Are the towers a health hazard? | December 17, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - December 17, 2010

Are the towers a health hazard?

Experts cannot agree if there has been adequate research on the effects of radio-frequency emissions

One of the greatest reasons for opposing cell-phone towers is the perception that radio-frequency (RF) emissions cause health effects, particularly cancers. But several experts said there is no consensus on whether there is sufficient research on the effects of cell-tower emissions or what the research proves.

Most studies have been done on radiation from cell phones themselves and not on the towers. Some experts and the federal government take the position that conclusions about cell phones can be extrapolated to towers. Others aren't so sure.

"Few studies have investigated general health effects in individuals exposed to RF fields from (tower) base stations. This is because of the difficulty in distinguishing possible health effects from the very low signals emitted by base stations from other higher strength RF signals in the environment. Most studies have focused on the RF exposures of mobile-phone users," a World Health Organization (WHO) investigation noted.

Base stations operate at higher power than cell phones, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates cell towers with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). But the radio-frequency exposure from a base station is typically much lower than from individual cell phones because base-station antennas are mounted on towers or other building structures and are therefore substantially farther away from the public. Both cell phones and base stations are required to comply with FCC radio-frequency exposure guidelines.

Dr. Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at University of California, Berkeley, in 2009 did an analysis of a 2004 multinational study on whether mobile-phone use increases the risk of cancer.

"There is no conclusive research either way," he said.

"The problem is the government takes the stance of 'What you don't know won't hurt you.' But no consensus was ever reached. Some said it was inconclusive. A minority said that cell phones were harmful, and more studies said that cell phones are safe. I don't want to contribute to problem inflation, but we don't want to double or triple the rate of brain tumors. We need a lot more research," he said.

Dr. Paul Fisher, Stanford School of Medicine professor of neurology and pediatrics, believes sufficient research on cell phones has been done, although he has not heard of any research done specifically on cell-phone towers.

"The bottom line is there's no known association between cell phones or towers and health effects," said Fisher, who is researching what causes brain cancers in children. "Cell phones are not on our radar."

Fisher dismissed the scare about cell-phone radiation as the predictable technology scare of this generation.

"This is the high-tension wires of our time," he said, comparing a similar debate about the health risks of high-tension wires 30 years ago.

"I'm a pediatrician. I'm a cautious person. But there's a downside of doing studies over and over, and spending colossal amounts of money," he said.

But Dr. Michael Wyde, a toxicologist for the National Institute on Health, National Toxicology Program, said current studies are conflicting because they are not related specifically to cell-phone use. "A lot of studies have been done with RF, but not at the same frequency as cell phones used in the U.S.," he said.

Wyde is currently leading studies on rats to see if there are any health effects, acute or chronic, on any part of the body, of cell-phone radiation. The study is one of the largest the agency has undertaken in 30 years and is aimed at addressing the flaws of previous studies, including incorrect frequencies of RF, he said.

"Our studies will be definitive on health effects of RF. They don't just look at exposure from the cell phone itself but towers," he said.

— Sally Schilling


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Posted by Stephen
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 17, 2010 at 2:06 pm


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Posted by closer to your head
a resident of Addison School
on Dec 17, 2010 at 3:13 pm

A handheld cell phone is a lot closer to your brain than a tower. Your risk is much greater from something that is closer to your body. If you want to minimize your risk, then do not carry a cell phone (i.e. personal radiation transmitter) with you. Sure, a tower has a stronger signal, but it is so much farther away from your head that the effect on your body is less than a cell phone handset.

And I'm not even going to get into those Bluetooth earpiece transmitters that people wear attached to their head all the time.

People that whine about towers are looking in the wrong direction for the risks. Most of them are just using radiation as a smoke screen. They really don't want the towers because they are ugly, not because they are dangerous.

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Posted by bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 17, 2010 at 7:59 pm

If our uneducated citizens had payed attention during their high school or college science classes, they wouldn't swallow the unfounded statements of ignorant people. Knowledge of basic scientific principles should have stopped the hysterical rants long ago. We get more radiation from cell phones and other common sources in our environment than from the transmitters on the towers.

But "don't bother me with the facts" seems to be the cry today. Seeking information from the internet is so easy today, people should try it.

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Posted by Jerry Schwarz
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 17, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Epidemiological studies of this question are difficult and it isn't surprising that as discussed in this article they haven't been able to completely rule out the possibility of cell phones causing cancer. Controlled experimentation is impossible.

But we shouldn't ignore the basic science. It is extremely implausible that cell phone signals, either from the phones themselves or cell towers could cause anything other than small heating of tissue. At the relevant levels this heating is insignificant. See Web Link for further details.

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Posted by WHat a joke
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 18, 2010 at 11:12 am

Tru Love and her husband, Stephen Stuart are fanning the flames of hysteria with their unfounded and unproven diatribes against cell towers. Unfortunately they are not interested in the facts. I hope they enjoy their 15 minutes of fame in Palo Alto.
By the way do Tru Love and her husband, Stephen Stuart use cell phones? Do they have a TV and a microwave oven in their home?

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Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 18, 2010 at 11:22 am

I presume the family that is protecting the children at Palo Verde elementary school from cell towers will not be sending their kids to JLS.

Mitchell Park already has three cell towers and at least one more is proposed for the Little League field. Therefore, attending JLS or visiting the new library/community center presently being built will be too close to radiation from the cell towers!!!!

Palo Alto is full of cell towers and there are going to be many more. Perhaps they should move to the country and live with land lines only.

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Posted by Jarod Barkley
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 22, 2010 at 11:45 am

To all those who are concerned about radiation exposure from cell towers.
Regarding personal protective mearsures, I did some research on the subject and was pleased to learn that the tradtional tin foil cap does actually deflect radiation. Alternatively,for the fashion conscious,try using metalic screen door mesh inside your hat[or cap]it actually deflects cell waves as effectively as foil.

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Posted by Dumb
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 23, 2010 at 9:48 am

Very soon every house in Palo Alto will be transmitting data for billing from their electrical and gas meters to City Hall. Will this cause radiation blindness?

Ooopps, and our rates are sure to go up too!!!!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.