Update: On September 3, 2014, it was announced that the vendor responsible for the cell tower project withdrew its proposal to the Naperville school district. It is thought the growing public opposition to the towers may have played a role in this action. Possibly the information on this webpage will be of use to others where cell towers are proposed in the future on school grounds.
This article was prompted by an opinion piece in the Naperville Sun on July 30, 2014, entitled, “We should worry about things that are truly dangerous.” The writer of that piece is certainly entitled to his opinion, but in this article we would like to clarify some of the “facts” as well as highlight the somewhat snobbish nature of the Naperville Sun editorial.
The general theme of the opinion piece was that parents should not worry about such things as radiofrequency (RF) emissions from cell towers being proposed for placement on school properties, but instead they “should worry about [other] things that are truly dangerous,” such as use of antibiotics in livestock and chemicals used in the plastic lining of food and beverage cans.
My first point would be to mention how the expressed opinion disparages the health concerns that parents might express about cell tower emissions as if the parents are not also concerned about scores of other issues that face parents each day, such as healthy food, safe streets, sunburn, mosquito bites, childhood diseases, inappropriate online content, etc., etc. The article characterizes the parents’ concerns as an irrational “fear” and “fret[ting] about radio waves” based upon a “vast ocean of lies, manufactured fear, and superstition.”
The article mentions that the school “should tell parents to stop worrying about things that are not dangerous…”
What type of school would we have that did not listen to and thoughtfully consider the concerns of the parents? Would you want to send your children to such a school?
Biased and Erroneous Opinions
Editorial Opinion #1
“… there is zero scientific evidence they [radio waves] cause health problems and, because of their wavelength, few if any scientists who think they could.”
Facts and Counterpoints
By any standard, there is at least limited evidence that RF emissions negatively affect health, and there are many scientists who believe that the exponential and uncontrolled expansion of the wireless industry poses a serious threat to human health and the environment.
Some of the scientific evidence dealing specifically with cell tower emissions was presented in a previous article at this website: “Naperville School District 203 Considers Leases for Cell Tower Installations.”
Those who say there is “zero evidence” of harm typically view the issue as an “all or nothing” proposition. In an attempt to better illustrate this concept, refer to the figure below showing a “ladder” with various degrees of possible certainty for demonstrated adverse health effects from RF exposure. Those individuals who say there is “no evidence” are stuck at the bottom of the ladder stating that talk of low-level health effects from RF emissions is nothing more than “speculation.” These same people further state that in order to take any action to protect the public you must find a way to jump to the top of the ladder showing absolute proof of harm including the mechanism causing the harm.
Those individuals advocating caution acknowledge that at least limited levels of evidence exist demonstrating that adverse health effects are caused by RF emissions. Some scientists and independent experts believe we are further up the ladder than others. Between speculation and hypothesis toward the bottom of the ladder and absolute proof at the top of the ladder is a range where precautionary measures may be warranted based upon an objective review of the available scientific evidence and its possible negative impact on society if nothing is done to avoid harm.
The most basic precautionary action is to avoid RF exposure that is higher than necessary to achieve an intended purpose. If a school’s primary objective is to educate children in a safe manner, then intentionally exposing children and school personnel to cell tower radiation should certainly be viewed as not supporting the school’s core objective. Such exposure can therefore be declared unnecessary from a health risk perspective.
Editorial Opinion #2
“the RF levels under an antenna are thousands of times lower than recommended levels, and only 1 percent of what the kid would get from his own cell phone.”
Facts and Counterpoints
There are at least three fallacies or straw man arguments in the above statement:
- In this instance, the applicable “recommended levels” would be the exposure guidelines or limits of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These guidelines are currently at the center of scientific and legal controversy. The FCC guidelines only address health effects caused by significant overheating of tissue or electric shock. Many scientists believe (as demonstrated through peer-reviewed literature) that adverse effects are occurring below those levels. Even our own United States Department of Interior expressed concerns regarding exposure to “migratory birds and other trust species” from cell tower RF emissions in a letter written earlier this year that states: “[T]he electromagnetic radiation standards used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continue to be based on thermal heating, a criterion now nearly 30 years out of date and inapplicable today. … [A] significant issue associated with communi-cation towers involves impacts from non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation emitted by them.”
- On the issue of “RF levels” and for the Naperville School District 203 possible lease arrangement, have the expected RF levels for the school grounds even been disclosed? Discussion of “RF levels” can sometimes be a biased discussion tactic that ignores the possible effects of chronic exposure and probably also ignores the differences between localized and whole body exposure. The average American talks on a cell phone for about 15 minutes of a day (about 1% of the day’s duration). If the RF level from a cell tower is 1% of that a cell phone (as stated in the opinion piece), then the cumulative exposure to RF energy over a period of 24 hours from a cell tower would be equivalent to that from the 15 minute phone call. (For eight hours it would be more like a 1 to 3 ratio.) In addition, scientists who support the assertion that RF radiation is harmful even at low levels also generally believe that chronic exposure by its nature is more harmful than sporadic exposure.
- The phrase about what “the kid would get from his own cell phone” ignores that talking on a cell phone is a voluntary experience while exposure to cell tower radiation would be mandatory and imposed for all kids if cell towers were installed on school grounds. The statement also ignores actions being taken in other countries to limit the use of cell phones by children for health reasons. In addition, the opinion piece statement ignores the cautionary words  at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website that: “Along with many organizations worldwide, we recommend caution in cell phone use. More research is needed before we know for sure if using cell phones causes cancer.” Also from the CDC website: “If RF does cause health problems, kids who use cell phones may have a higher chance of developing these problems in the future.”
The Naperville Sun opinion piece mentions that schools are hopefully “one of the few remaining islands of evidence-based rationality…” The point of this article is that it is totally rational for the school to listen to concerned parents, … and that on the subject of cell tower radiation emissions on school grounds, several knowledgeable and informed parents are trying to do what is best for their children and the community. In addition, from the information presented in this blog article, their concerns and “fears” appear to be “evidence-based.”
 Update on CDC Cautionary Words
Say What? CDC Flip-Flops on Cell Phone Danger
Public News Service – NY | August 26, 2014 |
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) became the first federal agency to acknowledge the potential health risks from using cell phones earlier this year. Then, just last week, the agency backtracked from its earlier statements of caution.