Presented By Cathy Bergman-Venezia President, The EMR Alliance
The cell tower debate - like many health and environmental debates - is driven by consumer concern. Thus, it is appropriate that you are made aware of the consumer concern about the wireless revolution because unless you hear from the consumer on this issue - you have missed the issue.
The results of a number of the earlier studies linking electromagnetic radiation exposure to severe health hazards sparked heightened public awareness and concern and in the early 1980's, small grassroots organizations began to appear across the United States as local community members banded together to stop powerline construction, fight for the undergrounding of electric transmission lines and work together to mitigate exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR).
In the mid-80's, these groups were often still working on their own, many times starting from scratch to learn about electromagnetic radiation when a powerline or substation project was proposed in their community.
However, by the late 1980's these small, well organized groups were beginning to affect a change in the use and delivery of our nation's electricity.
The need for a national umbrella/networking organization became evident and consumer activists began to discuss among themselves how to fulfill this need. The EMR Alliance was established in 1990 to fill such need. The Alliance was formed to provide a forum for effective communication and organization between the various citizen and consumer action groups involved in the electromagnetic radiation issue.
The Alliance has grown over the past six years from a membership of a few grassroots organizations in middle America to an international consumer force representing over 400 grassroots organizations with members in twenty-one countries. Our membership is no longer specifically focused on just the powerline issue that plagued the original EMR citizen activist organizations in the 1980's. Rather, our scope of education has grown to encompass the entire EMR spectrum including cellular phones and cellular antennas and towers.
Health and safety concerns associated with exposure to cellular transmitting facilities that have been raised by consumers have, by and large, gone unheeded by the communications industry, much as the original powerline concerns were ignored by the utility industry until consumer activists began to systematically block the construction of power line corridors, force rerouting, undergrounding and mitigation efforts. Contrary to what the communications industry tells us, there is vast scientific, epidemiological and medical evidence that confirms that exposure to the radio frequency (RF) and microwave radiation emitted from cellular transmitting facilities can have profound adverse effects on biological systems.
A September 19th press release from the communication industries' mouthpiece CTIA, confirms that the wireless communications industry has set new annual records with over $20 billion in combined revenue in the last twelve months in the U.S. alone. With $20 billion dollars a year at stake, you can damn well bet that their studies are going to show whatever they want them to show.
In fact, Dr. David Savitz, a long time champion of the link between exposure to electromagnetic radiation and the development of illness and disease, has become mute on the subject after receiving a $5 million grant from communications giant Motorola.
I am sure that the tobacco industry analogy is clear to everyone. For decades our government told us that cigarette smoking was not harmful while anyone with an ounce of common sense knew that there was a serious risk factor involved in smoking. When health concerns escalated, the U.S. government backed down in its support of the industry - but the tobacco industry surged forward arrogantly continuing to claim that tobacco use was not only not harmful - but quite possibly good for you. After fifty years of intensive and controversial research, it was just two weeks ago that the link between the use of tobacco and lung cancer was confirmed. The smoking gun, so to speak, had finally been found. Meanwhile, in the fifty year examination of the link between smoking and cancer - smoker after smoker dropped dead of lung cancer.
When new technology is introduced, it is easy to become enamored of it and ignore possible health and safety ramifications. An interesting analogy springs to mind. In the early 1950's, a wonderful new product was introduced to the world. A pedascope machine to check how well your shoes fit before you made your purchase. Consumers would insert their feet into a hole in the product and look down at a display screen. Children marveled that they could wiggle their toes and see them move inside their shoes.
The machine used X-rays at quite a high level to give real-time images on a simple screen. It was not until ten years after this product was introduced to the marketplace that Dr. Alice Stewart produced research which showed that there was no safe level of X-rays. Very few listened to her concerns. Many scoffed. "Impossible" they said. "You have no proof that this is dangerous" they said. "We have studies that show it is safe" they retorted. In fact, Dr. Stewart became almost an outcast of the medical establishment for her strong position on this issue. It was close to twenty years later that the real danger from medical X-rays was acknowledged.
When the Atomic Bomb tests were conducted in the Nevada desert, the U.S. government advised the American public, and the illustrious American Physical Society (APS) concurred, that there was no danger from the radioactive fallout from the Atom bomb tests. "Completely harmless" the government said. "Nothing to be concerned about" the APS concurred.
The communications industry scoffs at those of us that intimate real danger from their technology. "Impossible" they say. "You have no proof that it is dangerous" they retort. "Completely harmless" they cry. "We have studies that show it is safe" they respond. X-rays, atomic radiation, thalidomide, benzene, asbestos. How many times has industry and the U.S. government sanctioned products and technology, only to find that not only are they harmful, but very harmful.
As we have heard over the past two days, The Telecommunications Act of 1996 established the Federal Communications Commission (the FCC) as the regulatory agency to guide radio-frequency safety levels. This, in spite of the fact that the FCC has acknowledged that it is not a public health agency. In essence, the current FCC safety guidelines do insure that if you spend a great deal of time in close proximity to a cellular transmitter that you won't cook - that's what the guidelines are effective against - thermal heating. Health effects from radio-frequency and microwave radiation exposure are related to all characteristics of exposure, including frequency, duration and type of modulation, not just intensity. The FCC safety guidelines make sure that we won't cook - that's about all they protect against. These standards, to which several petitions for reconsideration have been filed by consumer activists and are pending, do not address chronic exposure to radio-frequency and microwave radiation from these facilities and the resulting development of illness and disease.
In spite of the current FCC RF safety guidelines, it is apparent from the intense opposition to cellular tower siting that consumers refuse to act as human guinea pigs in a bio-effects experiment for the next fifty years until the smoking gun is found that will conclusively link exposure to electromagnetic radiation and the development of illness and disease.
If it were up to the communications industry and the apparently pro-industry FCC, however, we would no doubt wait another fifty years. In spite of what Robert Cleveland told us yesterday about the desire of the FCC to work with local communities, FCC Chairman Reed E. Hundt recently told attendees at a trade show that "if a truly ubiquitous competitive wireless market is to develop, the industry cannot be held up by occasionally irresponsible local zoning boards." Although Mr. Hundt appears to believe that his tremendous foresight is much clearer than that of "irresponsible" local regulatory agencies, the fact remains that more often than not, local communities can best gauge what is in their best interest. The federal government on the other hand, is much more adept at gauging the best interests of special interests.
In spite of the communication industrys' irresponsible arrogance in selecting cell sites without consulting with community members and oft times suing the community when the community chooses not to allow a cell tower to be built at a specific site, consumers continue to oppose this billion dollar giant and continue to succeed in preserving their community by blocking construction of towers, forcing towers and antennas to be removed or placed elsewhere and enacting moratoriums on construction permits through sheer will and determination. Consumers are - and will continue - to make a difference in this debate and change the course of this issue.
A few examples:
To help consumers mobilize against the placement of cellular facilities where they believe that such placement would adversely affect their health, safety, property values or the esthetics of their community, The EMR Alliance, in conjunction with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) are pleased to announce their joint publication of Your Community Guide To Cellular Phone Towers which will be available on December 1st. This publication is unique because it brings together consumer concern as well as the concern of the workers who are building the cellular towers throughout the United States.
In addition to this guide, The EMR Alliance has compiled a comprehensive package of over 300 pages that include news clips and television transcripts detailing consumer opposition to cellular installations, moratoriums, sample petitions, letters to and from various government and regulatory agencies, press statements and other information that we make available to consumers to assist them in building a comprehensive argument against unsafe cellular facility siting in their community.
The communications industry may have $20 billion dollars in annual revenues on their side - but, I believe, that we have the truth on our side.
Margaret Meade said it best "Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."