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Cellphone industry group CTIA sues San Francisco over radiation ordinance

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 2010; A10

First, the cellphone industry told San Francisco it wouldn't host its annual trade show there again. Now, it's suing.

CTIA, the trade group representing Apple, AT&T, Motorola and Verizon, is fuming over San Francisco's law that requires retailers to display radiation levels emitted by wireless gadgets. The ordinance, passed last month and the first of its kind in the nation, was intended to alert consumers to the body absorption rates of certain devices as scientists continue to debate whether users of the world's 4.5 billion phones could face an increased risk of cancer.

In its suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, CTIA seeks to block enforcement of the city's cellphone "Right-to-Know" ordinance. CTIA argues that the ordinance goes against Federal Communications Commission oversight of standards that keep phones safe.

Some scientists and public advocacy groups have questioned the limits set by the FCC on how much radiation can be absorbed by body tissue. They say the rules, put into place in 1997, are outdated and geared toward adult males. Long-term users and children, with thinner skulls, could be at greater risk, according to a 13-nation epidemiological study released in May.

But there is no conclusive scientific evidence that cellphone use can lead to cancer. Lawmakers and scientists around the globe have called for further research to understand the long-term health effects of cellphones on users.

Cellphone makers and wireless service providers said the San Francisco ordinance causes confusion and misleads consumers into thinking some phones are safer than others.

"CTIA's objection to the ordinance is that displaying a phone's [specific absorption rate] value at the point-of-sale suggests to the consumer that there is a meaningful safety distinction between FCC-compliant devices with different SAR levels," John Walls, a spokesman for the group, said in a news release. "The FCC has determined that all wireless phones legally sold in the United States are 'safe.' "

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said the ordinance was not an attack on the cellphone industry but an effort to better inform consumers upon purchase of a device.

"I'm surprised these industry representatives would choose to spend untold sums of money fighting this in courtrooms instead of cooperatively working with our city and county to comply with a reasonable law providing greater transparency," Newsom said in a statement.

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