City of Berkeley becomes the first to require cellphone retailers to display warnings about radiation

If you’re in the market for a cellphone or tablet in the City of Berkeley, you will probably notice a sign displayed near the register of a cellphone retailer, or on store shelves. It’s a flier alerting customers of possible radiation exposure from mobile devices.

“Berkeley is the first city in the country to get stores to post warnings. It’s a small step, but it’s an important step,” said Joel Moskowitz, PhD, director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health at the University’s School of Public Health.

In 2009, Moskowitz turned his focus from scientific research on the health effects of tobacco to cellphones after a visiting scholar from the National Cancer Center in South Korea exposed him to scientific literature looking at whether mobile phone use increased the risk of tumors.

“The cellphone manufacturers want you to keep a minimum distance away from your body and you should find out what that distance is,” Moskowitz said. “If you keep the device by your body you will exceed the safety limits provided by the FCC.”

That message is what Berkeley officials say is the purpose behind the city’s “Right to Know” ordinance: To educate the public that information on radiation exposure from mobile devices can be found in phone, tablet and laptop manuals.

“We’re just saying let’s take the information that’s buried in your cellphone and buried in the manual, and put it where someone might have a chance to read it,” said Berkeley councilman Kriss Worthington, who co-sponsored the ordinance with former councilman Max Anderson.

The city council voted unanimously to pass the ordinance in May 2015. That law now has the city in the middle of a federal lawsuit brought by the CTIA, The Wireless Association.

The CTIA is a Washington, D.C.-based trade group that represents the cellphone industry and is fighting in court to stop retailers from displaying the warnings.

A spokesman for the CTIA said the signs violate their First Amendment rights by compelling them to say something they don’t agree with.

“It sort of still surprises me that it could become the subject of a federal lawsuit and have so much money spent against it,” Worthington said. “We’re not trying to tell the cellphone companies to say something horrible about themselves. And the information isn’t even horrible, it’s basically saying be prudent, be careful.”

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