Mark Leno bill would require radiation labels for cell phones

State Sen. Mark Leno said he’s one of an estimated 4 billion cellular phone users worldwide – and loves it.

But because of emerging international health studies, Leno said Thursday, he has introduced a bill that would require all cell phones sold in California to include information about their radiation emissions on sales boxes, instructional materials and model displays in stores.

“I think that what we’re proposing here today is very modest,” Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, said at a Sacramento news conference.

Cell phones, Leno said, “have enriched our lives. They have bettered our lives in ways we are only beginning to understand. They also emit radio-frequency radiation, which does have human health effects.”

Leno noted that a joint study by researchers in European countries suggested recently that people who use cell phones for more than 10 years face a greater risk of developing a brain or gland tumor.

The U.S. maximum allowable level of cellular phones’ “specific absorption rate” of radiation, known as SAR, was set by the Federal Communications Commission in 1992.

Manufacturers are not required to disclose to consumers the various rates that cell phones have, although some include it in materials inside boxes or on Web sites.

Leno said his bill would ensure that consumers – before they buy a device – would see this information to help guide them in their selection.

Industry groups look likely to try to block the measure. John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement: “We are opposed to this legislation because it is unnecessary and would mislead consumers.”

Walls said the FCC works with the federal Food and Drug Administration to adopt safe exposure levels that must be followed. According to the FCC, Walls said, “any cell phone at or below these SAR levels is a ‘safe’ phone.”

Motorola, which makes the popular Droid smart phone, said in a statement: “Although SAR values for products vary, all SAR values for Motorola products are within safe exposure limits, and all products are considered equally safe.”

FDA officials, who have the power to take action against devices that exceed standards, did not respond to requests for comment on the proposal.

The FDA’s Web site, however, states that “the weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.”

The FDA site also recommends that to reduce radio-frequency exposure, adults and children can “reduce the amount of time spent on the cell phone” and “use speaker mode or a headset to place more distance between the head and the cell phone.”

Renee Sharp, an Environmental Working Group biologist who appeared at Leno’s news conference, said more research is needed on what the risks may be over time of exposure to cell phone radiation.

“We can’t say, and we aren’t saying that cell phones cause cancer,” said Sharp, whose group has sent scientists to testify before Congress about European research and is sponsoring Leno’s measure.

A review of more than 200 scientific studies and government advisories, Sharp said, shows “reason to be concerned” and “to take some basic cautionary measures.”

Studies show children’s thinner skulls are less of a shield against emissions, Sharp said.

“We also now know that children’s brains absorb twice as much radiation as adult brains,” Sharp said. “But this wasn’t taken into consideration – and in fact it wasn’t known – 20 years ago when the FCC set standards for cell phone radiation.”

Health advocates hope Leno’s bill will build momentum for a federal labeling requirement.

The city of San Francisco is considering requiring stores to display emissions information next to cell phone models.

A Maine legislator has proposed placing a possible cancer warning label on devices.

Sharp said many European countries, while not adopting labeling requirements, are aggressively urging parents to limit children’s cell use, use earpieces and text more often.