Microwaving our planet.
While the visual impact of telecommunications technology has come under fire, environmental circles have paid surprisingly little attention to its biological impact - one of the most dramatic and rapid alterations of the Earth's electromagnetic environment ever to occur. Yet, there has been a deliberate absence of debate on microwaves and radiation.
Meanwhile, virtually the entire microwave spectrum, from 300 megahertz (MHz) to 100 gigahertz (GHz), has been or will soon be on the auction block. (Cellular phones operate within this range at 860- 900 MHz; personal communications service phones operate at 1,800-2,000 MHz.) Telecommunications companies are spending billions of dollars leasing chunks of spectrum from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use in dozens of new types of cellular, paging, radio, television and other global networks that will link computers and people without the inconvenience of costly, hard-to-maintain copper wires.
Personal communications services (PCS), the largest of these networks, are spreading over the Earth's surface with incredible speed. Introduced on a wide scale only last November, PCS already provides wireless voice, fax and data transmission capabilities to subscribers in hundreds of US cities.
Sprint PCS is building 50,000 new broadcast towers this year; Omnipoint Communications has erected thousands of antennas in New York City and plans to spread nationwide; and Primeco Personal Communications is following suit, along with Pacific Bell, Bell South and Western Wireless.
Altogether, 1,500 companies have obtained PCS licenses from the FCC. The industry is mounting antennas on apartment buildings, water towers, churches, schools, billboards, highway signs, lamp posts and traffic lights - while telling us that all this is safe. But the energy emitted by PCS antennas is extremely close in frequency (1.8- 2.0 GHz) and power (up to 1,000 watts or more) to the energy that cooks food in microwave ovens. Essentially, hundreds of thousands of microwave ovens are being placed on rooftops and towers - and they're being turned on with their doors open.
Seventy Years of Suppressed Studies
The electromagnetic bombardment from telecommunications systems is so great that it also has become necessary for companies to spend huge sums of money to develop better shielding for pacemakers, hearing aids, computers, guidance systems in airplanes and helicopters, and most other electronic equipment.
Despite well-documented exposes such as Paul Brodeur's The Zapping of America (WW Norton, 1977) and Robert Becker's Cross Currents (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1990), the industry continues to deny that this same radiation has any effect on human beings, plants or animals.
We are being asked to believe that there are no nonthermal effects and that if microwaves aren't strong enough to cook us, they will do us no harm.
Much as the asbestos and tobacco industries have done, the telecommunications industry has suppressed damaging evidence about its technology since at least 1927, when colloid chemist Ernst Muth first discovered that red blood cells exposed to radio frequency waves (at levels far less powerful than permitted today by the FCC) are forced to line up in chains resembling strings of pearls.
In the 1950s, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe began to set microwave exposure standards that were up to 1,000 times more stringent than those in the West. US scientists entrusted with the safety of radar systems, microwave relay towers and radio and television networks had no difficulty convincing the American public that Eastern bloc scientists didn't know how to do proper research. Never mind that some of the most careful and meticulous work in the field was being done in the US - with identical results.
Biologist Allan Frey, for example, was publishing data that showed damage to the heart, nervous system, eyes and other organs even by levels of microwaves permissible in the Eastern bloc. Some of his work was done under contract with the US Air Force and Navy.
Frey also demonstrated that people can hear low-level pulsed signals as buzzes, clicks or tones in their heads. Other scientists confirmed that even extremely low-energy microwave signals heat enough brain tissue to set up pressure waves inside the head - similar to those occurring in a concussion. When the pressure waves reach the inner ear, they produce a sound.
After three decades of research, Frey complained that very little of this kind of information was reaching the public. In 1983, he wrote that US citizens "have to fight for every piece they want and then cannot trust what little they get."
Who's Setting the Standards?
Frey warned of "a small group of scientists controlling the setting of health hazard standards, controlling what research bearing on that standard gets funded or published, while providing testimony for various companies and government agencies to the effect that substantial microwave energy exposure is safe."
This "small group of scientists" was made up of engineers and veterinarians, not doctors, biologists or epidemiologists. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) - the agency that was (and still is) setting microwave exposure standards - is not a government agency but a private organization funded and controlled by industry.
Though Congress authorized the FCC to set safety standards for radio frequency and microwave broadcasts, the FCC has seen fit to make a voluntary industry standard the law of the land. In February 1996, Congress made ANSI's standard not a minimum but a maximum safety standard.
The 1996 Telecommunications Act declares: "No state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission's regulations concerning such emissions."
In addition, the 1996 federal budget cut all EPA funding for studying the health effects of radio frequency and microwave transmissions. It wasn't restored in 1997.
This means that if novel telecommunications technologies fall within the FCC's safety guidelines but nevertheless prove hazardous, injured citizens will have no recourse, and a threatened environment will receive no protection.
Microwave Radiation Sickness
The most extensive and well-controlled epidemiological studies on the biological effects of radio broadcasts have been underway since 1989 near a radar station in Skrunda, Latvia. Results show impaired motor function, reaction time, memory and attention among schoolchildren; chromosome damage in cows; abnormal growth, shortened life span and impaired reproduction in duckweed plants; decreased thickness of growth rings in pine trees; and premature aging of pine needles and cones. The levels of radio waves involved are not much higher than what we receive on Earth from the newest telecom satellites.
Data published by radio frequency/microwave consultant Kathy Hawk in her 1996 book Case Study in the Heartland document the disappearance of birds and honey bees, an increase in farm animal birth defects and the sudden deterioration in the health of farm families living near newly erected cellular towers in the Midwest.
Perhaps the most ominous news comes from a survey by the Cellular Phone Taskforce, an organization comprised of citizens injured by radio transmissions. The task force runs a clearinghouse on health problems it believes are caused by PCS broadcast antennas.
Reports from cities throughout the world indicate a new kind of illness that coincides in every case with the activation of a PCS network. The symptoms are striking: pressure behind the eyes; dry, puffy lips; swollen thyroid; sudden rise in pulse rate and blood pressure; pressure or pain in the chest; insomnia; dizziness; headache; nausea; loss of appetite; coughing or wheezing; sinus problems; testicular or pelvic pain; muscle spasms; tremors; irritability; memory loss; pain in the legs or the soles of the feet; pains that move around the body; varying degrees of dehydration; and occasionally fever, rash or nosebleeds.
The illness appears to be confined to geographical areas served by new PCS and other digital systems. Remarkably, a growing number of environmental refugees have recovered immediately upon leaving the PCS coverage area.
Time to Pull the Plug
The net is closing. All of the older communication technologies that broadcast analog signals at relatively low frequencies are being phased out and replaced by higher-frequency digital signals that 70 years of research indicate are hazardous to life.
Microwave radiation levels in major metropolitan areas have increased 1,000-fold overnight. And telecommunications companies are well on their way to covering every square inch of the Earth with digital wireless broadcasts from Earth- and space-based antennas - faster, they are betting, than it will be possible for anyone to mount an effective opposition.
The stakes are too high to sit still. The Telecommunications Act must be amended to require epidemiological studies on the effects of all this radiation on the public and to restore the prerogatives of local and state governments concerned about their citizens' health. Money for scientific research must be restored to the EPA. There should be full congressional hearings on the environmental implications of the wireless revolution and on the telecommunications industry's wholesale suppression of scientific evidence.
In the absence of congressional action, local communities need to challenge the constitutionality of a law that prevents them from protecting their citizens and the environment. Otherwise, 1998 could be a silent spring - not because of pesticides, nukes, ozone depletion or global warming - but because of the electromagnetic fallout from the information explosion that so many in the environmental movement had counted on as our salvation.
RELATED ARTICLE: Telephone Antennas in Our Parks?
Last year, President Clinton gushed that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 would "bring the future to our doorstep," but a little-noticed section of the act could bring broadcast towers and satellite dishes to the top of Mount Rushmore and Yosemite's Half Dome.
As Washington Post reporter Tom Kenworthy discovered, the Telecommunications Act will make it "considerably easier for the communications industry to erect antennas and other unsightly gear within national parks, wildlife refuges and other protected federal property." Corporate telecommunications giants love the act, Kenworthy reports, because "so many mountaintops and high-elevation areas" are found on public lands.
The act orders that "requests for the use of property, rights-of-way and easements... be granted absent unavoidable direct conflict with the department or agency's mission."
The big question is: Who determines whether there is an "unavoidable, direct conflict" - park officials, the Federal Communications Commission or the corporations?
"The telecommunications industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country," an anonymous Interior Department official told the Post. "You're talking about taking on 2 to 3 percent of the GNP.... They've been trying to get into parks and refuges for some time."
Park officials have been besieged with requests to place towering infernals on the Channel Islands National Park off California so broadcasters can beam signals to customers in the Los Angeles area. - GS
RELATED ARTICLE: Dropping the 'E' Bomb
The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that cellphones repeatedly disrupt telemetry systems monitoring patients' heartbeats at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia. Even when not in use, cellphones interfere with ventilators, infusion pumps for delivering intravenous fluids, anesthetic delivery systems, dialysis machines and brain wave monitors. Canada estimates that it will take 15 years to equip hospitals with proper radiation shielding.
In the United Kingdom, Volkswagen warns new car buyers not to use cellphones inside automobiles, where a "resonance" effect can increase signals tenfold. The wavelength of a 900 MHz mobile phone held next to the ear is 4 centimeters - enough to penetrate the brain.
Britain's Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, warns that mobile phones can interfere with electronic braking and steering. On October 30, 1995, the London Independent reported that a Jaguar "traveling at a high speed on the motorway suddenly stopped when the driver's phone activated the brakes."
In Brussels, Camellia Gabrielle, a microwave expert with Cenelee, which sets standards for the European Community, warns against heavy use of mobile phones. Noting research by Britain's National Radiological Protection Board showing that as much as 70 percent of a mobile phone's radiation is absorbed by the head (where it can create "hot spots"), Gabriel recommended limiting emissions to 20 milliwatts (most mobile phones emit 100-600 milliwatts).
In the US, University of Washington researchers Henry Lai and Narenda Singh found that microwave radiation comparable to mobile phone emissions spilt DNA molecules in rats' brains. These breaks, they note, are linked to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and cancer. - GS
Arthur Firstenberg, a holistic health practitioner, is the author of Microwaving Our Planet: The Environmental Impact of the Wireless Revolution (1996) and president of the Cellular Phone Taskforce, PO Box 100404, Brooklyn, NY 11210, (718) 434-4499.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related articles on plans to build communications infrastructure in national parks and the health dangers of cellular phones; hazards brought by communication technologies|
|Publication:||Earth Island Journal|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1997|
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