Berkeley City Council’s proposed “right to know” ordinance warning consumers about the levels of radiation exposure from cellphones — which got the green light from a federal judge this week after a legal challenge — is an unnecessary precaution supported by shoddy to nonexistent evidence.
While similar campaigns focused on consumers have seen success, those pushes have targeted products with demonstrable health and environmental risks. Scientific research backs up claims of cancerous cigarettes, diabetes- and obesity-causing sodas, and climate-change-contributing gasoline, and governmental agencies — especially Berkeley’s — have created warning labels or taxes to deter their use.
With cellphones, however, the situation is different. These health and safety notices would be in stores to warn consumers of possible radiation effects when cellphones are held close to the body. Yet the Federal Communications Commission not only mandates that all cellphones sold in the United States have radiofrequency energy levels that meet Food and Drug Administration safety requirements, but it also states, “There is no scientific evidence that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer or a variety of other problems, including headaches, dizziness or memory loss.” Additionally, the National Cancer Institute states that “there is currently no consistent evidence that non-ionizing radiation (the radiation emitted by cellphones) increases cancer risk.”
It’s true that, given the technology’s recent emergence, there haven’t been longitudinal studies on the long-term effects of cellphone radiation. It would be preemptive and misguided, however, to overemphasize potential dangers that haven’t been scientifically proven.
As research has yet to find significant danger in cellphone use, the city of Berkeley would be irresponsible to perpetuate fears of the health and safety risks of such a prevalent technology.
City Council wasted its time and resources to create and defend this proposed ordinance against a lawsuit filed by CTIA – The Wireless Association, an industry trade group that represents wireless communication interests. Devoting council meetings and city staff to the issue took away time from other, more pressing matters.
The city of Berkeley generally takes pride in its first-in-the-nation, progressive status, as it should. After passing the nation’s first tax on sugary beverages, honoring Bisexuality Day and leading LGBT and civil rights movements, the city was looked upon as a leader in liberalism.
But when efforts to protect citizens’ rights and health devolve into the anti-vaccination movement and paranoia over cellphone radiation, progressivism keeps us from moving forward.
Posting signs in cellphone-distribution stores will likely not alter consumer behavior but could instead lead to an increase in misinformation in the Berkeley community. We cannot always equate first-in-the-nation laws with best-in-the-nation laws.
Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.