John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The city wants retailers to caution consumers about RF radiation.
WARNING: The following news might cause irritation, gasping, and redness of vision among critics of government regulation.
Earlier this year, Berkeley wanted to slap climate-change warnings on gas stations. That hasn’t happened yet, but the ultra-progressive burg is chugging ahead with health warnings for cell phones.
This week, Berkeley’s city council passed a first reading of what’s been dubbed a “Right to Know” law—as in, “You have the right to know that cell phones may, or may not, hurt you.” If the ordinance reaches fruition, retailers that sell or lease phones would be required to give customers big-print notices about radiofrequency energy. According to the council, these would read:
The City of Berkeley requires that you be provided the following notice: To assure safety, the Federal Government requires that cell phones meet radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines. 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 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.
The view of the U.S. government on RF energy, for what it’s worth, is that “scientific evidence has not conclusively linked cell phone use with any adverse health problems, but more research is needed.”
The great site Berkeleyside has an entertaining rundown of this week’s council meeting. It’s worth a thorough read—especially the part about a similar law in San Francisco going down in flames—but here are a couple highlights:
City staff had assistance from Lawrence Lessig, a law professor at Harvard, and Robert Post, dean of Yale Law School, in drafting the ordinance. Lessig has offered to defend the city pro bono if the law is challenged, as expected, by cellphone manufacturers....
The drafted Berkeley ordinance, Lessig said, purely provided information. Questioned by Mayor Tom Bates, Lessig admitted that he did not follow the guidelines for carrying his phone.
“How I carry it is how people should not carry it,” Lessig said. “I carry it in my back pocket.”
Now let’s hear from the other side (booo!):
The only speaker at the meeting against the ordinance was Gerald Keegan, from CTIA—The Wireless Association.
“All of the agencies that have looked at this issue have determined that there are no harmful effects,” Keegan said, which elicited a chorus of boos and hisses from a crowded council chamber. “This proposal would irresponsibly alarm consumers.”