From the May 2007 Idaho Observer:
Lemons to lemonade
Lemons to lemonade: Proposed playground cell tower siting becomes effective public education campaign
By The Idaho Observer
When neighbors caught wind of a proposed new cell tower to be erected adjacent to the Lake City High School ball field in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, they were stunned. Among them was Sue Anderson, who organized a group of concerned neighbors to research the details. "Only about 50 property owners within 300 feet of the proposed tower were notified by the city about an upcoming hearing on the tower proposal. Hundreds of other homeowners were left completely in the dark," says Anderson.
The tower proposal, in the works for about a year, was between telecommunications provider Verizon Wireless and School District 271. Verizon negotiated to pay the district $1,000 per month to lease ground for a 115-foot tall structure with antenna space for three other providers besides Verizon. Eventually, the new tower, adjacent to the football stadium, would be buzzing with dozens of antennas for both cellular and PCS communications.
Since an elementary and middle school are very close to the high school, Anderson and others set about to update themselves on the latest science regarding health effects of microwave radiation emitted by cell towers. "News and science reports from all over the globe seem to show that a cell tower neighborhood is basically a sick neighborhood. We found many media reports about cancer clusters in residential areas close to microwave towers," Anderson said.
A 2004 German government study found that people living within 1,300 feet of cell tower radiation had three times the normal cancer risk.
Among other facts uncovered by Anderson’s group was a 2004 resolution by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) that opposes commercial cell towers on fire stations after a medical study showed brain and nerve problems for irradiated personnel.
It was also discovered that the Los Angeles Unified School Board passed a resolution opposing cell towers on school property after the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences classified electromagnetic fields as a Class 2B carcinogen.
Public outreach campaign
Anderson and other volunteers put crucial radiation news and science into a flyer and distributed them throughout the affected neighborhoods. Attached to the flyer was a summary of 220-peer reviewed and published studies documenting cancer-initiating and cancer-promoting effects of high frequency electromagnetic fields used by mobile telephone technology.
The summary was completed in 2000 by ECOLOG Institute, a German research group commissioned by telecom giant T-Mobile to collate known health risks of mobile telecommunications. ECOLOG’s summary cites everything from DNA damage to infertility and disruptions of the immune and endocrine systems. The Institute concluded that current power density exposure standards should be reduced by at least a factor of 1,000. Critics charge that T-Mobile subsequently "buried" the report in an effort to keep public discussion of the proven health risks associated with cell phone radiation off the agenda when tower sitings are being proposed.
Pressing the advantage
Once neighbors of Lake City High were armed with the science information and several web sites where more information could be researched, they flooded school officials with complaints about the proposed tower.
"Our most critical concern was numerous studies showing memory and cognitive function impairment among those living near microwave transmitters," said Anderson. "In the Freiberger Report, over 3,000 German doctors have linked wireless phones and cell tower radiation to dramatic increases in disorders of learning, concentration and behavior among their patients."
Anderson then asked, "How can a school district justify exposing kids to continual radiation documented to cause sleep disturbances plus concentration and learning difficulties?"
Martha Rayne, who lives only meters from the proposed tower site said, "We were outraged to learn that the FCC has no manpower to monitor emissions from these towers so no one really knows if they are in compliance with exposure standards. And we were surprised to learn about all the different frequencies that blast out of a cell tower—everything from 217 hertz and 1733 hertz with harmonics all the way up to carrier microwaves in the megahertz and gigahertz realm. Where are the long-term safety studies for all of these frequencies?" she asked.
Anderson and others prepared a 46-page binder for school district officials documenting why microwave exposure is especially hazardous for school children. Included in the information was a 2002 statement by EPA’s Radiation Protection Division which states that current federal exposure standards touted by the telecom industry as "adequate" in fact do not protect the public against possible damage from prolonged, low-level microwave exposure. The EPA letter admitted that studies show cancer can occur from long-term irradiation.
Also included was a letter from Dr. Henry Lai, a leading radiation and biomedical researcher working at the University of Washington, who stated that numerous medical studies show serious health effects can occur at irradiation levels far below current exposure standards.
Anderson points to a December 2006 article in Coeur d’ Alene Magazine which disclosed that the Kootenai Medical Center (KMC), serving as a magnet hospital for the five northern Idaho counties, is now inundated with cancer conditions of all types. The article reported that an average of 210 patients are cared for daily at KMC’s North Idaho Cancer Center and that more than 100 new cancer patients join the ranks of the "Big C" club very month.
According to the article, so crushing is the cancer case load in North Idaho, that other cancer centers are being rapidly expanded in Post Falls and Sandpoint. "One hospital worker told us that experienced medical personnel talk among themselves as having never before seen so much cancer among young people," Anderson said. "Our city has been increasingly saturated with microwave radiation from wireless tower and roof top transmitters since about the mid 1990s. Scientists say cancers can have a latency period of around 10 years, so that computes with our area’s growing cancer epidemic," she observed.
Dr. Lai’s research group reported findings that microwave radiation can actually be physically addictive. The cell phone "high" is triggered by endorphins released into the brain when microwaves enter through the ear. Wireless industry ads and promotions continually prod kids to buy new glitzy wireless hardware for watching TV, downloading music and texting. Kids know nothing about wireless health hazards because the industry is not required to warn them that at least 17 epidemiological studies show cell phone usage greatly increases their risk of developing brain cancer. "It’s a real problem," said Anderson. "The more kids get hooked on wireless toys, the more towers are needed to service those toys. And, if they have their schools and playgrounds irradiated by nearby transmitters, they are getting a double whammy."
Odorless, tasteless, soundless, invisible—and patient
Microwave radiation from cell towers can pass easily through walls, windows and roofs. A French medical study of people living within 1,000 feet of cell towers documented common complaints of extreme fatigue, memory loss, headaches, sleep disorders, depression, skin problems, hearing loss and cardiovascular problems.
Anderson elaborates, "With the tower crisis at hand, we had to educate ourselves on the mechanisms of cell damage that our kids could sustain from years of exposure to these cell tower frequencies broadcasting continuously. We learned from the literature that there is a cascade effect. One of the first things this radiation does is cause a loss of calcium ions from cell membranes, which makes cells more likely to tear and leak. Leakage of calcium ions into brain neurons causes gradual brain damage and neurological symptoms seen in so many irradiated people. Weak, calcium-deficient cells become vulnerable to cellular DNA damage. DNA damage opens the door to tumor growth."
Neighborhood wins round one
On May 4, the district issued a press release in which the school superintendent stated that the district had taken to heart concerns of people who live near Lake City High and had asked Verizon Wireless to withdraw the tower project from school property. "We were so happy," says Brenda Cowles, grandmother of two. "School officials actually listened to those whose lives were at stake here!"
"The battle for the health and safety of our school kids is not over," Anderson said. "Verizon can move over to vacant land near another set of schools further south, or it might try to lease private property right across the street from the high school and hit our kids from there."
Telecom providers are not required by law to consider health effects in their siting proposals. Further, the Telecom Act of 1996 prevents local planning authorities from prohibiting cell tower construction on the basis of health considerations. "Thanks to this unconstitutional federal law, city planners are obligated to rubber stamp whatever facilities Verizon says it needs for ‘essential’ services. So we have sent much of our documentation to Verizon Wireless, asking the telecommunications giant to walk the moral high ground and consider the health of our children in school zones when siting their transmitters," Anderson explained.
Cowles agrees. "Microwave transmitters belong in industrial zones where human exposure can be kept to a minimum. Shielded buildings can take the rays better than our little kids playing outdoors," she concluded.
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