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Berkeley's Cell Phone Radiation Ordinance Potentially Paves Way for Other Cities

Jul 29, 2015

Berkeley's cell phone ordinance, which is the first of its kind that has been passed in the United States, could lead the way for other cities to pass similar measures. In May, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed the Right to Know ordinance requiring retailers to warn customers that "you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure" to radiofrequency radiation by placing a cell phone into a bra or in a pants pocket. The warning also states that "The potential risk is greater for children" according to the New York Times.

Ellie Marks, who founded the California Brain Tumor Association, said "We want to raise awareness," NYT reports. Ms. Marks believes that frequent cell phone use caused her husband to develop brain cancer at the age of 56. While she does not live in Berkeley, she brought her concerns there because "Berkeley has a reputation for taking progressive action."

Berkeley has led the way in passing a number of progressive laws, such as health benefits for domestic partners, smoking bans, Styrofoam bans and creating sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. City Council member Susan Wengraf said "If you can get it passed in Berkeley, you have a beginning," according to NYT. "If you can't, forget it, or come back three years later."

There is debate surrounding the link between cancer and cell phone radiation. While research has not determined a definitive link, proponents of the ordinance point out that cancer takes many years to manifest. Supports also point out that the fine print of cell phone manuals contains a warning similar to the ordinance. "Even if the science isn't firm, if there's a risk, we should proceed with caution," said Max Anderson, a Berkeley City Council members who helped write the ordinance.

Meanwhile, the cell phone industry is fighting the ordinance by arguing that it is a violation of First Amendment rights. Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig and Yale Law School professor Robert Post have agreed to defend Berkeley against this argument pro bono. "The First Amendment is being contorted to all sorts of wrong ends," said Lessig, according to NYT. "We're not intending to challenge the science of cellphones," Lessig said. "We're just making people aware of existing regulations."

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