San Francisco, home base of the Internet’s startup economy, is close to passing a law that will cast the city as either a leader on public health, a town full of crazies, or probably both.

The city’s Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that mayor Gavin Newsom will probably sign. It will require all cellphone retailers, beginning next year, to label the emitted radiation levels of all phones they sell.

The city supervisors make clear in the official ordnance submitted for filing that they aren’t trying to ban mobile phones from San Francisco. They reference “government agencies and scientific bodies in the European Union and Israel” as the source of reports about “the potential harm of long-term exposure” to cellphone radiation that spurred them to act.

America’s Federal Communication Commission has set limits on cellphone radiation for years. All phones are tested before going on sale. The “specific absorption rate,” or SAR, of each phone is a matter of public record.  But “consumers are not able to make informed purchasing decisions” because the ratings aren’t prominently displayed to buyers evaluating phones in stores. And the amount of radiation your head absorbs from different phones varies significantly based on the phone’s design.

The full text of the legislation is embedded below. Or you can read the 100-word version:

  • Beginning Februrary 1, 2011, mobile phone stores will be required to list the “specific absorption rate,” or SAR, of each phone on display.
  • The label must be at least 1″ x 2-5/8″. The SAR value must be in Arial 11-point type or larger. The rest of the label must be Arial 8 point or larger.
  • Optionally, retailers can post an 8-1/2″ x 11″ or larger sign that lists SAR values for the phones they carry.
  • Fines for not following the new rules: $100 max for first violation. $250 max for second, and $500 max for third.

[Cigarette image: GQ]

San Francisco Cell-Phone Radiation Ordinance