seem to support this theory, since they show a 30% drop in the U.S. bee population last year – although the U.S. government hasn’t officially added to the buzz about why the bee population is declining.
In May, the World Health Organization (WHO) released findings of a massive 10-year study that involved 13 countries (not the U.S.) and more than 12,800 cell-phone-using interview participants, some of whom were suffering from both benign and more severe tumors. The results were inconclusive as the relationship between cell phone use and radiation-induced illnesses.
The researchers did, however, note that using a cell phone for more than 30 minutes a day might increase the risk of glioma, a type of tumor that starts in the brain or spine, but no strong link between mobile phone usage and this cancer risk could be proved.