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Berkeley Ordinance Requires Cell Phone Retailers to Warn about Radiation

May 15, 2015

This week Berkeley, California became the first city to pass an ordinance requiring cell phone retailers to warn purchasers about potential exposure to radiation.

According to the Daily Beast, at least six states have tried to pass a "Right to Know," bill like this one, which will require a warning such as:

"If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is on and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF [radio frequency] radiation. This potential risk is greater for children. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely."

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines outline specific distances at which different phones should be held from the body to protect against exposure to radiofrequency energy. For iPhones, for example, the FCC recommends a distance of at least 15 mm. More than 190 scientists from around the world sent an appeal to the United Nations and the World Health Organization urging the creation of guidelines warning of the dangers of non-ionizing radiation present in cell phones, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, and even baby monitors. The scientists' overall concern is that the non-ionizing electromagnetic fields of cell phones may cause certain types of brain tumors. In 2011, the World Health Organization officially classified mobile phone use as a potential "carcinogenic hazard," according to the Daily Beast.

The largest international study of brain tumor risk in cell phone users was published in 2010 by the Interphone study group. Researchers found no risk of gliomas and meningiomas in relation to cell phone use, though users at the highest exposure levels did show some increase in glioma risk. The authors cautioned that evidence of increased glioma risk was inconclusive due to possible biases in the way data was collected. A study published last year in Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that heavy cell phone use - the highest life-long cumulative duration and number of calls - was correlated with an increased risk of glioma and meningioma, though the study was again subject to recall bias. The authors said it was possible that some participants over-reported their cell phone usage, according to the Daily Beast.

Earlier studies of cell phone usage and brain cancer focused mainly on adults, but there has been a dramatic rise in cell phone ownership among children in the last five years. This raises the question of whether children-who have thinner skulls and still-developing brains-may be more susceptible to brain cancer from the non-ionizing electromagnetic fields emitted from cell phones. A study conducted in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Switzerland on children 7 and 19 years old did not fine evidence of brain tumor risk from cell phones. But a study limited to Sweden found a higher risk for glioma in participants who started using cell phones as children or adolescents.

Though no definitive causal association has yet been made between cell phones and brain cancer, scientists urge additional study as the devices become "smarter" and users become more and more dependent on them. A Pew Research Center survey found that cell phone ownership surpassed 90 percent in adults in 2013. Given the ubiquitous use of cell phones, the Daily Beast concludes that more study is needed of the possible effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields, particularly in children.

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