Member of the reality-based community of progressive (not anonymous) Massachusetts blogs
Both were on show tonight with the rather strongly worded public comment of a citizen over an item on tonight’s agenda, “C. Caulfield-Req. Mgr. report on Health Effects (if any) from Cell Towers on City Structures.”
I don’t blame Caulfield for bringing up a citizen’s concerns, particularly when I suspect without some major research, he wouldn’t have had any idea how to evaluate her claims about the health effects (hint: she believes there definitely are some! no really!! think of the childrens!!)
But her speech really sounded familiar. It reminded me powerfully of the people who claim there’s evidence that vaccines given to children causes autism. Immediately, my science bullshit meter went off.
The woman (sorry, I didn’t catch her name) mentioned some study claiming “double the rates of leukemia near cell towers.” If that were true, I don’t think there’d be any Big Giant Conspiracy™ in the world that would stop scientists from further studying the effects of cell towers.
This site cites a couple of studies (including the leukemia claim) regarding rates of cancer and cell towers, but for instance, one thorough vetting of the most “alarming” of the studies, that “a study by Dr. Bruce Hocking in Australia found that children living near Cell Phone Towers in Sydney had more than twice the rate of childhood leukemia than children living more than seven miles away” - turns out, there’s some caveats, and also, it appears that this study is from 1996.
The first caveat is that the study does not refer to cell towers. It refers to TV towers, which, as pointed out by this paper, are 15,000 times more powerful.
TV towers have a much higher power rating-and thus give out more intense radiation- than mobile phone towers. For example, the TV transmitter on top of Black Mountain, Canberra, is rated at 300 kilowatts. A typical mobile phone tower is emitting only about 20 watts, i.e. 15 000 times weaker. …
In comparison with the Australian Standard(3) (200 microwatts/square cm), a power density level of 6 microwatt/square cm from a mobile phone tower (said to be a maximum value) represents only 3% of the value of the maximum allowable power density. A more typical figure of 0.1 microwatt/square cm is only 0.05% of the standard.
Turning to larger TV broadcast towers, a person standing one kilometre away would expect to be exposed to a power density of 5-10 microwatts/square cm of radiation. At two kilometres this reduces greatly to about 0.5 microwatt/square cm. These figures are still far less than the prescribed limit of 200 microwatts/square cm.
But you cannot talk about RF (cell phone) radiation with discussing the actual radiation itself. From the same paper:
A significant division within the EMR spectrum is the frequency at about 10 million gigahertz above which waves become ionising in nature, i.e. they are capable of knocking electrons out of atoms to form ions. Thus ultraviolet rays, X-rays and gamma radiation are ionising because they are of greater frequency than 10 million gigahertz. When directed at the body, such radiation is known to be capable of initiating cancer through damage to genetic material (DNA). Too much sunlight, too many X-rays or too much exposure to the gamma-radiating isotope cobalt-60 can cause cancer.
That part of the EMR spectrum of concern in this paper is non-ionising and is known as radiofrequency/microwave radiation (RF radiation for short). […] The radiofrequency spectrum includes, in increasing order of energy, waves from AM radio, FM radio, TV (very high and ultra high frequency), mobile phones, police radar, microwave ovens and satellite stations.
Intense waves in the radiofrequency spectrum are readily able to raise the temperature of, say, a culture of cells brought near the source of radiation (the principle of the microwave oven) as wave energy is converted to heat energy on contact with the cells. This is known as a thermal effect. However, because the radiation is non-ionising there is no electron stripping of cellular DNA and therefore no direct initiation of cancer. Radiofrequency standards to protect health are totally based on avoiding thermal effects (see below).
Your microwave works on this principle - it can heat molecules, but it can’t mess with your DNA.
Also, cell towers point their radiation out into the air - horizontal to the ground at the level they are at. This is so their signals can reach further. So most of the radiation, even at the low range for cell towers, doesn’t even hit the ground around the tower itself, except, perhaps, at its base (you know, where they put a fence up to keep you out).
It’s easy to see why someone doing research would get concerned - the number of alarmist websites out there appear to outnumber real outlets of science and health organizations in the top rankings of the world wide internets. However, reading through some of these to get to a kernel of understanding, what you discover is that with RF and other low-spectrum energy waves, the worst thing you can do is crawl into your microwave because it can cook you - not turn your DNA into spaghetti. The studies that claim big negative effects from RF due to cell phones or cell phone towers apparently are not reproducible (a must if you’re going to get scientific acceptance). But the studies showing no correlation seem to be piling up year after year.
The World Health Organization has a great factsheet.
Finally, if you are so concerned about RF radiation, I suggest that you and your kids should stop watching the TV, using the computer, the microwave, or anything with wireless communication like your network or baby monitors. They all emit low-spectrum radiation including RF. Do you kids like to sit within feet of the TV? Do you have your wifi box near your home desk where you sit at the computer? Yup. All non-ionizing radiation, my friend.
It seems like being alarmist about health effects is itself a disease these days. It’s also good for selling snake oil protection charms as well. My google searches landed me at the same alarmist site I started with - trying to sell me a cheap-looking ceramic doodad to supposedly stop the big bad radiation.
Hey, health alarmism sells! Who wants to leave science to the scientists??
Don’t forget to vaccinate your kids.
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