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Cell Tower health effects still uncertain

July 1, 1993

Cell Tower health effects still uncertain

By Joe Baker

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

Buried in the Telecommunications Act of 1966 was the statement that zoning for cell phone tower sites could not be based on “the environmental effects of radio-frequency emissions, to the extent that such facilities comply with the FCC regulations concerning such emissions.”

The wording was a sneaky way to include health effects on humans in the category of environmental effects.

The entire issue of radio frequency (RF) emissions has become a complex one with respect to their effects on the human body. No conclusive studies seem to exist, despite a fair amount of research

Concern about this portion of the electromagnetic spectrum spans many years. The research that has been done has generated considerable controversy. That controversy shows no signs of slowing down.

Many places have banned or restricted cell tower placement until more definitive answers on the health hazard issue are produced. Rockford decided to go ahead with installations despite questions about hazards.

Radiation is a part of our environment, like it or not, but it is not without dangers. There are two types of radiation-ionizing and non-ionizing. The first is short wavelength radiation, such as X-rays and ultraviolet light; the latter is the type of radiation emitted by powerlines, radios, TV, microwave ovens and cellular phones.

Ionizing radiation has the power to cause permanent damage to cells, creating cancers and genetic mutations. Longer wave radiation was believed to be harmless because of lower power. But the longer waves can have thermal effects on human tissue.

FCC safety guidelines for this radiation are based on those effects. Yet, there is considerable evidence that non-thermal effects pose some serious effects for humans. Among the results of this non-thermal radiation are various cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and others.

Researchers have found baffling “nonlinear effects” which point to the most profound effects at the lowest exposures.

One scientist, at an Air Force laboratory in New Mexico in 1992, said non-thermal effects produced at levels beneath today’s limits should be given more attention. Cletus Kanavy said the effects of greatest concern are: “behavioral aberrations, neural network perturbations, fetal tissue damage, cataractogenesis, metabolic changes, altered blood chemistry and suppression of the endocrine and immune systems.”

The industry cites its own studies, performed by its own engineers and paid for by the government, which promulgate the results as safety standards. The wireless industry generally maintains that low energy emissions pose little or no health threat to people. They say the hazard is not the cell tower, but the antenna mounted on it, and direct exposure to that antenna would be necessary to produce any adverse health effects.

The Rock River Times requested comment from the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association on this issue. Our calls were not returned.

The telecommunications industry is a powerful lobby. They don’t like local restrictions. They seek interstate commerce status to avoid local control. If they win at the federal level, they believe, they win in all the states.

More than 50 scientists and public health officials in the Boston area recently petitioned the EPA to stop the buildout of a personal communications system (PCS) phone network in that city. The petition was ignored.

Dr. Henry Lai of Seattle has spent years researching the effects of radio frequency radiation. He commented: “An important question regarding the biological effects of RFR is whether the effects are cumulative, that is, after repeated exposure, will the nervous system adapt to the perturbation and, with continued exposure, when will homeostasis break down, leading to irreparable damage? The question of whether an effect will cumulate over time with repeated exposure is particularly important in considering the possible health effects of mobile telephone usage, since it involves repeated exposure of short duration over a long period of time.”

In the case of the handset user, the exposure is voluntary. For those who must live near a cell phone tower, it is not. That is reason enough for more and better research before these towers are allowed to proliferate.

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