WIRELESS SAFETY GROUPP.O. Box 2340Novato, CA 94948-2340415-898-1200DavidLWilner@aol.com
Almost everyone is excited about wireless technology. It allows them to do all kinds of things that were not possible in the past. For example, people can check and send e-mail, download movies, upload pictures, enjoy social media, and search for information with a portable hand-held device (such as a cell phone, smart phone, and tablet). In addition, wireless technology is critical to most businesses, governmental agencies, and the medical community because it has become a part of their everyday operations. There is no question that this is one of the fastest growing industries worldwide creating jobs and business opportunities. However, there are health and safety concerns which must be considered.
INDUSTRY HISTORY SNAPSHOT
In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") established certain guidelines for the fast-growing cellular industry (the Telecommunications Act of 1996). At the time, low-power transmitters were an inherent characteristic of cellular radio and broadband Personal Communications Service ("PCS"). A typical cellular base station was transmitting a couple hundred watts of radio frequency ("RF") power, and FCC guidelines for health and safety were based on those relatively low power levels.
Cellular systems were generally designed to operate on a centralized data processing basis whereby large geographical areas (defined in the FCC's rules) were served by antennas located on tall buildings and towers. As a rule, this was a line-of-sight proposition whereby radio signals could reach mobile and handheld devices provided that they were not blocked by buildings or other obstacles. When the line of sight was impeded, a cellular call would be automatically handed off to another cell site that could provide coverage.
This worked fine in most areas, but as more applications became available and the demand for them grew, it became necessary to change the way calls (voice and data) were handled. Instead of having one antenna to cover a very large area and processing the calls at a central point, smaller antennas began to appear on rooftops in neighborhoods and on buildings in downtown areas with distributed computer processing at those sites to handle the increased volume of traffic. It also became necessary to boost transmitter power levels to the point where it is not unusual to find a cellular base station generating thousands of watts (pulsed RF radiation) to cover a relatively small service area.
So, what started out as a low-power cellular network with centralized voice and data processing has turned into a high-power RF network utilizing distributed data processing with cellular antennas springing up all over. Unfortunately, the health and safety guidelines established by the FCC many years ago have not been updated to take this into account. Although the FCC is reconsidering those guidelines as part of an ongoing rulemaking proceeding, it is unlikely that existing exposure limits will be changed. This is mainly due to strong industry influence -- after all, the wireless business is a big money maker for the service providers, and they do not want more restrictive regulations.
It should be noted that we are not opposed to wireless technology, and understand that more benefits will be realized in the future. However, we are concerned about potential health and safety issues associated with the increased amount of RF power service providers are using and the number of cellular base stations being installed. For example, there are currently more than 800 cellular base stations in San Francisco, and it is not unusual to find new installations where the effective radiated RF power exceeds 7,000 to 8,000 watts. In neighborhoods and downtown areas where there are a large number of cellular base stations installed, there are high levels of pulsed RF radiation 24/7 where people live and work.
Demand for cellular service is increasing at a substantial rate, and there is heavy competition between the service providers wanting to dominate the marketplace. For example, AT&T Mobility has a stated corporate goal of providing Long Term Evolution (LTE) services to 80% of the population in the United States. There are also other service providers that would like to have a bigger piece of the market as well. According to the service providers' five-year plans in San Francisco, it is fair to assume that RF power levels will double in the near future to keep up with demand.
TOO MANY CELLULAR BASE STATIONS
A good example of such growth is the fact that during the last ten years, the San Francisco Planning Department has denied very few applications by wireless service providers to install a cellular base station on an apartment house or other rooftop location in the City. As mentioned above, there are in excess of 800 such installations, and the number is growing at an alarming rate. Everywhere you look, you see another cellular base station sprouting up making neighborhoods look like antenna farms. If you look carefully, you will find antennas camouflaged as trees, flag poles, crosses on church steeples, and so on. Now, if you multiply what has happened in the City of San Francisco by the number of major cities across the United States, you can see how this wonderful new wireless technology is spinning out of control.
One of the reasons for this trend is federal legislation that requires federal, state and local agencies to approve (or reject) certain applications from cellular service providers within 150 days from the time they are filed. If these agencies fail to act promptly, they can be sued in federal court, and the threat of such litigation pressures them to acquiesce to the cellular service providers -- even if the residents do not want a cellular base station in their neighborhood.
The City and County of San Francisco's Wireless Telecommunications Services (WTS) Facilities Siting Guidelines (dated 8/15/96) do mention public concerns about the installation of cellular base stations. It states, in part, that:Numerous residents, neighborhood groups, citywide civic groups and organizations, City agencies, and other interested parties have expressed concerns with WTS facilities in the City. Among the concerns expressed are:
Health and Safety
The same kind of concerns have been expressed across the United States, but we are just showing what is embodied in San Francisco's WTS siting guidelines to illustrate this point. Unfortunately, the service providers and their lobbyists have deep pockets and strong political dominance to push aside many of the concerns that have been raised, and the installations continue.
CHILDREN, THE ELDERLY AND OTHERS WITH MEDICAL ISSUES
If we lived in a perfect world where people did not have health problems, there would be less concern about RF radiation exposure. However, in reality, people do have medical issues, and they are not being vetted when cellular base stations are being proposed. In fact, RF radiation levels that may be considered safe for most people, may be a serious problem for others.
Children are a good example: their immune systems are not fully developed until they reach their late teens. As a result, they are more susceptible to environmental pollutants like RF radiation. The same is true of pregnant women and their unborn children. The elderly also suffer from compromised immune systems (due to the aging process), and are more vulnerable.
Aside from immune system deficiency, there is also an issue of neurobehavioral problems that may be attributed to environmental pollution. Many doctors and scientists believe that the sharp rise in autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and other maladies is associated with wireless technology.
Sadly, people do not have a choice as to whether a cellular base station will be installed in their neighborhood or on a building close to where they work. Therefore, they become a potential victim of RF radiation even though they are told it is safe because the levels are within certain FCC exposure guidelines. Individuals can limit their use of cell phones and other wireless devices to reduce RF radiation exposure as a precautionary measure, but people living and working next to a cellular base station do not have that choice.
On June 14, 2013, FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Chief Ruth Milkman stated that cellular data traffic increased more than 1200% in the United States from 2009 to 2013, and we believe that future growth will eclipse that figure. This means that RF emissions from cellular base stations will also increase at an astronomical rate thereby raising more questions about the health and safety of the new technology.
Service providers assure us that they are not exceeding safe levels of RF radiation established by the FCC, but this is really a numbers game that very few people understand. For example, RF engineering reports that are given to local decision-making agencies state that maximum permissible exposure levels from cellular base stations are less than 1 mW/cm² which is far below guidelines established by the FCC. However, these studies are paid for by the service providers, and do not tell the whole story.
Some of our goals are:
1. To reduce RF emissions by requiring service providers to use more realistic power levels to serve their customers. This is something that we could accomplish under current federal, state, and local law.
2. To develop a new metric for measuring wireless RF radiation that is grounded in scientific data instead of "proprietary software" that is used by industry-paid RF engineering firms to assure decision-makers and the public that proposed cellular base stations are safe.
3. To oversee a national RF monitoring program that shows governmental agencies and the public how much RF radiation is being emitted by cellular base stations on an hour-by-hour, day-by-day basis similar to other environmental pollution reporting.
4. To encourage improved technologies that would be environmentally friendly, and easy to implement by service providers.
If you would like to provide assistance or need additional information, please contact us for further details.
Your help will make a difference.
David L. Wilner, PresidentWireless Safety GroupP.O. Box 2340Novato, CA 94948-2340415-898-1200DavidLWilner@aol.com