Radiation from cell towers is a serious concern

6:59 PM, Dec. 19, 2011
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Deborah Kopald will be discussing this issue as the featured guest at 8 p.m. today on WBAI 99.5 FM. (streamed live at www.wbai.org. A podcast will be archived by the hosts after the show at www.greenstreetradio.

At least 15 countries or international bodies have issued advisories on wireless devices and/or transmitters. Governments have warned citizens not to abandon their landlines, to hold cell phones away from heads and bodies when not in use, to restrict children’s use of cellular phones and not to install Wi-Fi.

Independent scientists assert that cellular phones are linked to brain tumors, brain damage, sperm count drops and cognitive dysfunction and that being in close proximity to a wireless transmitter regularly is also a problem, especially for children whose brains, eyes, immune systems and other organs are more susceptible to the effects of microwave radiation than adults’.

So how do we relate cellular phones to cellular towers and other transmitters? Obviously holding a cell phone to your ear is usually the most intense exposure people receive at a given time — although sitting next to a Wi-Fi transmitter on a train can expose you to the same radiation as talking on a cell phone. But a 2009 Swiss study showed that people in cities were getting more cumulative radiation from moving in and out of areas with transmitters than they were getting from daily use of their cellular phones.

Cellular towers — termed a public health emergency in the 1990s by 40 public health experts at Harvard and Boston University — were supposed to be kept away from schools and hospitals per a 1993 recommendation by the California Public Utilities Commission. In 2009, the European Union delivered a similar resolution.

The documentary film “Full Signal” chronicles effects on people who have lived close to transmitters. So what to make of Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) that are being rolled out or proposed in Westchester towns, most recently in Greenburgh where 20 antennas are proposed to be placed on utility poles in residential areas?

The $3 trillion wireless industry is engaging in misdirection by telling people and public officials that DAS contains much less radiation than cellular towers. While an individual DAS antenna is less powerful than a large tower, your radiation exposure is driven more by proximity to the cell transmitter than by its total power output. So if the transmitter is on a pole outside your house or even on your street, you will get more radiation in your house than you would from most existing cell towers that tend not to be erected in residential areas. The profusion of these antennas mean that more homes will be exposed to higher radiation levels than ever before.

In last week’s public hearing at Greenburgh Town Hall, besides the residents fearing cell transmitters near their property boundaries who voiced health concerns (which the federal government forbids localities from using as a basis for denying antennas), speakers pointed out that Greenburgh’s ordinance stipulates that residential areas are the location of last resort for transmitters and that it was unclear if the town had tried to negotiate other locations in its meetings with the provider, that high-speed internet already exists in people’s homes and that more wireless internet should not be needed to cover the nearby highway, since it is illegal to use a hand-held while driving.

Related questions are how big Metro PCS’ (the entity which is the lessee for Next-G’s transmitter system) actual “gap in coverage” is and how big Next-G’s gap will be after it merges with competitor Crown Castle.

If the antennas are merely to provide extra high-speed data service, they may not be legally required under the federal law. Meanwhile, Next-G has approached at least one other Westchester community, Scarsdale, about rolling out DAS there.

The industry will correctly assure people that the radiation emissions are within FCC limits, but that is hardly the point; negative biological effects occur at fraction of current radiation levels. People’s exposures are rising from more transmitters being placed in living environments – the cumulative effect of cordless phones, Wi-Fi, wireless utility smart metering, smart phones, even Bluetooth and baby monitors mean that people are being exposed to many more continuous sources of microwave radiation than ever before in history.

Consider: the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Radiation Protection Division stated that no standards exist for long-term exposure to microwave radiation.

The Federal Interagency Working Group on Radiofrequency Radiation states that the standards for pulsed radiofrequency are not protective of human health. But the agencies tasked with setting standards, health review and public advisories are paralyzed by bureaucratic inaction.

Consider also: Israel has banned transmitters from residential areas, even placing a moratorium on 4G because that government fears the effects on the public’s health.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., if your town does not have a robust cell tower law on the books that carefully governs transmitter placement, a company may stick a transmitter on a pole outside your bedroom window — all in the name of faster wireless internet service — something you already receive in buildings via a wire.

At stake is right to control electromagnetic radiation in your own home. Perhaps Winston Churchill was wrong when he said, “America eventually gets things right after exhausting all the other possibilities,” because while we should be addressing failed public policy that already exposes people to unacceptable and uncontrolled levels of radiation, we are in the process of increasing our exposures further.

Prior to the advent of cellular towers, the only people exposed to continuous microwave radiation were those living near broadcast antennas and air-traffic control towers; those populations showed increased rates of disease.

Given that most studies done on cellular towers show health effects within 1,500 feet, it is imperative that we not just stop increasing microwave radiation levels in living environments but that we be able to maintain transmitter-free zones that people can inhabit.

The writer is a nationally recognized public health advocate who lives in Orange County and has consulted to governmental officials, nonprofit organizations and concerned Westchester residents on DAS and other wireless transmitters and devices.

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