On eve of key Ninth Circuit hearing, GAO raises questions about cell phone safety final 60-days

Oral arguments in wireless industry challenge to City Cell Phone Ordinance: Thursday at 9 a.m., 9th Circuit Courthouse, 95 7th Street

SAN FRANCISCO (July 26, 2012) — On the eve of a key federal appeals court hearing in the mobile phone lobby’s legal challenge to San Francisco’s cell phone consumer information ordinance, the U.S. Government Accountability Office today released a report expressing concern that the Federal Communications Commission has failed to keep up with scientific developments on the possible link between cell phone radiation and cancer. The report by the GAO — the independent, nonpartisan auditing agency that works for Congress — was commissioned a year ago to review FCC standards after a panel of 31 leading scientists from the World Health Organization concluded that the radiofrequency energy exposure from cell phones is “possibly carcinogenic.” The report is titled, “Exposure and Testing Requirements for Mobile Phones Should be Reassessed.”

City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office is defending San Francisco’s cell phone ordinance in an oral argument before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, Aug. 9, at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom One of the James R. Browning Courthouse, at 95 7th Street in San Francisco. The hearing is open to the public. Deputy City Attorney Vince Chabria will be available to the news media following the hearing to answer questions.

San Francisco’s ordinance, first adopted in July 2010, directed the San Francisco Department of the Environment to develop disclosure materials to inform consumers about possible health risks associated with cell phones, and actions users could take to minimize their exposure to the devices’ radiofrequency energy emissions. These materials, which cell phone retailers must provide to people who are purchasing phones, advise consumers that the World Health Organization has classified cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen, and that although studies are ongoing to assess this issue, simple precautionary measures can be taken to reduce exposure, such as maintaining a distance between the cell phone and the body. CTIA sued the City in federal court on the theory that the ordinance violates the wireless industry’s First Amendment rights and is preempted by federal law. The district court rejected most of CTIA’s arguments, but enforcement of the ordinance is on hold pending appeal.

“The GAO report supports what San Francisco’s policymakers concluded two years ago: we need to stay on top of this issue, because alarming new information is coming in about cell phone radiation, and in the meantime consumers should be informed about simple measures they can take to reduce exposure if this concerns them,” Herrera said. “But that common sense principle is under attack by the cell phone industry. Incredibly, the cell phone lobby is arguing that they have a First Amendment right to keep their own customers in the dark until there is absolute scientific proof that their products are dangerous to human health.”

The World Health Organization made the following statement when it concluded in 2011 that cell phone radiation is a possible carcinogen in 2011: “Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings, it is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting.” WHO’s press release is available here: https://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf.

The following are some excerpts from the GAO report released today:

“Though mobile phones operate at power levels well below the level at which this thermal effect occurs, the question of whether long-term exposure to RF energy emitted from mobile phones can cause other types of adverse health effects, such as cancer, has been the subject of research and debate.” (P. 1)

“Also, epidemiological studies to date have been limited in their ability to provide information about possible effects of long-term RF energy exposure because the prevalence of long-term mobile phone use is still relatively limited and some tumors, including some cancerous tumors, do not develop until many years after exposure.” (PP. 9-10)

“FCC’s current RF energy exposure limit for mobile phones, established in 1996, may not reflect the latest evidence on the thermal effects of RF energy exposure and may impose additional costs on manufacturers and limitations on mobile phone design. FCC regulates RF energy emitted from mobile phones and relies on federal health and safety agencies to help determine the appropriate RF energy exposure limit. However, FCC has not formally asked FDA or EPA for their assessment of the limit since 1996, during which time there have been significant improvements in RF energy research and therefore a better understanding of the thermal effects of RF energy exposure. This evidence has led to a new RF energy exposure limit recommendation from international organizations. Additionally, maintaining the current U.S. limit may result in additional costs for manufacturers and impact phone design in a way that could limit performance and functionality. Reassessing its current RF energy exposure limit would ensure that FCC’s limit protects the public from exposure to RF energy while allowing industry to provide telecommunications services in the most efficient and practical manner possible.” (P. 27)

The full text of the GAO’s report is available here: https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-12-771.

The case is: CTIA-The Wireless Association(r) v. City and County of San Francisco, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Nos. 11-17707 and 11-17773.

Related Documents:

PDF iconPDF of the Cell Phones GAO Press Kit (Aug 7, 2012)

PDF icon PDF of City & County of San Francisco’s opening 9th circuit brief (Jan. 25, 2012)