Reporter Kathryn Boughton of the Kent Dispatch newspaper has written a very good article about cell phone tower safety. The panel of experts have provided some excellent information. This article is well worth reading and keeping for reference purposes!
The Canadian Initiative to stop
Wireless, Electric, and
Cellular tower safety questioned
By: Kathryn Boughton
Kent First Selectman Ruth Epstein believes establishing a cellular tower in Kent is a matter of public safety, but the preponderance of testimony given by panelists in Cornwall last weekend suggests that the technology is more dangerous than the emergencies it might avert.
A forum, "Responsible Tower Siting, It's More Than Aesthetics," was held Saturday at the Cornwall Town Hall and featured presentations by science journalist B. Blake Levitt, former federal prosecutor Whitney North Seymour, Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council president Starr Childs, and Columbia University professor of physiology and cellular biophysics Martin Blank.
Ms. Levitt, author of "Electromagnetic Fields, A Consumer's Guide to the Issues and How to Protect Ourselves," and the editor of "Cell Towers, Wireless Convenience or Environmental Hazard?" led off the presentations with a rapid-fire indictment of an industry that she has covered in-depth for many years.
She said that Saturday's forum had been condemned in an area newspaper by persons who believed the goal was to stop all cellular towers. That, she said, was not her intent. "This is about safer siting than we have now," she said. "There are significant things communities can do to protect themselves."
She and her fellow panelists reported that there is much to be protected from. "People say providing more towers is a safety issue," she said. "Everyone has heard about lives that were saved because of cell phones, but cell phones cause more accidents than they help." Drivers using cell phones, even with headphones and hands-free sets, have driving skills comparable to drunk drivers, she asserted. Short-term memory is disrupted for at least 15 minutes following a phone call, studies show, and drivers are less likely to move smoothly with the flow of traffic."
And there is a false sense of security," she said. "People are more likely to start out on icy roads."
Beyond the danger on the roads, she said there are real environmental and health concerns associated with the burgeoning wireless technology. Most people believe that cell tower transmissions have been studied and found safe, she said, but that this is not the case. Federal agencies have taken into account no studies done after 1986. "Therefore, although the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] claims to keep track of the subject, the standards currently in place are outdated by two decades of new research," she said. "Towers have not been studied and found safe."
Further, she asserted, the FCC has traditionally adopted safety recommendations from the American National Standards Institute [ANSI], an industry-based organization representing diverse business interests. To create standards for radiofrequency/microwave radiation [RF/MW] used in telecommunications and other such activities, ANSI relied on a subcommittee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers responsible for making recommendations about exposure levels. That subcommittee is currently drafting a proposal to relax standards even further, even though the U.S. is already among the most lenient of the industrialized countries.
Both Ms. Levitt and Dr. Blank noted that the standards have been set by engineers and not by scientists conducting biological studies.
While the FCC relies on studies done in the 1980s, European and Asian countries are taking fresh, hard looks at wireless technologies, she said, and many are backing away from the creation of the "electrosmog" that affects humans and animals alike.
Because the human body is "an electrochemical instrument of exquisite sensitivity," according to Dr. G. J. Hyland of the University of Warwick in England, it is sensitive to the microwaves pulses modern technology broadcasts two to 24 times per second. This pulsing is in the frequency range of human brain waves and can cause them to speed up or slow down, Ms. Levitt reports. This changes the level of consciousness, as demonstrated by electroencephalograms.
Multiple studies have found that the microwave exposure can result in headaches, depression, sleep deprivation, disruption of REM sleep, short-term memory loss, reduced problem-solving skills, mood swings and more.
While the industry argues that frequencies are low and unlikely to cause problems, she reported, "Some frequencies may be trouble at any level."
Wireless technologies are becoming increasingly prevalent and cell phones are not the only culprits. "Wi-Fi and wireless routers are like inviting a cell tower into your home," she said. "No safe level has been determined for radio frequency pollution. Whole cities are going wi-fi, which forces 24/7 involuntary ambient exposure and background levels of exposure are increasing. RF can and does damage DNA."
Wireless computers are held close to the body and some medical experts now recommend that women of childbearing age not hold them in their laps.
Low-level exposures are everywhere, she said, from the microchips implanted in pets to the high-definition televisions in our living rooms.
And they are rarely considered when patients present themselves with a variety of health complaints. "Most doctors are clueless. They don't even consider low-level radiation exposure. No one is protected from the 'electrosmog.' The companies are experimenting on people without their consent," she said, adding that the effects seem to be cumulative. "There's not much difference between a cell phone and an x-ray," she added.
At the same time that wireless technology is booming, federal oversight is slipping away, she reported. As with other federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency's budget has been slashed dramatically, to the point that the bio-electronic lab is "funded at the level of one-half of one salary." And, while the FCC says that it monitors towers, she asserts there is no monitoring at the local level.
Local communities were largely stripped of their ability to oppose cell tower placements by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Section 704, which removed local control and the ability to object to towers based on environmental effects."
It essentially wiped out the reason to have zoning in the first place," she said, and urged her listeners to contact U.S Congressman Chris Murphy, who has vowed to do what he can to get Section 704 removed from the Act.
She concluded that an unbiased federal agency is needed. "We need government oversight," she said, "and not a private entrepreneur to rewrite the FCC standards."
Dr. Martin Blank, who said he is not an activist, nevertheless supported Ms. Levitt's report. "I'm a scientist [studying] how the body reacts to electro-magnetic fields," he said. He said that some of the standards used to determine the safety of radio and microwaves bombarding the populace "are pointless." The FCC has used the thermal effect of microwaves on tissue to determine safety levels: if there is no detectable increase in heat, there is no damage. "Thermal data doesn't mean anything because it doesn't tell us anything about biology," he said, noting that electromagnetic radiation can cause cell damage even before there is any heating.
"We are looking at cell damage that occurs well below the safety limits," he reported, commenting that people are often exposed to more than one source at any one time. "You could get simultaneous exposure from the cell phone and the wire over your head."
"Lab research tells the story," he reported. "The biological research is clear: electromagnetic fields causes DNA damage." He referred his listeners to the Bioinitiative Report released last August, available at bioinitiative.org, which was developed by an international group of scientists, researchers and public health policy professionals, that documents serious scientific concerns about current regulatory limits for how much EMF is allowable from power lines, cell phones and many other sources of exposure in daily life. The report concludes that existing standards for public safety are inadequate.
Dr. Blank said that cell responses to stress are specific and that these "defense responses are stimulated by ELF and RF."
"DNA changes-which you probably know as mutation-are believed to lead to cancer," he said.
Cancer resulting from exposure would seem bad enough, but he also reported that the waves reduce the efficacy of melatomin and taxmoxifen, substances known to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells. The rate of growth of these cancer cells when ELF is present is the same as without melatomin and taxmoxifen.
He listed health concerns identified with exposure to electrosmog-lymphomas found in mice, blood brain barrier leaks, micronuclei founf in blood, acoustic neuromas and an increase in carotid cancers. "Radio waves are bombarding us," he said. "Every place you can get a transmission on your radio, you are getting exposure. If you can get a signal from 15 bands, you are getting exposure from all 15 bands.
"He said the issue is even more problematic for children and that exposure has been linked with autism.
"I started by telling you that I am not an activist,' he concluded. "What I have been telling you is what the data are telling you. What they are telling you is that we should learn the lesson early. Practice prudent avoidance and aim for as low a level of exposure as you can get."Starr Childs of Norfolk, a conservationist and adjunct professor at Yale, spoke from an environmentalist's point of view, saying "the empty space in the air is literally up for sale." "Government intervention on behalf of the telecommunications industry has let this technology move ahead rapidly," he said, adding that most of the current research is being carried on in Germany, Belgium and Spain and is being ignored in the United States.
He said that the earth is bathed in natural radiation, but that "unnatural frequencies" seem to be taking a toll, including a 20 percent increase in the mortality of migratory birds that fly into towers.
Birds, he explained, use the earth's natural electromagnetic fields to find their way during migration. "It is the concept of the air as habitat," he said. Birds "see" magnetic fields through their eyes and can become disoriented near telecommunication towers, frequently colliding with them. Conservative estimates suggest 2 to 4 million birds die this way each year and Childs said the number could be 10 times that number.
He said that European studies on Zebra finches, showed that half of their brain cells showed "neuroma activity" when they were exposed to the same level of radio frequencies used in cell phones. "It should make you think twice about giving your kid a cell phone no matter how much they beg," he quipped.
Researchers have also remarked nest failures and abandonment near cell towers and birds with plumage problems. "The common house sparrow, the most tolerant of species for living in human environments, is disappearing," he said. "The number of house sparrows is negatively correlated to the number of cell towers.
"Grassland birds are also disappearing, but their numbers are not considered by the Siting Council when considering placement of towers, he said.
Mammals are also affected. He said an experiment in Greece showed that caged mice exposed to electro-magnetic fields had fewer and fewer offspring in each generation. "After six months, there were no offspring," he said, "which might be OK if you have mice in your house. But in Sweden, a 2003 study documented nerve cell problems in mammalian brains, irreparable damage that may not be seen until later. Cell phones may be doing more damage to teenage brains than to middle age people."
A 1998 study showed that milk cows produced less milk near towers and another study showed that amphibians are disappearing, probably as a result of exposure. "Spring may be more silent than you think someday," he said, referring to the ground-breaking book, "Silent Spring," by Rachel Carson, which brought about the ban on DDT.
Perhaps most worrisome is the effect on honeybees, which are responsible for pollinating most of the plants that feed the world. Honeybees are abandoning hives at an alarming rate and researchers fear that "electrosmog" may be the cause. Mr. Childs told of one experiment that exposed one set of hives to electromagnetic pollution, while another set was sheltered from exposure. The bees were taken 800 meters from their hives and released.
Two-thirds of the sheltered bees made it back to their hives, the first-comers within 10 minutes. Only one of the exposed hives had any bees that returned and over much longer periods of time.
Mr. Childs recommended that as a compromise towers be sited midway up hillsides, away from the viewshed, paths of migratory birds and the habitats of humans and amphibians.Whitney North Seymour took the podium to give ideas of ways to prevent tower placements. "The co-founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council, he and his daughter, Gabriel, helped to delay and ultimately kill a proposal to put cellular antennae on an existing CL&P tower in Falls Village.
"We must educate ourselves, the do-gooders and our elected officials," he said. "We must stand up and punch our state agencies in the nose. There are many good-hearted people out there who are ignorant of these issues.
"He mentioned the Audubon Society and his failure to elicit interest from it when he contacted its officials. "Their attitude was, 'Don't call us; we'll call you,'" he said, adding that he recently made some progress in bringing the issue before the society.
"The Appalachian Trail Club must make this a priority," he continued. "There are endangered species along the trail and they are the ones most threatened by this technology. The Appalachian Trail must be a safe haven for all these species. We have to knock on the doors of the do-gooder groups and make sure they understand.
"He said activists should be ready for resistance. "Very intelligent, very successful people will refuse to hear you," he said. He indicted the news media for not getting the message out and excoriated elected representatives "who were bought and paid for by the telecommunications companies.
"However, because those representatives are elected, they are most vulnerable to voter pressure, he said. "The telecomm industry doesn't go into the voting booth-you go into the booth and your representatives will listen if enough of you go in and educate them.
"He said the Siting council was set up to protect the environment but that, because its members are paid by the telecommunication companies, "there is something very wrong and undemocratic about this agency." Individuals can see the decisions made about towers in each town by going to the Council's Web Site and, if they wish, can file for a declaratory judgment against proposals. "That gives you a chance for a hearing," he said, "which the Siting Council will dismiss-but then you can appeal that.
"He said that in Falls Village just such an action delayed a project long enough for Nextel to withdraw the proposal.