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 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.
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.