Local Cell Tower Hysteria

Most of the cell phone / Wi-Fi hysteria seems to me like it’s been coming from the eastern provinces, although Edmonton has had some short-lived and ineffective campaigns to get Wi-Fi out of schools. But, this summer I got my first taste of local activism about cell towers.

Initially, I was on board with the little newsletters inflatable bounce house for sale and updates that got left in my mail, and that I saw on the news. The neighbourhood south of me was upset that there was no public consultation to build a new cell tower at the seniors’ home. The updates mentioned the lack of consultation from the city with regards to community planning, and the eyesore it would be. Why not build it a few blocks away in one of the light industrial areas? I try to avoid being NIMBY, but there are very close industrial zoned areas, so I was on the side of my vocal neighbours.

And then the dialogue got taken over, by parents angrily telling the news that if the cell tower got built, they would have to move so their kids didn’t get cancer. There was an information session turned health-misinformation debate. I stopped paying attention, because I didn’t want to become the disagreeable new kid on the block. They’re nice people, and I hope to have relationships with them long after this issue blows over.

Maybe if we make it pretty, they'll stop complaining?

It did blow over. The seniors’ home had already signed contracts, and had no intention of incurring the financial penalty to back out. So, it looks like the cell tower will probably get built. I breathed a sigh of relief and forgot about it.

Until last week – when I got a blatantly pseudo-science inspired flyer from the same group of parents. Supposedly, one of the local churches is the back-up location for the cell tower, and this group wants to be pre-emptive with their activism. In addition to contact information for the church (but not the group of parents), it contains these charmers, supposedly supported by many studies, the WHO, and Health Canada (emphasis theirs):

“Studies show brain cancer doubled”

“INCREASE in other cancers

“fatigue, sleeplessness, poor concentration”

Now, I’m just a mix of angry and bemused. So, I’ve started writing letters. No replies yet, but hopefully it all blows over again.

To the church contacts:

I’ve been following this cell tower uproar with the seniors centre and just received a notice in my mailbox about a proposed cell tower at the United Church. I just wanted to say, that I have no concerns with health effects from the tower, although I do think that it would be a bit of an eyesore.

These problems that the message lists (brain cancer doubling, increase in other cancers) are junk science and misunderstood science and statements. Go ahead and build the tower if that’s what’s best for the church, and know that not everyone in the community is against you.

Some references to deal with the erroneous claims in the letter going around:
- Studies that the letter seems to be referencing are specifically cell phones (i.e. the phone against your head) not cell phone towers, which are, from a technical perspective, not any different than radio or TV towers. The frequency ranges overlap. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/OtherCarcinogens/AtHome/cellular-phones
- WHO May 31, 2011 report: The WHO has designated radio-frequency fields like those from mobile phones as ‘possibly carcinogenic’. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/index.php This is the same category as talc powder, pickled vegetables, and coffee. The WHO defines “possibly” differently than most people do. And again, we’re talking about a tower vs. a phone.
- The listing in this letter about fatigue, sleeplessness, etc, are all symptoms easily caused (and resolved) by placebos. Being worried about cancer alone can cause all of those symptoms, and there’s no science to back up their being caused by towers.

And, to my city councillor:

 As I’m sure you’re aware, there was some uproar around the proposed Rogers cell tower, and based on the flyer I received last week, it seems like there will now be a similar uproar against a proposal for one at the United Church.

I hope, that if this issue reaches the city, the discussion is based on good science and not the unsupported claims in the flyer (brain cancer, increase in other cancers, sleeplessness, etc). The WHO and Health Canada both say that there’s no evidence of adverse health effects from cell phones, but research is ongoing, just in case that holding a small transmitter directly against a child’s head for most of their life has some sort of effect that is completely unexpected. From a common sense perspective, if a tower were going to cause brain cancer, we would have already seen this effect from radio and television transmitters, which operate in the same frequency range at much higher power outputs than cell towers.

So, even though I suspect that you’ll hear more from parents worried that their children will be harmed if the cell tower is built, please understand that I expect public policy to be based on evidence and sound research, and I’m sure that I’m not alone.

Meanwhile, ATCO is upgrading all of the gas meters with transmitters, so that they can drive down the street and collect the usage numbers instead of manually peering at dials. I almost hope that I start getting flyers about those. I could start up classes at the community hall teaching people how to make Faraday cages from A&W wrappers to prevent the gas meter from melting their brains. For a small fee, of course.


15 Responses to “Local Cell Tower Hysteria”

  1. Roberta says:

    Great letters. I hope they reach the right people. It’s sad to see Edmontonians falling for this stuff too. I wonder what all the sources of radiation are around us – I’d love to see an infographic about it.

  2. DMG says:

    @Roberta: ask and ye shall receive:

    (though the focus of this chart is more on large-scale exposure, it does a good job of putting the few everyday items it lists in perspective)

    That covers ionizing radiation. I don’t have one handy that looks at general electromagnetic field exposure.

    • Tim McDowell says:

      Great chart! Now if someone could add on an EMF version, it would really help put things in perspective for the tinfoil hat crowd.

  3. Marion says:

    I’m sure the ghost hunters have the tools to help us out…

    But these cell tower concerns baffle me a little. Is it only technology that became popular after the 80′s that supposedly causes these effects? Because if it isn’t, then I want to know why I don’t hear more about how TVs cause cancer.

  4. Great article! Unfortunately not enough people are properly informed about cell towers and can misinterpret the studies that have been done. You might be interested to know that there is a new service launching in January, 2012 called the Canadian Radiocommunication and Notification Service (CRINS). We are a non-governmental organization dedicated to providing the Canadian public with information and an opportunity to participate in the dialogue surrounding the building of radiocommunication sites and antenna tower systems in Canada. The website is still in production, but if we are able to get enough municipalities and the public to support the site, we will be able to promote both the education and consultation so that a similar situation with your community doesn’t have to happen.

  5. Karl says:

    Thanks for bringing this up Marion. I received one of those letters, and it astounds me how poorly written it was. This looks like the work of a single neighborhood crackpot – someone who can’t find even a single person to proofread for them.

    Incidentally, I tried cc’ing them in the response I sent to the churches, but the domain they listed doesn’t exist.

  6. Daryl Vernon says:

    Talk about “junk”! Trottier’s gang on this topic has recruited a new misguided member, we see. Welcome, Marion, to commission of similar egregious errors & mischaracterizations of your own.
    Should I keep this simple for a skepto?

    “Studies that the letter seems to be referencing are specifically cell phones (i.e. the phone against your head) not cell phone towers, which are, from a technical perspective, not any different than
    radio or TV towers. The frequency ranges overlap.”

    This is now an apparent new focus of defenders of the indefensible, first noted in a CBC Halifax interview when industry mouthpiece hack, Bernard Lord, tries to turn the tables on the interviewer re cell tower safety. You, dear broadcaster, are irradiating everyone, too, at way higher power! Pushers of wireless mania hire the same PR types & firms as their predecessors in absestos, tobacco, ddt, vinyl chloride, beryllium, lead, you name it, wherever there was misdeed to get away with by sowing doubt & confusion in the pubic. Looks like that CBC interview didn’t merit being archived at http://www.cbc.ca/mainstreetns/archives/audio.html as 3 other topical segments were. Go listen to how one of your own performs, Muc. He’s the best you got in this country, judging by how often he’s trotted out to tell your side of things on air, to write dopey reports, to appear before committees. Maybe because Krewski is an asset to be protected. (When someone was told about who was the big Cdn. advisor from his Ottawa “population” study centre — ie population control must be — this Krewski guy, that person noted how he was used in court way back to defend Agent Orange spraying. Told you, same small crowd, and skeptos fall for it all.)

    Am I diverging off topic? Hardly. Those audio things are about a court case about sickness induced by a cell tower in NS. Progress, in spite of Skeptic North. Now back to the quoted wrongful statement: cell towers & phones emit the same stuff, eh? Radio & TV have been shown to be dangerous, too. Cell towers emit at higher frequencies and are far more pervasive, increasing relative danger. And it is not all about power levels.

    “we’re talking about a tower vs. a phone.” You maybe did not intend the careful wording , “radio-frequency fields like those from mobile phones as ‘possibly carcinogenic’” — RF, not cell phone radiation, was classified as 2B, which should have been 2A, had there not been some serious foul play around the REFLEX study, according to Franz Adlkofer et al, http://broschuerenreihe.net/britannien-uk/brochure/radiation-protection-in-conflict-with-science/index.html & talk at http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2011/11/18_safra-center-cellphone-radiation-corruption.html . (One hanger-around here told me once he reads German – that translation is thick, so go to http://www.broschuerenreihe.net/assets/ki_heft-5_web.pdf , Tricque.)
    Mightn’t even have been 2B had two participants not quit after being properly outed by a Swedish journalist for undeclared industry-connection, since added to by Italian journalists. If you have French or Italian, the best tv docs to date on the corruption & suffering — you are on the wrong side of this one, Marion, whatever the behaviour of your local advocates — http://videos.next-up.org/France3/Hors_Serie_Mauvaises_Ondes/16_05_2011.html & http://www.report.rai.it/dl/Report/puntata/ContentItem-dbe508b1-0a45-4bfa-8252-a727bbeb2efd.html?refresh_ce .

    How about another decent article by Ketcham, following his http://www.gq.com/cars-gear/gear-and-gadgets/201002/warning-cell-phone-radiation?printable=true last yr, now http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/warning_high_frequency . Or want studies or academic reviews? Not a week goes by without one showing you are on the wrong side, Marion. Latest: on hormone disruption in tower proximity: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0009912011027330 .

    “there’s no science to back up their being caused by towers.”

    How about this more recent one, among many: http://www.emrsa.co.za/documents/brazilresearch.pdf — oh, you’re right, that is about cancer deaths, not cancer per se.

    Now I gotta get hold of this flyer. Advocates are advocates, not professional scientists, and why they should be held to whatever standard Marion would propose, is maybe unreasonable. Why not assist them to express themselves better, rather than leaving things unexamined as you do, relying on info-filtration, but as these advocates must have overcome?

    “just in case that holding a small transmitter directly against a child’s head for most of their life has some sort of effect that is completely unexpected” — you see nothing wrong with this? the suggestion of human experimentation? on children yet? misleading about it being about phones not towers again (maybe like you mixed it up the other way above?)? “small”– by what definition, for small hands?? “some sort” — you are clearly ignorant about the great catalogue of effects already indicated

    “we would have already seen this effect” — already have, now even upheld in a court ruling in Italy,
    “Vatican radio waves blamed for high cancer risk: A court-ordered study has found that electromagnetic waves beamed by Vatican Radio leave residents living near the station’s antennas at a higher risk of cancer.”, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/7891504/Vatican-radio-waves-blamed-for-high-cancer-risk.html, for example, although unfortunately I think the culpability relied on transgressing national limits, but also from Italy (but what do they know there, eh?), http://www.scribd.com/doc/27618514/CEM-Sentenza-Corte-d-Appello-Di-Brescia or see http://electromagnetichealth.org/electromagnetic-health-blog/dect-cancer-italy/ : “The judgement is a breakthrough because this time the Judge excluded industry financed appraisals and relied on industry independent data.” — VERY IMPORTANT, Marion, step #1 to becoming a real skeptic, not of the Skeptic North variety.

    And you should contest the wireless gas meters, too, although if they are drive-bys and not “meshed” of frequent emission like the dangerous electricity ones being rolled out all over & sickening people, that might be a sensible restricted use of RF…but clear out all the general danger first.

    As for “been coming from the eastern provinces”, BC & Quebec have been most active overall. Looking forward to Gillian’s CRINS — who are “we”, Gillian? You mean, some skeptos here really do have direct telecom connexions?

  7. Karl says:

    @Daryl Vernon: Insulting people in a public forum is not going to help win people to your side. It will just make rational people think you have no real argument.

    • Daryl Vernon says:

      Hey, Karl, forget the alleged insults. Read at the links, lots for a beginner, eh?

      Can you show us or quote from the brochure, so I can criticize it myself? Or support its language? I frequently offer sometimes critical uncomfortable advice to advocates. they need help for a vital cause, not disparagement. Who’s insulting whom? –

      “crackpot”, “someone who can’t find even”, but i am used to this garbage on this site; now, where was my alleged “insult(s)”?

      Who among you actually reads source material and thinks for him/herself, instead of relying on your favourite info filtration?

      • Dianne Sousa says:

        The look on advocates faces you see after you offer them advice isn’t a sign of discomfort from being criticized; it’s genuine confusion about what on earth you’re talking about.

      • Daryl Vernon says:

        Is this hard for you to get, Diane?: cell phone & tower radiation sicken & kill. How’s that for skepto simplicity?

  8. Mikko Ahonen says:

    Thank you Daryl for your fresh input

    You provided truly interesting links.

    I have systematically listed all research papers of base stations / masts focusing on long-lasting exposure. Please, take a look:


    I hope you find this collection useful.

  9. Allen says:

    Hey Daryl.
    Check out the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones if you need some science to support your statements.

    Chapter 5 has all the science you’ll need on 67 pages.


  • Marion Kilgour

    Marion is a mechanical engineer, and also works to promote critical thinking and scientific literacy through local skeptical and atheist activism in Edmonton, Alberta. Marion especially wishes to encourage girls to consider science or technology-based careers, and is involved in the University of Alberta's Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) project.