AS OPEN AS IT GETS – The Telecom Act v. Local Democracy

Commentary by James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan
Video by James Heddle

Left – Bob Levitt makes a point in the March 28 Bolinias, CA Fire Board Meeting.
Photo: West Marin Citizen

National Microcosm
In a scene being duplicated in meeting rooms across the country, local electeds and citizens in Bolinas, CA wrestle with the tsunami of cell phone antenna upgrades now being deployed by the telecommunications industry nation-wide. [Scroll down to watch the meeting in 2 parts.]

Part 1:

Bolinas is hopefully unique in having two commercial cell phone towers in the very center of the community health clinic, fire hall and public recreation area. A portion of the Volunteer Fire Department’s budget comes from the rental income from the antennas. Now AT&T and T-Moble want to add more to service new generations of broadband wireless devices.

Part 2:

Informed citizens, aware of the proven health risks of cell tower RF radiation, are opposed to a new build-out. Like other local decision-making bodies across the country, this Fire Board is at a disadvantage.

Before the industry-drafted Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton, communities had been successful at blocking the placement of cell towers in residential areas on the basis of then-available scientific data on serious human health risks. Section 704 of the Act took care of that. It prohibits local jurisdictions from blocking antenna placement on the basis of public health concerns, even though voluminous scientific evidence of radiation health effects has been on record since WWII.

Preemptive Law Making
Denial of scientific evidence of health effect is built right into the law:
D. State or Local Governments May Not Regulate Wireless Facilities on the Basis of Environmental Effects of Radio Frequency Emissions if the Applicant Demonstrates Compliance with FCC Regulations
{17} As written, the purpose of the requirement is to prevent telecommunications siting decisions from being based upon unscientific or irrational fears that emissions from telecommunications sites may cause undesirable health effects. In a surprising number of public hearings on the issue of cellular siting, individuals appear and complain of allegedly harmful health effects, although the authors know of no studies substantiating such claims

Outdated Regs
Another problem is that ‘FCC Regulations’ are lax, out-dated and obsolete in comparison to the much more stringent, science-based enforced in other countries. Here’s how the FCC guidelines compared with other countries’ standards as of the year 2000 – at 580 microwatts per centimeter squared at 800-900 MHZ.

UK – 5800
US & Canada -580
Australia – 200
Auckland, NZ – 50
Italy, Russia – 10
China – 6
Switzerland – 4
Saltzberg, Austria – 0.1

Quite a difference between 580 and 0.1, wouldn’t you say? The Saltzberg standard is based on an international study-of-studies called the BioInitiative Report, which has been taken very seriously by EU governments, but has been totally ignored in the US.

Sage Advice

Cindy Sage, of Sage Associates, is a world-class consultant on RF issues and the Co-Editor of the BioInitiative Report, a report of 13 internationally renowned scientists from around the globe. Based upon the BioInitiative Report, the Department of the Environment in the EU has recommended to its member Parliaments that their standards for exposure to RF radiation be lowered to the levels recommended by the report.

In 2000, Ms. Sage was commissioned by the Fire District to model the proposed build-out of antennas then being proposed. Her findings impacted the final decision to locate some of the proposed antennas elsewhere. In 2005 she was commissioned by the Concerned Citizen’s Advisory Committee to do another study for Bolinas.

A recent report by the EBI company purports to provide actual measurements of existing levels of radiation at various locations at the Mesa Park site. Ms. Sage analized the numbers provided and comments as follows:
‘Allowable’ public limits according to current FCC ‘guidelines’: 1000 uW/cm2
Recommended limits according to BioInitiative Report: 0.1 uW/cm2

‘Hair-raising’ Readings
– Community Health Clinic at ground level (measured in microwatts per centimeter squared, or uW/cm2 : 5.465% of general public limit or 54 uW/cm2 based on a combined FCC limit of 1000 uW/cm2

This is 580 times above recommended levels in the BioInitiative Rpt., or 0.1 uW/cm2
– Playground at ground level:
5.84% of general public limit or 58 uW/cm2 based on a combined FCC limit of 1000 uW/cm2
This is 580 times above recommended levels in the BioInitiative Rpt., or 0.1 uW/cm2

– Maximum measured (unstated location):
6.345% of general public limit or 63.5 uW/cm2 – based on a combined FCC limit of 1000 uW/cm2
This is 630 times above recommended levels in the BioInitiative Rpt., or 0.1 uW/cm2

– Fire house is only 0.32% or less than one microwatt/cm2 (0.3 uW/cm2)  
vs 58 uW/cm2 at the playground, and
vs 54 uW/cm2 at the health clinic

Sage calls the ‘existing RF levels intolerable.’ She points out that these levels are more than five hundred percent higher than the bioinitiative and seletun scientific statement recommendations.

Sage reported that reading these numbers ‘made my hair stand on end!’ And this is before ANY ADDITIONAL antennas are included in the measurements.

So… a pre-emptive law written by lobbyists; inadequate, obsolete FCC safety ‘standards;’ a one-sided contract; fiscal dependency; and an informed citizenry in oposiition – what are the options?

Whether the telecom companies’ request to add more antennas can be denied on the basis that local cell phone coverage is already adequate and that the public perception that additional antennas will create unacceptable exposure levels for surrounding residences will lower property values, remains to be seen.
The Board will take up the issue again at its April meeting. Stay tuned….
Please remember, your bite-size contributions on our Donate Page are what help keep us going. You can also send a check made out to EON to EON, POB 1047, Bolinas, CA