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Wireless Antennas: People of Color Are Particularly at Risk

New America Media, News Analysis, Elizabeth Kelley Posted: Sep 28, 2008

Editor's note: Presently, there are more than two million FCC licensed antennas across the United States alone. This number does not include unlicensed wireless transmitters for WiFi or wireless. Those who live around the antennas are suffering from various ailments. Elizabeth Kelley is the executive director for the International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety and serves as an advisor to the EMR Network-USA. She can be reached at info@icems.eu.

In a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in Riverside, Calif., locals have been blaming the radiation from nearby antennas for headaches and problems sleeping. When more antennas were proposed at the same location, they sought outside help. They said they felt overwhelmed because there was so little time to defend themselves. They also said they did not speak English very well and did not know which arguments to use.

With the hearing only a few days away, they were advised to go to the hearing and speak from their hearts. Miraculously, the new antennas were denied. While this neighborhood prevailed, the wireless industry merely moved on to another neighborhood to reapply to place the antennas there, hoping that by offering some side benefits, the new neighborhood would be less resistant.

When tribal leaders agreed to sign a lease to place antennas on a Native American Indian reservation in the Upper Midwest, tribal members who lived closest to the site felt defeated. Was it really worth leasing Indian lands to the wireless industry, putting the income it would generate above community concerns?

Presently, there are more than two million FCC licensed antennas across the United States alone. This number does not include unlicensed wireless transmitters for WiFi or wireless devices with antennas that people voluntarly use at home, at school and in the workplace.

More than 84 percent of the U.S. population now subscribes to wireless services and about 16 percent of the populace has gone wireless at home. To support next-generation wireless technology, the industry is focussed on a rapid deployment plan to install new and more powerful antennas across the country. In order to meets its goal, it is seeking more preemptive authority to bypass local goverance.

In July 2008, the Cellular Telephone and Internet Association (CTIA) petitioned the FCC to change its rules and force cities to act on colocation antenna applications within 45 days, or colocation towers in 75 days. These applications are automatically deemed granted by the FCC.

Another proposed change would prevent cities from considering the presence of services by other carriers in the same location. Any local wireless ordinances that require zoning variances would be rendered obsolete. If this CTIA petition is approved, wireless companies could approach private individuals to site unrestricted antennas on their properties and this could lead to further property devaluation and neighbor-to-neighbor conflict.

This all began in 1996, when Congress passed a law called the Federal Telecommunications Act, which included a provision stating, No state or local government may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects [defined as human health] of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the [Federal Communications] Commission's regulations concerning such emissions. Citizens challenged the FCC human exposure guidelines on radiofrequency radiation in 1997 as inadequate to protect health but the Supreme court appeal was denied in 2000. Telecom lobbyists have blocked bills introduced in Congress to research exposure to antennas and towers ever since.

We have been forced to be exposed to radiation without representation. Many other nations have taken a precautionary approach, i.e., Switzerland, China, Italy, Russia and Poland.

Another solution was found by an indigenous African tribe when it prevented a cell tower from going up in their village, based on an intuitive understanding that the space from the top of their heads to the Cosmos was sacred and should not be interfered with by manmade radio waves. When communities come together to oppose an antenna, they feel safer.

It may seem like an exaggeration to imply that people of color are more at risk and would suffer greater loss of their human, civil and constitutional rights from wireless transmitter radiation. The Wireless Revolution proposes to transmit microwave signals over the entire planet so chronic exposure to low-level radiation from wireless transmitters is designed to be equitable in a pervasive way. However, due to cultural and language differences, especially for first-generation residents, and depending on where people live, people of color could be more at risk. For example, the FCC recommends that antennas be preferentially located in commercial and industrial zones. People of color who live in these areas are more likely to be exposed to wireless transmitters.

Whenever there are environmental health problems, people benefit when they see a preventive health practitioner, someone who will not only treat symptoms but help determine the cause and recommend remedies. Access to quality and affordable health care in general is likely to be more difficult for people of color.

Citizens concerned about possible health risks are shocked to learn that they cannot use these health concerns to justify denial of a proposed antenna. There is no case law to show there is actual harm due to exposure since health has been taken off the table by the 1996 law.

The FCC guidelines for human exposure to radiofrequency radiation are based on avoiding thermal exposure under short-term conditions and are irrelevant to the real world exposure conditions we all live with on a daily basis. Exposure can cause a variety of short term, reversible or chronic and systemic health problems, including neurological disease, cancers and an emerging health condition know as electrohypersensitivity that affects 2 percent of the global population.

The International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety issued a statement in June 2008 stating, We take exception to the claim of the wireless communication industry that there is no credible scientific evidence to conclude there a risk. Recent epidemiological evidence is stronger than before, which is a further reason to justify precautions be taken to lower exposure standards in accordance with the Precautionary Principle." Also, a 600-page scientific review called The BioInitiative Report describes biological and health effects far below the FCCs antenna exposure guidelines. Many experts now believe there is enough information, based on science, intuition and actual harm to demonstrate that wireless transmitters pose a health risk to man and nature. If these views hold merit, the effects on all life forms could be profound.

The CTIAs petition is anti-democratic and would place profits above health. It should be strenuously opposed.

Citizens and residents are encouraged to join Montgomery County, Md., and potentially other state and local government agencies, in opposing the CTIAs petition to the FCC. Comments are due by Sept. 29, 2008 due to a deadline extension. For details, go to the EMR Network website www.emrnetwork.org.

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