Once Again, With More Feeling: No Cell Tower at WAHS; No Rain Tax

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Diagram of the proposed tower from the Milestone presentation. Photo: Mike Marshall.

Last month the Gazette opposed the installation of a cell phone tower above the home bleachers at Western Albemarle High School. It should be refused outright, or if allowed, it should be moved to the most distant spot from people on the school grounds.

In one of those miracles of the modern age, that editorial was noticed by a California firm setting up a conference call for national media to discuss the release of findings on the health effects of cell tower radiation from a 10-year study by the Ramazzini Institute, an Italian cancer research institute based in Bologna whose track record of breakthrough cancer studies goes back 40 years. The Gazette was invited to participate in the conference call, which lasted roughly an hour and a half. The Institute’s study, conducted by scientists in Italy, Switzerland, Sweden and the U.S., was published in Environmental Research, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, on March 24.

It was a big month for news about cell phone radiation, as the results of a study of rodents by the National Toxicology Program, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that uses current biological knowledge and technologies to understand our bodies’ responses to toxins, were also interpreted by qualified scientists. On March 28, a NTP Peer Review panel meeting in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, declared that the NTP’s study issued in February showed “clear evidence” that cell phones cause cancer. The scientists said the data are compelling and show greater risk than first interpretations of the results suggested. A two-year study of rats exposed daily to cell phone radiation for just over nine hours showed a statistically significant increase in heart schwannoma—a precancerous lesion—in male rats. Increases were also seen in malignant glioma in the brain. The study also showed lowered birth weights. At the meeting, Robert Melnick, the scientist who designed the study, said the data will compel public officials “not to promote radio-frequency-emitting devices for kids.” In other words, keep cell phones away from your children. See the March 28 story in the Charlotte News and Observer for more details.

The Ramazzini study involved 2,448 rats exposed to various doses of radiofrequency [RF] radiation for 19 hours a day from their gestational period until their death, usually about two years later. The pertinent exposure level was 5v/meter, which is below both the American and European standard for safe exposure to operating cell towers. The other exposure levels studied were higher, but even at this 5V/m exposure the study found an increase in very rare, highly malignant schwannoma of the heart—the same type of tumor found in the NTP research. At the 50 V/m exposure the increase became statistically significant. Thus the Ramazzini study achieved that holy grail of scientific study—a reproducible finding. The NTP and Ramazzini studies arrived at the same results independently.

Ramazzini also found an increase in brain tumors and ear nerve cancers as well as lower birth weights.

So, even low levels of exposure from both cell phones and cell towers are dangerous. Given the burgeoning scale of cell phone use and the proliferation of towers, the prospect for cancer cases is daunting. The Pandora’s Box of cell phone radiation is wide open and humans are not prepared to cope with the diseases that are now emanating from it.

Some countries, such as Italy, Russia, China and India, already have established lower allowable exposure limits. We—individually and as the public—need to reduce our exposure. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued the following guidance: 

  • Use speakerphone and keep the phone away from your body.
  • Avoid carrying the phone on your body, such as in a pocket or bra.
  • Use a corded phone for voice calls.
  • Prefer texting to voice calls.
  • Minimize cell phone usage.
  • Keep a distance from wireless “smart” tech.
  • Locate wireless routers away from rooms where you spend time.
  • Place a laptop on a table, not your lap.
  • Connect to the Internet with a wired connection (ethernet cord).
  • Invest in fiber optics and retain landline telephone infrastructure in your community.

Policy considerations include placing towers away from where people are, especially neighborhoods, schools and daycare centers. The Maryland State Council on Children’s Environmental Health has meanwhile recommended reducing wireless use in schools.

In the press call, Dr. Fiorella Belpoggi of the Institute said, “Be cautious with children. Don’t use cell phones if you are pregnant or while you are breastfeeding. Don’t play with your iPad or phone. Don’t use it unless necessary.” Without being prompted by a question she volunteered, “It’s irresponsible to initiate new towers in neighborhoods where people would be exposed. No towers near schools.” Wireless schools create the same intensity of radiation as being in a microwave oven, she said. Position towers as far away as possible.

“It’s time for regulatory agencies to issue strong precautionary measures,” she said. “There is less than a one percent chance that these findings are due to chance.”

Federal Communication Commission standards are not protective, she said. Those are predicated on avoiding thermal effects such as burning your ears and are not considering possible biological effects, such as cancer. 

Dr. Lennart Hardell, a Swedish medical oncologist who has 20 years of research and clinical experience and has published 300 papers on environmental toxins, including Agent Orange and glyphosate (the herbicide Roundup) and ranks as one of the world’s top authorities on radiofrequency fields, said during the call: “There is strong evidence the radiofrequency causes these rare cancers. RF causes human cancer. The revolution in phones is not being accomplished with attention to human health. These are consistent findings. Tumors are larger in patients using cell phones. RF makes tumors grow more aggressively. Every known human carcinogen can be shown to produce cancer in animals, hence we study animals to prevent human cancer and to create drugs. Don’t carry your phone in your pocket. Protect your heart.”

Both the NTP and Ramazzini researchers said they came forward while their research is still ongoing because they felt the data is so instructive that the public must be alerted to it and that regulatory agencies should now act on it.

Other related research reported by the Ramazzini Institute included an Australian study that equipped kindergarteners with RF measuring devices and shows that people should not routinely be nearer a cell tower than 300 meters, roughly 1,000 feet (more than three football fields). A study conducted in the U.S., Australia, Ethiopia, Nepal, South Africa and Switzerland found that cell phone towers are the top contributor to RF radiation. A study of RF intensity in Stockholm, Sweden, found that the city has hotspots where the peak radiation is tens of thousands of times higher than it should be, but, meanwhile, exposure rates are reported as averages, concealing the risk. Los Angeles now has RF exposure 70 times greater than the EPA estimated 40 years ago. 

In the U.S., cell towers are currently governed by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and its Section 704 is interpreted to mean that localities cannot regulate cell towers on the basis of RF radiation concerns. Twenty-two years later, we have enough information about RF effects to necessitate a revision of the law. 

Quod Erat Demonstrandum: There must be no tower at WAHS.

No “Rain Tax”

The Gazette has explained before why Albemarle does not need to institute a storm water utility fee and because the matter is now before the Supervisors again we repeat the main points.

Counties are authorized to create these fees–called fees rather than taxes so that they can be levied on nonprofits such as churches—for the sake of cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. Everybody agrees with that goal and no one wants to pollute our water. In urbanized counties such as Fairfax, that are upstream of large sections of the Bay, the utility fee might have some beneficial impact on the Bay’s health. Albemarle’s river flow to the Bay is less that one percent of the water destined to it and ours enters the Bay via the James, at the bottom of the Bay and near its outflow through Capes Henry and Charles. Our impact is barely measurable. Counties with large rural areas are not the same as urbanized counties.

The idea that the fee will be based on the area of roofs and paved and gravel parking lots and roads—“impervious surfaces”—makes features that don’t produce silt (they’re impervious after all) the measure of how to assess the fee. The damage comes from disturbed soils, and farmers are particularly careful about protecting their soils. Their livelihoods depend on it. Farmers, typically, are not rich and a fee would be unfair to them. The greater risk of disturbed soils comes from construction.

We the people elect representatives we believe we can trust to protect our interests because we don’t have time to monitor the processes of government on a daily basis. Budgeting of one general fund, with one tax rate generating it, is the simplest way for citizens to check on the goals and the thrift of local government. By propagating fees, the government makes itself more difficult to observe and muddies the choice of priorities. Fees are likely to grow the bureaucracy, too.

Responsible improvements that need to be made to storm water infrastructure should be drawn from that General Fund and made to compete with the public’s other priorities.

Keep it simple. 

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