With the Board of Supervisors’ 10-1 vote in favor of an ordinance Mayor Gavin Newsom has indicated he will sign, San Francisco has waded into the as-yet unresolved debate over the relationship between long-term use of cell phones and health problems such as brain tumors.
It would be the country’s first law requiring cell phone retailers to disclose the phones’ specific absorption rate, or SAR, to customers.
SAR measures the maximum amount of radiation absorbed by a person using a handset. The Federal Communications Commission limits SAR to an average of 1.6 watts per kilogram of body tissue, but information about radiation levels is not usually readily available when people purchase phones at stores.
The city has produced reams of novel legislation and other regulations, banning plastic grocery bags, ending municipal use of bottled water, making composting mandatory, and requiring the posting of nutrition information in restaurants.
Renee Sharp, the California director of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, also said she hoped the law would dissuade consumers from buying relatively high radiation phones until their effect on the human body is fully understood. The advocacy group provided reports and other counsel to the city’s Department of the Environment as they developed the policy.
Industry officials would not speculate on the impact to their business, but many of the nation’s most popular cell phones have relatively high SAR levels.
This is because many of those popular phones are smart phones, which have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth receivers, as well as basic cellular capability, that add to their total SAR rating, according to Walls.
Under the law, larger chains will have to place SAR notices starting in February, while other stores will have until 2012.