Information & Research

Health and Environmental Effects of Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation

by Mark Longwood

Authorities from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones commissioned by the British government have issued reports about actual or possible adverse health effects from exposure to the kind of radiation emitted by cell phone base station microwave antennas. EPA scientists concluded that the two most important signal characteristics used in cellular communications are possible and probable human carcinogens.

Released in May 2000, a British Government commissioned report from the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones led by biologist Sir William Stewart stated: "We conclude that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to radiation, even at levels below [UK] national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach." The Expert Group recommended that the beam of greatest intensity should not fall on any part of school grounds or buildings without agreement from the school and parents and that similar considerations should apply to base stations sited near school grounds. The City of Manchester, England, has begun taking down cellular antennas that had been placed on schools or hospitals.

In December 1993, after investigating the potential health effects of cellular transceiver facilities, the California Public Utilities Commission issued the following advisory: "Cellular companies can be encouraged to consider alternative siting, especially if projected cell sites are in close proximity to schools or hospitals. School and hospital sites can be designated only as last-choice possibilities."

Exposure to low-intensity radio frequency radiation, such as that emitted by wireless antennas, has been linked to increased stress response in cells, a decrease in reproductive function and damage to the blood-brain barrier a protective membrane according to Henry Lai, a researcher in the University of Washington bioelectromagnetics research lab (industry associations counter, predictably, that these studies did not use human subjects).

Other researchers have found an increase in a phenomenon known as calcium-ion dumping, in which the calcium concentration in the cell, vital to good functioning, decreases, weakening the endocrine and immune systems. In Italy, after a prolonged debate following the reporting of a epidemiological study which shows there is may be a dose-response linking distance from the Vatican's international radio tower to higher than normal rates of leukemia, the Italian government has threatened to turn off the electrical feed to the antennas.

In an article in the March 2001 Marin Independent Journal entitled "Parents Move to Stop Antennas," Libby Kelley, founder of the Novato-based Council on Wireless Technology Impacts (CWTI), cited a 1998 study that revealed DNA damage in cells followed exposure to low-intensity radio frequency radiation. Kelley also cites school resolutions passed in Los Angeles and other areas calling for increased study and opposing placement of antennas near schools.

In 1996, New Zealand's Ministry of Education banned cellular antennas at all public schools. After a more recent review of the scientific literature by Toronto Public Health staff, a report was issued in which Public Health was requested to consider a policy of prudent avoidance based on restricting the siting of base transmitter antennas to a certain distance from schools and day-care centers and away from residential areas.

Dr. Gregory W. Lotz, chief, Physical Effects Branch, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, (NIOSH) advised in September, 1997, "To err on the side of caution, wherever children gather, put the antennas someplace else."

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