Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cell phone cautions for Cordova

Cell phone rules elsewhere are cautions for Cordova

I am a property owner within 100 feet of CTC's proposed cell tower. I object to this conditional use permit on the grounds of solid scientific evidence of health harm from proximity to cell tower base stations.

At the June 9 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting about a conditional use permit for GCI's proposed cell towers and antennae, chairman Tom Bailer attempted to exclude testimony on harm to health as basis to object to cell tower locations.

Bailer cited the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 Section 704(a) as the grounds to limit freedom of speech. This action, among others, was grounds for an appeal to the Board of Adjustments of the commission's subsequent approval of GCI's conditional use permits. The appeal has not yet been decided, yet now property owners and residents are being asked again to consider another conditional use permit for another cell tower and antenna.

Since I filed the appeal, I learned that Bailer was mistaken in his assertion that federal law preempts local and state governments from regulation of placement of cell towers based on health harm. The specific regulation [47 U.S.C. §332(c)(7)(B)(iv)] of Section 704(a) is an exemption clause. Such clauses are interpreted very narrowly by judges — because to do otherwise would confer more exemptions that were not intended by the law. In this case, the regulation does not specifically state health effects; therefore, health effects are not subject to preemption.

If one thinks about it, how could a federal law preempt consideration of health effects when federal agencies are specifically charged with protecting public health? There is no U.S. Supreme Court law that upholds the interpretation to preempt health effects.

The cellular industry, however, continues to perpetrate the fiction that federal law preempts health harms. Why? Because there is overwhelming scientific evidence of harm to health of people living near mobile phone base stations and from people using cell phones, especially children. The cellular industry knows that if enough people become aware of this, there will be limitations on the placement and operation of cell towers and antennas.

They are called "tower flowers" — the umbrella of electromagnetic radiation that extends out from cell tower base stations. The FCC to date does not yet recognize health problems from electromagnetic radiation, but such bioeffects have been measured.

For example, one study found "a significant rise in the frequency of complaints … observed up to a distance of 100 (meters) (irritability, depressive tendency, loss of memory, dizziness) — 200 (meters) (headaches, sleep disturbance, feeling of discomfort, skin problems) — indeed 300 meters (fatigue)" (emphasis in original) (attachment 2). The bioeffects appear to decrease with distance from the tower. The term "tower flower" refers to this zone of bioeffects.

Based on scientific studies of bioeffects from cell base stations and cell phones, other countries and an increasing number of cities within the United States are taking proactive measures to protect public health.

For example, the following governments recommend precautions for cell phones among young people: Japan, general limitations under 18 years of age; India and France, no use in children under 16 years of age; Russia, Israel and the United Kingdom, no use or general limitations under 12 years of age. The European Parliament passed a resolution in February calling for keep-clear zones around schools, churches, retirement homes, and health care institutions (

In the U.S., Arcata, Calif., requires that cell towers be placed no closer than 1,000 feet to any human-inhabited structure and 1,500 feet from any school, historic district, or hospital [9.44.060(A)(3)] (attachment 3). Great Barrington, Mass., has similar restrictions and there may be other towns as well. The CTC proposal would place a cell tower within 100 feet of school property. There are cases where U.S. communities have become aware of the dangers to human health and have opted to take down and move existing cell towers — or break contracts of towers that were approved but not yet built.

In my appeal to the board of adjustments, I requested an 18-month moratorium on all cell tower applications and a stay on the GCI conditional use permit. Other towns have issued similar moratoria for the purpose of reviewing the scientific and legal literature and drafting ordinances or zoning codes.

In summary, I request that the planning and zoning commission does not approve CTC's conditional use permit. Further, I request the commission enact an 18-month moratorium, commencing immediately, on all future cell tower applications.

During these 18 months, I request that the commission hold public workshops for residents to consider and draft zoning codes that protect public health from electromagnetic radiation from cell tower base stations and antennas. Other Cordova residents have signed a petition expressing a similar request.

The code should include — for starters — minimum building standards (like 200 mph winds such as we have experienced in town), restrictions on placement near human-inhabited structures, requirements to co-locate on existing towers, aesthetic specifications, full disclosure of tower and antenna height and any additional buildings, and requirement that liability for harmful effects rests solely with the cell tower applicant and not the property owner.

Author/activist Riki Ott can be reached at 907-424-3915.