by Sandia Belgrade
The Baca Grande Property Owners Association held a public comment meeting on whether to respond to a proposal from Commnet Wireless to pursue a lease and install a cell phone tower on POA property near the Kit Carson Rod & Gun Club and Camper Village. The POA Board said it was their first discussion, and someone commented that one would need a PhD to grasp the information so we’d have to trust Comnet and the FCC. That, as it turns out, could be misguided trust. We would all benefit from accurate information on the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) standards, the impact of radio frequency radiation (RF), how EMR impacts property values and our safety. Most of all, there is newer technology that can make unnecessary the radiation from cell towers.
This will be the first of a two part series presenting credible information. The second installation in March will feature an interview with a noted expert in the field.
There will be some residents whose only questions are about improving service. After all, many of us use cell phones and like the convenience. Given that a cell phone tower (cellular base station) is going to be put up in Moffat, we need to ask how much is enough? What is overkill—and I use that phrase literally. For some it will take a quantum leap to realize that there’s much to be concerned about, much of it invisible, as in what you can’t see could be dangerous. The Comnet group limited its presentation to the guidelines of their company and the FCC which resulted in a very narrow view of the science of telecommunications which is changing rapidly.
Description of the cell tower
The height of the proposed tower would be 150 feet, enclosed in a 60ft x 60ft area with a 6 foot tall locked chain link fence. There will be 2 sets of antennas (the actual source of radiation) and 2 radio cabinets, a total of 6 transmitting antennas, 6 radios in a cabinet. Both the POA and the County have height restrictions; therefore, Comnet would have to apply for an exception and a conditional use permit from the County. The proposed location is a 35-acre parcel leased to the gun club. This location is approximately 500 feet from Camper Village and close enough that Casita Park will also feel its impact. It will provide services to major carriers including Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, and if the POA signs a lease for 25 years, it will generate revenue of $150,000.
Who would receive that money, the gun club or the POA? That wouldn’t be settled until the tower is approved and its ultimate location determined.
The permitted limits of electromagnetic energy
All cell phones and cell phone towers emit RF energy, a type of electromagnetic energy. Julie Hall, the Comnet engineer who fielded most of the questions at the POA meeting, stated that the microwave and satellite emissions are 0.3% of the FCC allowable limit at the base of the tower.
She repeated that seemingly low number nearly a dozen times stating how it was well within safety guidelines set by the FCC. Legally it could even be more. Compare this to the standard being used by most countries: the International Conference on Cell Tower Siting attended by scientists from around the world issued the Salzburg Resolution with these safety recommendations: a total high frequency radiation limit of 100W/m is recommended. For base stations a limit of 1 m/Wm (0.1 W/cm) is recommended. Simply put, the level is .1 microwatt or 10,000 times less than the US allows. A significant question to ask is why doesn’t the United States follow this standard? Comnet’s tower, and specifically the antenna which puts out the radiation, will emit 30 times the international standard, and they can legally increase this.
In contrast to mobile handsets, radiation from a tower is emitted continuously and is more powerful at close quarters. Two of the most important factors are the distance and the direct line of sight to the antenna site. Radiation energy is focused out horizontally to whatever is in the sightline, so many people and creatures will be impacted. A 2004 German government study found that people living near cell tower radiation had three times the normal cancer risk. Some schools in the US, including the Los Angeles Unified School Board, have already passed resolutions opposing cell towers on school property. While the residents in Camper Village and Casita Park will most feel its effects, the Charter School, with children who are most vulnerable to radiation, is across the golf course from Casita Park.
The tower would be a steel pole or would be disguised as lattice, an ugly intrusive structure in a rural area prized for its natural beauty and spiritual values—after all, this is why people come here. Its visibility will directly affect the aesthetics of the community and the property values. A study conducted in Florida found prices of properties decreased by over 2%, on average, after a tower was built. Realty Times noted towers may very well diminish property value. Various appraiser journals and industry publications concur that reduced property values accompany cell phone towers.
The FCC’s primary jurisdiction does not lie in health and safety. One member of the Board asserted that we must consider only the legalities. Ignoring the health findings about invisible radiation could result in a legal nightmare here. A large body of internationally accepted scientific evidence points to the existence of thermal and non-thermal effects of RF/MW (microwave) radiation. Internationally, scientists—acknowledged experts in the field of RF/MW radiation research—have shown that RF/MW transmissions of the type used in digital cellular antennas and phones can have critical effects on cell cultures in animals and people and have also found epidemiological evidence (studies of communities, not in the laboratory) of serious health effects.
The range of symptoms a person might feel from radiation includes fatigue, cataracts, reduced mental concentration, dental problems (especially broken fillings) bronchitis, insomnia, pelvic discomfort/pain in the testicles or ovaries, just to name a few. But the damage to DNA, noted specifically in brain and sex cells and affecting the young and old, really gives one pause. Children are particularly at risk, for they are biologically more vulnerable: their skulls are thinner, their tissues—including their brains—are not fully developed. Perhaps the Board and residents will look at studies from the Netherlands, France, and Australia. An Australian study found that children living near towers which emit radiation developed leukemia at three times the rate of children living over seven miles away. In communities like San Francisco, for instance, concerned individuals and neighborhood groups have formed the San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union (SNAFU) for the purpose of preventing “the placement of wireless antennas on or near residences, schools, health care centers, day care centers, senior centers, playgrounds, places of worship, and other inappropriate locations.”
A multitude of studies
It may take a critical mass of studies and information to turn the tide, as in the case of tobacco, asbestos and thalidomide. However, a serious biological effect of radiation is its ability to disrupt cell membranes. This has been known since the work of Suzanne Bawin and her coworkers in 1975 (Annals of the NY Academy of Sciences Vol. 247, pp 74-81). They discovered that amplitude-modulated radio-waves, where the signal strength rises and falls (as it does in mobile phones), could remove structurally important calcium ions from cell membranes at levels far too low to generate significant heat.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences classified electromagnetic fields as a Class 2B carcinogen. Over 100 scientists and physicians at Boston and Harvard Universities Schools of Public Health have called cell phone towers a radiation hazard. 33 delegate-physicians from seven countries have declared cell phone towers a “public health emergency!”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an intergovernmental agency forming part of the World Health Organization of the United Nations, found extremely low frequency magnetic fields were evaluated as potentially carcinogenic to humans, based on the statistical association of higher level residential ELF (extremely low frequency) magnetic fields and increased risk for childhood leukemia. Numerous other studies show memory and cognitive function impairment.
George Louis Carlo headed the Wireless Technology Research program, a US$28.5 million research program, employing over 200 doctors and scientists, funded by the cellular phone industry. They were to investigate the possible health effects of cellular phones.
When Carlo raised “red flags of concern among public health people,” he lost his position.
Animals are also affected by radiation. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service issued a “Briefing Paper on the Need for Research into the Cumulative Impacts of Communications Towers on Migratory Birds and Other Wildlife in the United States.” It would be ironic that, after fighting so hard to keep oil and gas drilling out of the Wildlife Refuge that we would now sacrifice it to invisible radiation.
200,000 legal challenges are currently making their way through the courts involving communities opposing placement of towers. There are calls for tightening EMF (electro-magnetic frequency) power-frequency exposure standards, the most significant of which was filed in federal court by a group of concerned citizens in conjunction with the Communications Workers of America and a group of “electrically sensitive” people, who have allergic-like reactions to electromagnetic fields. The suit charges, among other things, that federal health and safety agencies should be held accountable for their failure to protect the public, and accuses the FCC of ignoring important studies on RF-radiation hazards, as well as overstepping its statutory authority in banning RF regulation at the local level. (http://arts.envirolink.org/arts_and_activism/BlakeLevitt.html)
Dr. Magda Havas, Associate Professor of Environmental and Resource Studies at Trent University in Canada, and Camilla Rees, Founder of ElectromagneticHealth.org, write about “Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side of the Wireless Revolution” which reviews the independent science on the health hazards of wireless radiation.
The emerging technology
Most importantly, Comnet and others are using older, out-dated technology. The communication industry has been switching over to optical systems for landlines and they can use infrared or other visible light frequencies for wireless transmission instead of microwave frequencies, chosen thirty years ago because of convenience and cost factors.
Why is this new technology not more prevalent? Cost. When critical mass is reached, the industry will have to respond with safer alternatives, but the public must demand it.
By waiting for the new technology, the POA can avoid getting sued, devaluing property values and diminishing this place of rural beauty. Most of all, they can protect the wellbeing of their membership.
(More on infrared light, the electrosmog conditions reported in the news just last month, and the most insidious effects of radiation on human cells in the March issue of The Crestone Eagle.)
Baca POA considers a cell tower—Improved communication at what cost? Part I
by Sandia Belgrade