Opinion

Op-ed: Residents want, deserve cellphone ‘right to know’

We all deserve the right to know at the point of sale the FCC required “safe distance” information currently hidden deep within the cellphone or in an online manual few read. We are entitled to make informed decisions for ourselves and for our children as to safest possible use of this device used hours daily even by children.

Berkeley can do the right thing when the City Council considers a right to know ordinance at its meeting on May 12.

The wireless industry has blocked this information at point of sale across the U.S. by threatening lawsuits when a similar ordinance is considered. It sued San Francisco, which was forced to repeal its cellphone right to know law which passed the Board of Supervisors unanimously. The higher courts ruled in a nonbinding decision that San Francisco’s law violated the industry’s first amendment rights by compelling speech. And what about our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

As Executive Director of the California Brain Tumor Association I know far too many who have perished from cancers caused, more likely than not, by their cellphone use. Had they been advised at the point of sale to never hold the phone to their body they would not have put their lives at risk. I know the science and the collusion between this industry and the FCC, the agency with no scientific expertise that regulates cellphone radiation emissions. Science tells us that cellphones are causing brain tumors, salivary gland tumors, breast cancer, damage and death of sperm, and damage to fetuses. And, shockingly, cellphones were never pre-market safety tested!

Harvard constitutional law professor Lawrence Lessig has pledged to defend any city or state pro bono if they legislate for the now hidden advisories to be posted at the point of sale. Lessig helped us draft the proposed Berkeley legislation and will be at the City Council meeting representing staff in the discussion of this ordinance.

Lessig suggested that a survey be conducted by Public Policy Polling this past March. 100% of those polled used a cellphone. 82% of adults in Berkeley reported that they want to be informed when they purchase a cellphone about the manufacturer’s recommended minimum distance that the phone should be kept from the user’s body.

Other key survey findings:

  • Fewer than 15% have seen the recommendations by cellphone manufacturers about how to best protect against overexposure to cellphone radiation.
  • Almost 74% reported that they or their children carry a cellphone against their body — tucked in a shirt or pants pocket while the phone is switched on.

The proposed ordinance requires cellphone retailers to provide a City-prepared handout to consumers at the point of sale that reminds them to read their phone manufacturers’ safety instructions. The handout also advises the consumer to never wear or use a cellphone against their body (in on mode), as in a shirt or pants pocket or tucked into a bra.

If this passes Berkeley will become the only city in the U.S. to require retailers to provide consumers with this important safety information. As with second-hand smoking laws we hope to take this law across the nation with Lessig’s help.

Lisa Bailey, M.D., past president of the American Cancer Society (CA) and breast cancer surgeon at Alta Bates Medical Center, supports the ordinance:

“We have had some anecdotal cases in which the woman’s breast cancer develops directly below the area where her cellphone was carried. I believe that the public has the right to know that there may be potential risks and to use their phone in a way to reduce potential harm. I urge the Berkeley City Council to provide such information to their constituents.”

Recent peer-reviewed research has found that cellphone radiation causes sperm damage:

  • The authors of a review of ten studies on the effects of mobile phone radiation on human sperm quality concluded that, “Our analyses indicate negative associations between mobile phone exposure on sperm viability and motility.” (Adams et al., 2014).
  • “Keeping the cellphone in a trouser pocket in talk mode may negatively affect spermatozoa and impair male fertility” (Agarwal et al. 2009).
  • “Specifically, we recommend that men of reproductive age who engage in high levels of mobile phone use do not keep their phones in receiving mode below waist level” (De Iuliis et al., 2009).
  • In 2011 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields possibly carcinogenic to humans based on an increased risk of lethal brain tumors associated with mobile phone use.

The July, 2012 Government Accountability Office report, “Telecommunications; Exposure and Testing requirements for Mobile Phones Should Be reassessed,” found that: “Some consumers may use mobile phones against the body which FCC does not currently test, and could result in RF energy exposure higher than the FCC limit.”

The City Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m., May 12, at 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. We urge Berkeley residents and other concerned citizens in the Bay Area to attend as community support is needed to get this passed. The wireless industry will be there in opposition.

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Ellen Marks is Executive Director of the California Brain Tumor Association