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Berkeley Passes Nation's First Radiation Warning For New Cellphones

BERKELEY (CBS SF) -- The city council of Berkeley voted to pass a cellphone "right to know" law Tuesday, making it the first safety ordinance of its kind in the country.

The City Council approved the approved the proposal by a vote of 9-0, requiring health warnings with the purchase of a cellphone.

Cellphone retailers will be required to include a city-prepared notice along with the purchase of a cellphone, informing consumers of the minimum separation distance a cellphone should be held from the body.

The Federal Communication Commission recommends keeping your phone 5 to 25 millimeters away, depending on the model, to limit radio frequency (RF) exposure to safe levels.

"If you carry or use your phone in a pants or shirt pocket or tucked into a bra when the phone is ON and connected to a wireless network, you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure to RF [radio frequency] radiation," is part of the proposed language. Retailers would be prohibited from selling phones that do not bear the warning: "This potential risk is greater for children. Refer to the instructions in your phone or user manual for information about how to use your phone safely."

The new law could take effect in July, but may face legal challenges. The Cellular Telephone Industries Association says the law violates the First Amendment because it would force wireless retailers to disseminate speech they may not agree with.

In a letter to the council members Tuesday, Gerard Keegan with the CITA said, "The forced speech is misleading and alarmist because it would cause consumers to take away the message that cell phones are dangerous and can cause breast, testicular, or other cancers."

Berkeley is not the first place to try and pass this type of law. Health groups and consumers have been campaigning for cellular safety regulations for years now.

Maine, Hawaii, New Mexico, California, Oregon and Pennsylvania have also considered warnings to address cellphone radiation concerns.

The city of San Francisco came closer on this front, approving regulations in 2010 that mandated cellphone retailers display the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) -- or the amount of radio frequency (RF) energy absorbed by the body -- for each phone sold. The Cellular Telephone Industries Association immediately sued the city,claiming the law would confuse consumers by implying that lower radiation levels are safer, and the ordinance was thrown out.

Now the Berkeley proposal seeks to address concerns that even as cellphones become ubiquitous in our lives, many people remain unaware of basic safety recommendations.

An April 30th survey funded by the California Brain Tumor Association (CABTA) found that 70 percent of Berkeley adults did not know about the FCC's minimum separation distance. And 82 percent said they would like information about how far the phone should be kept from the user's body.

In the last seven months, Berkeley has passed first in the nations laws, from an ordinance requiring climate change labels at fuel dispensing facilities to a tax on soda.

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