"I'll be damned if I let those invisible EM waves get into my lead, cell tower!!" -- Random S.F. Cat  (Source: Google Images)

Clearly these young San Francisco residents are headed for an awful end if you believe their cell-phone fearing elders.  (Source: Image Barrel)
San Francisco residents frustrated by pesky science's interference, warn of vast conspiracy

San Francisco's cell phone fearing residents have cause to stock up on tin foil.  Legislation that would force cell phone sellers to display labels describing the amount of electromagnetic radiation their devices produce has stalled in the face of lawsuits and questions of the proposal's technical accuracy.  So that means that the Californians' brains will be bombarded by those dangerous cell phone signals for a bit longer, at least.

I. Radiation, What Radiation?

No peer-reviewed scientific research study has shown Wi-Fi or cell phone tower proximity to have an adverse effect on humans.  However, studies have suggested that electromagnetic radiation (such as cell phone signals) may have a negative effect on "naked" DNA or on certain animal fetuses.  While these results have questionable applicability to humans that hasn't stopped people from sounding the alarm on the "dangers" of cell phone towers and Wi-Fi signals.

Some have even claimed to have "Wi-Fi allergies" despite medical doctors saying that there's no evidence to support such an ailment.

Even more heated is the debate on cell phones themselves.  A handful of international studies have suggested that people may be at an increased risk of salivary gland and brain tumors on the side of the head the user holds their phone when talking on it.  Other studies, though have shown no correlation and even the studies that do show correlation fail to prove causation by the device.  In other words -- there's no current scientific consensus suggesting today's cellular devices pose a danger.

Not wanting to let the pesky old scientific process get in the way, a large number of citizens in San Francisco have been looking to take action against the evils of Wi-Fi, cell phones, and cell phone towers.  To their great joy, the city's government last year passed a bill which would demand that all phones sold in the region have attached labels informing how much (EM) radiation they emit.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission already evaluates all wireless devices and confirms with medical experts that they meet safety criteria.  But the San Francisco residents were convinced the new law would allow them to avoid phantom ailments that science is apparently incapable of currently describing -- or ailments which were being covered up by some sort of vast conspiracy executed by a consortium of academic institutions, medical practices, the federal government, and electronic manufacturers.

Former Mayor Gavin Newsom (who now is serving as Lieutenant Governor of California) was among the radiation-suspicious residents who sang the praises of the unusual legislation.  He stated that it was a "modest, commonsense measure" designed to inform shoppers.

This extraordinary bill was the first of its kind in the U.S.  And it came at a cost to cell phone companies, which faced spending extra money and hassle to try to come up with the new labels.

II. Cell Phone Companies Sue City

Upset about having to go through all that extra hassle to do business in San Francisco, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), a trade group representing cell phone companies sued over the law (offer further fodder to local conspiracy theorists).

The lawsuit pointed out that the FCC was already checking devices for safety and it also informed the city that they would have to pay the trade group's legal fees if they lost.

Panicked, the city's lawyers reportedly met with the city council and officials in a series of closed door meetings.  They convinced them to bump the implementation from February to May 1 -- then to June 15.  And now they've shelved implementation of the new policy indefinitely.

III. What Exactly Are They Measuring?

The lawyers reportedly were not only concerned about the legal footing of the proposal, but also whether it even provides consumers with the information they're seeking.

Under the proposal customers would get the same specific absorption rate (SAR) information that the FCC evaluates.  The FCC requires all phones have a SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram of body tissue, or less.  Many cell phone models have SARs of around 0.2 watts per kg.

But medical professionals like Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley say the SAR doesn't accurately represent how much electromagnetic radiation the device is emitting.  That's because the SAR only measures the peak radiation, not average radiation.

In an interview with the blog SFGate he says that using the SAR is akin to only measuring gas mileage of vehicles when climbing steep hills.  Such an approach might lead consumers to the illogical conclusion that hybrids -- which perform poorly on hills -- get worse gas mileage versus regular vehicles.  But in reality, on average the hybrids would, of course, actually get better overall mpg.  

He states, "You could buy a lower SAR phone, but on average it could produce more radiation than a higher SAR phone."

IV. Watered Down Legislation Will Likely Replace Current Bill

Given the problematic nature of the current bill, city Supervisor John Avalos say changes will be made to it before anything is implemented.  He states, "There will still be some information that's going to be shared (with buyers of cell phones), but it's going to be somewhat less."

It is thought that the final version will likely boil down to forcing cell phone retailers to hand out a tip sheet on ways to lessen radiation exposure, such as using hands-free devices and not keeping the phone close to your body.  Cell phone retailers wouldn't have to provide specific radiation metrics for their phones.

The city hopes the changes will convince the trade group to drop its lawsuit.  But the original bill's cell-phone fearing proponents aren't happy with the changes.

Renee Sharp, director of the California office of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWP), says that not providing the SAR data is a big loss.  She accuses the industry trade group of conspiracy, stating, "[They are] bullying the city, and they have a lot of money and they have a lot of power."

She did opine, though, that the watered down version is better than nothing, stating, "We think the important thing is that San Francisco still wants to do something, and they're not letting CTIA totally win the day."

And of course, there is nothing stopping residents from outfitting themselves with the ultimate in a radiation blocking safety -- a nice tin foil helmet.

"We’re Apple. We don’t wear suits. We don’t even own suits." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs

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