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Our digital world: The toxic radiation health threat

By Stacy Gittleman

Our digital world is ubiquitous and the telecommunications industry wants it that way. But academic, medical, public health and scientific officials who have spent their careers observing and studying the boom of the telecommunications industry warn that radiofrequency (RF) radiation waves emitted from cell towers, antennas and our wireless devices are the new tobacco in terms of a threat to public health. This is because RF is unremitting – we are constantly on our screens and government regulators have been reluctant to look at any scientific findings since they set safety levels in the mid-1990s.

The limits for allowed exposure to RF, or microwave exposure, are set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP), an organization based in Germany, and by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the USA. They are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission and are still based only on heating (thermal) effects that appear within a very short time of exposure. However, the set limits do not take into account the long-term exposure or any other harmful biological effects. Critics of both the FCC and the ICNIRP say both entities have rejected mountains of data from a growing body of evidence that a combination of RF waves coming from cell towers and antennas and devices in our homes, offices and schools are causing a range of harmful non-thermal effects that are happening well below their recommended maximum levels. In fact, set safety levels and limits of RF in Europe and the Middle East are tens of times lower than in the United States.

Cell phone towers (also called base stations) have electronic equipment and antennas that send and receive signals to and from cell phones. Antennas may be attached to free-standing towers or structures or may be mounted on non-tower structures such as building rooftops, billboards or church steeples.

According to, as of this February, there are 226 towers and 306 antennas within a three-mile radius of Birmingham. The presence of these towers is causing concern in Detroit and downriver communities like Wyandotte, where cell companies since the mid-2010s have contracted with school districts, which allow them to install cell towers on their properties in exchange for several thousands of dollars per month per building to bolster school budgets. There is one cell tower on the property of Bloomfield Hills High School, but 251 towers and 1,221 antennas within a three-mile radius within Detroit with several dozen of those located on the grounds of schools.

That number will continue to grow. The FCC in February 2024 stated that the 5G network will require the expansion of 800,000 new wireless cells to enable seamless service as we continue to travel with our mobile devices.

5G – which is now widely used – relies on frequencies from 6 GHz up to and beyond 86 GHz within the millimeter frequency bandwidth. These higher energetic frequencies are composed of shorter wavelengths allowing for much more information to be delivered over a shorter time frame. But higher frequencies with shorter wavelengths don’t penetrate structures as easily as longer wavelengths, so without any further modification, these high-frequency signals would be blocked by trees, building materials, and even precipitation. As a remedy, engineers have figured out how to focus the millimeter waves into a narrow beam directed at its target device. The increased intensity of the beam enables penetration through houses and offices.

According to the FCC, because the distance traveled by these waves is significantly shorter than low-frequency waves, antennae need to be located much closer to each other and to their target devices than the older 3G and 4G transponders. It is for this reason that these smart cells are being installed every two to 19 homes in urban environments. In this way, a pedestrian or car utilizing data moving down a street will be transferred from cell to cell, allowing for uninterrupted service. It is how this technology will become mainly an urban phenomenon.

According to the FCC, RF energy from cell phones can interact with some electronic devices, producing what is known as electromagnetic interference. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a testing standard for the manufacture of cardiac pacemakers to ensure they are safe from RF. The FDA advises that anyone looking for an extra precautionary step can hold their cell phone to the ear opposite the side of the body where the pacemaker is implanted and avoid carrying a turned-on mobile phone in a pocket directly over the pacemaker.

The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) issues recommendations for human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields. On August 1, 1996, the commission adopted the NCRP’s recommended Maximum Permissible Exposure limits for field strength and power density for the transmitters operating at frequencies of 300 kHz to 100 GHz. Microwaves are frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHz within the RF spectrum and it is within that frequency range that 5G operates.

According to the Environmental Health Trust (EHT) – an environmental and public health think tank which many of the sources for this article have drawn their data or have some affiliation with, numerous countries have cell tower network radio frequency radiation maximum permissible limits 10 to 100 times below ICNIRP and FCC limits or they have policies to reduce exposure near schools and/or homes designated as sensitive areas.

Another organization working in tandem with EHT, Physicians for Safe Technology, stated on its website that cell towers now transmit low (600-850 MHz-up to 25 miles), mid (2.5-3.45 GHz between 1-12 miles), and high band (24-47 GHz or small millimeter waves 50-2,000 feet) frequencies. Although people have reported health symptoms with cell towers a mile or more away, studies show that a 500-meter buffer from cell towers is recommended due to reported health effects and limiting liability to cities. Additionally, 5G wave technology has not been studied for health and safety.

Other countries such as India, China, Russia and the European Union have lower limits considered “science-based” as they recognize biological effects. India dropped its RF limits by one-tenth of what they were previously after a report documented that the majority of research studies found damage to birds and bees.

Joel M. Moskowitz is director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley. For decades, Moskowitz has researched and long expressed concern about the potential health hazards of RF waves from wireless devices and cell towers.

Perhaps one of the last of his kind, Moskowitz, who also sits on the advisory board for the nonprofit research arm, Physicians for Safe Technology, spoke to Downtown Newsmagazine over a landline.

To minimize his exposure to RF, he uses hard-wired computers as much as possible, only turns on his cell phone when he needs it, and keeps it off and out of his bedroom at night.

Moskowitz reviewed the history of the wireless boom and with it the U.S. government’s halt on funding studies that examine the health effects of RF waves. The passing of the 1996 Telecommunications Act prohibits federal funding, criticizing and discussion of the potentially harmful effects of RF radiation for new policy.

“Wireless technology got its origins in the military and there was research being conducted due to concerns of military personnel exposure to radar waves,” Moskowitz explained. “But when the telecommunications industry realized there was money to be made bringing wireless technology to the private sector, it took the ball and ran with it. It ensured that the public could not have a forum to discuss health risks when it comes to wireless technology or cellular towers.”

Moskowitz continued: “For almost 50 years, the FCC has uttered the mantra that there is no direct link between electromagnetic waves and cancer, though more research is needed. However, the government is not funding any new research, so the FCC limits have not been updated for decades. Yet we have reviewed much research from around the world that strongly suggests that radiofrequency radiation levels well under the limit set by the FCC are indeed harmful. RF waves cause not only damage to DNA and increase the risk of cancer but also reproductive and neurological disorders, electromagnetic hypersensitivity and cognitive effects in children. The list goes on and on.”

Moskowitz said he landed in this field of research in 2009, when his department at Berkeley hosted a South Korean cancer researcher who studied the risk of tumor growth from cell phone radiation exposure. Since then, he has maintained a website where he compiles links to volumes of scientific studies across the globe on the dangers of RF radiation coming from 5G on human and animal health.

“Until that time, I was completely ignorant of the research on that issue,” Moskowitz said. “Before then, if someone asked me, I would have said there was no risk to human health based on my knowledge of physics, which focused on the effects of energy and photons.”

He continued: “There may have been indirect effects involving oxidative damage to the cell membrane and the cell’s energy-producing mitochondria. Some of the early research found that very low-intensity, radiofrequency radiation can open the blood-brain barrier which evolved to keep noxious chemicals out of the brain. Opening the blood-brain barrier periodically can be harmful, especially if you have toxin agents in the circulatory system. Some of these effects take a long time to emerge; some are more acute. Certainly, the tumor risk often takes decades to present itself.”

Moskowitz’s 2019 peer-reviewed literature review, Research on Cell Tower Radiation and Children’s and Adolescent’s Health, includes findings on radiofrequency radiation’s harmful effects, including DNA damage, cancer, reproductive health risks, neurological effects and cognitive effects in children. This literature review included seven academic studies of the impacts of mobile phone base stations on children and adolescents from Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Spain and France, among other countries.

One study from the University of Madrid examined the exposure of the general population to electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobile phone base stations. Researchers surveyed 268 residents of a Madrid neighborhood surrounded by nine telephone antennas, and 105 measurements of electromagnetic radiation were taken with a spectrum analyzer and an isotropic antenna, in and outside the homes.

It was revealed that significant numbers of these residents suffered from headaches, nightmares, dizziness, instability in their balance, fatigue, and poor sleep quality. Concerning cancer, there were 5.6 percent of cancer cases in the study population – a percentage 10 times higher than that of the total Spanish population.

In conclusion, the data obtained showed that there is a relationship between the power density of radiation that a person receives at home every day and the presence of headaches, as well as the presence of sleep disorders. People who receive higher doses of radiation sleep fewer hours and have nightmares at night. In addition, these people suffer from headaches with greater intensity and are more prone to dizziness.

Moskowitz pointed to another notable 2023 Swedish study which examined the onset of Microwave Syndrome sickness. A previously healthy couple in their 60s developed symptoms of Microwave Syndrome after a 5G base station was installed on the roof above their apartment. A base station for previous telecommunication generation technology (3G/4G) had been present at the same spot for several years.

The couple soon developed neurological symptoms such as tinnitus, fatigue, insomnia, emotional distress, skin disorders and blood pressure variability. The couple moved to another apartment with substantially lower RF level readings, and within a couple of days, most of their symptoms alleviated or disappeared completely.

But because these studies were not funded or structured to the FCC’s or the FDA’s liking, Moskowitz said the U.S. government rejected the findings.

“They dismissed the studies that found the (damaging effects) but accepted the poorly conducted studies that failed to find damaging effects to maintain their position that there is no conclusive evidence,” Moskowitz asserted.

Moskowitz said what is standing in the way of updating regulations is the telecommunications industry itself, which funds the most powerful lobby in the country. Moskowitz said the telecommunications lobby pumps $100 million each year into Congress for favorable legislation toward their ever-growing industry. Moskowitz said investigative reporters over the years have uncovered that lobbyists for the industry meet with FCC officials hundreds of times per year.

“FCC has always been a captured agency by a lobby that spends four times as much money to influence congressional, state and local governments than even the tobacco lobby,” according to Moskowitz, parroting the descriptor of the FCC as a “captured agency,” first coined in 2015 by Norm Alster of Harvard University’s Center for Ethics.

Moskowitz said that in 2019, the National Toxicology program released the results of a two-year study that found the effects of 2G and 3G cell phones caused the growth of brain tumors in rats and mice. However, it has yet to do any studies on the effects of 5G.

Moskowitz said that what is even more harmful than the perceived radiation emanating from cell towers is the wireless technology each of us have in our homes, from phones to laptops and other devices.

“We are bombarded with radiation from these devices, which to me is more problematic than waves coming from cell phone towers,” Moskowitz insisted. “You should not keep the phone near your head or body when you’re using the phone because that will reduce your exposure substantially. Also, you should never use the phone when the signal strength is weak because the phone is programmed to put up 1000 times more radiation when the signal strength is weak than when it’s poor. And the public is pretty much ignorant of these facts.”

Ronald Melnick was a senior toxicologist for over 28 years in the National Toxicology Program (NTP) at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences before retiring in 2009. There, he led the design and interpretation of numerous toxicity/carcinogenicity studies, including the RF studies sponsored by the FDA in the mid-2010s as an independent consultant.  

Additionally, Melnick served on numerous scientific review boards and advisory panels, including the U.S. EPA and the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which classified RF radiation as a possible human carcinogen. Melnick spent one year at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Clinton administration.

Melnick and Moskowitz agree that combined exposure from cell towers plus interior wireless devices are contributing to potential detrimental health effects.

In 2018, Melnick and other toxicologists released the results of a two-year study contracted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about long-term exposure to RF radiation, and according to Melnick, the FDA was aware of the potential data findings as early as 2016.

“The concern then was, because there was so much widespread use and anticipated even greater use, this could be a health hazard to the general population,” he said.

Melnick explained the work was conducted in partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Colorado to perform tests on mice and rats within a reverberation chamber. The chamber acts like a large microwave oven where electromagnetic waves can be controlled and distributed in a homogeneous environment.

In these lab rats, the NTP studies found that high exposure to RF radiation (900 MHz) used by cell phones was associated with tumors in the heart, brain, and adrenal glands, with some of these being malignant tumors.

It was unclear if tumors observed in the studies were caused by exposure to RF radiation in female rats (900 MHz) and male and female mice (1900MHz).

The NTP in 2019 published follow-up evidence that evaluated DNA damage in three regions of the brain, liver and blood cells in rats and mice that were removed at an earlier time from the ongoing two-year toxicology study. DNA damage, if not repaired, can potentially lead to tumors, the study stated.

What troubles Melnick, especially for children, is that we are in uncharted waters with 4G and 5G and are unsure how this will affect young people as they grow and develop while we are constantly using and being exposed to the technology.

According to Melnick, while the high frequencies of 5G do not penetrate the skin, it is absorbed largely on the skin’s surface. “Right now, we have no studies or data to know if this is harmful or not over an extended period,” he said. “The problem with 5G is it also uses lower frequencies of 3.5 gigahertz which penetrate deeper into the brain of a child than they do of an adult. Exposing children is different because it’s a new technology and children are going to be exposed to it a lot longer than those of older generations. That to me is my biggest concern.”

Melnick said that even with the NTP findings from its study, the FCC in December 2019 decided to retain its 1996 safety limits for human exposure to wireless radiation and the FDA went along with this decision. That’s when a group of concerned scientists and medical professional organizations, spearheaded by the Environmental Health Trust, filed a lawsuit against the FCC.

Theodora Scarato is executive director of the Environmental Health Trust (EHT), which has been the nation’s leading watchdog against the government’s failings to update health and safety protocols around the booming telecommunications industry.

The EHT promotes a healthier environment through research, education and policy and works directly with communities, health and education professionals and policymakers to understand and mitigate these hazards.

“The federal government has dropped the ball on this issue,” Scarato said. “The FCC’s 1996 human exposure limits are not based on an up-to-date review of the science. Children deserve proper safety standards that have been transparently reviewed and are based on (recent) science. There was no premarket safety testing for long-term exposure.”

In a landmark case against the FCC filed by the EHT in 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled the FCC ignored scientific evidence and failed to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its 1996 regulations adequately protect the public against all the harmful effects of wireless radiation.

According to Scarato, the FCC’s RF radiation limits are based on the outdated belief that heating is the only proven harm from RF. The EHT submitted over 11,000 pages of evidence to the courts documenting biological effects and illness from wireless radiation exposure at non-heating levels. Research has found brain damage, headaches, memory problems, reproduction damage, synergistic effects, nervous system impacts, brain cancer, genetic damage, as well as harm to trees, birds, bees and wildlife.

“The telecommunications industry has done a stellar job of impacting public perception creating the illusion of cellular safety, which in turn impacts policymaker priorities which in turn impacts funding for such important research projects,” Scarato stressed. “After all, why study something that they deem is safe?”

As an example of other agencies “willfully dragging their feet” and sticking within 1996 parameters, Scarato pointed to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Scarato said in decades, the American Cancer Society has not studied the issue of wireless radiation or issued any report to offer an opinion on health effects or the adequacy of FCC limits and doubles down on this by proclaiming on its website that the agency does “not have any official position or statement on whether or not radiofrequency radiation from cell phones, cell phones towers, or other sources is a cause of cancer.” 

That’s not to say that the ACS is not funding further research. Scarato pointed to a notable 2020 Yale research study funded by the American Cancer Society that found elevated thyroid cancer risk in heavy cell phone users with specific genetic susceptibilities.

“The ACS funded this research that found health effects. This study should be posted on the American Cancer Society’s website pages but it is not. We do not understand why.”

According to the study, published in the March 2020 issue of Environmental Research, when some genetic variants were present, cell phone use was significantly associated with thyroid cancer. The association increased when cell phone use duration and frequency increased. Genetic susceptibility may modify the association between cell phone use and thyroid cancer.

Bolstering this data, Scarato said when the National Toxicology Program found “clear evidence” of cancer from wireless RF radiation in another study, the ACS referred to the study as paradigm-shifting “good science.” 

“Referring to the NTP study, the ACS remarked that the NTP report linking radiofrequency radiation to two types of cancer marks a paradigm shift in our understanding of radiation and cancer risk,” explained Scarato. “The ACS stated that the findings are unexpected and that it wouldn’t reasonably expect non-ionizing radiation to cause these tumors.”

Scarato continued: “In terms of U.S. government research, the National Institutes of Health has ceased research into this issue despite having found clear evidence of cancer and DNA damage in their long-term study on rodents. We do not fully understand why they made this decision. The NIEHS National Toxicology Program study was in fact the only bioeffects research that the non-military U.S. government research programs have done in decades.”

Rob Brown has been a radiologist for 30 years using diagnostic technologies, from X-rays to MRI’s. He is the author of a research study which measured RF radiation along 25 main streets in cities and towns in Pennsylvania, published in 2022 in the American Journal of Multidisciplinary Research & Review (AJMRR).

The goal of this project was to survey outdoor exposure intensity levels shoppers and pedestrians may have been exposed to while walking down a “Main Street” in 35 towns and cities within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to see if radiation intensity correlates more closely to population density and urbanization, or to the presence of 5G/4G LTE small cell antennas.

The study concluded that “wireless communication radiation intensity levels more closely correlate to the presence of the 5G/4G LTE network than to population density or city urbanization. The placement of small cells on utility poles is generally associated with the highest exposure levels, with antenna placement on building tops being less intense. Some antennas expose pedestrians to power densities between 30,000 and 50,000 microwatts per square meter, a level which may affect the autonomic nervous system and heart rate variability in some individuals. Power densities over 200,000 microwatts per square meter, a level which has been shown to have neuropsychiatric and behavioral consequences in rodents, were also encountered at several street corners.”

Brown first became attuned and aware of RF exposure at a medical conference he attended around 2019 about the health hazards of RF waves and their potential to cause oxidative stress on our cells.

“This was stuff we never learned in medical school in the 1990s,” said Brown. “For a very long time, traditionally-trained physicists, engineers and medical professionals carried this belief that radiofrequency radiation was safe, that it was not strong enough to ionize, meaning – break an electron from its atom, within the body. But what I learned in this conference was that what it does do is it causes cell biological systems to disrupt the ways cells can absorb and manufacture the energy.”

Brown pointed to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine where researchers were trying to get to the bottom of why and how cells that were exposed to RF waves were absorbing calcium. But applying treatment like a calcium channel blocker – the way doctors prescribe medicines to someone suffering from hypertension – could block the calcifying effects. The study showed that RF radiation was activating the calcium channels on the cell membrane, thus allowing an influx of calcium into the cell. From there, the stressed-out cell, in an attempt to rid itself of the excess calcium, will try to gain electrons from other parts of the cell, from either the cell membrane or the cell’s powerhouse, its mitochondria. When this happens, the cell malfunctions, which is the basis of many diseases.

Brown said that symptoms that occur at the cellular level can go undetected. They can range from vertigo to tinnitus and headaches.

“With radiology, you can detect something like a tumor,” Brown explained. “But if people are complaining of radiosensitivity, which occurs at the cellular level, you cannot see it. So they are easily dismissed that it is all in their head or it is psychosomatic. Nobody could prove it.”

Brown said that although the presence of cell towers is increasing, researchers are just as concerned with the number of wireless laptops, tablets, smartphones and smartwatches that have saturated the interiors of our homes – all contributing to “electromagnetic pollution.”

And as hard as it may be to limit our interaction with these devices, Brown said that is something we can control, which is not the case with the placement of cell towers. Brown said this with full knowledge that our wireless culture is not going to revert to being hard-wired or bound by ethernet cables or landline phones any time soon.

“The cell towers are only part of the puzzle,” Brown said. “The thing about cell towers, of course, is you don’t have any control over your exposure. If you are a concerned parent, you can at least limit their time on cell phones or tablets. But when they go to school and there is a cell tower on school premises, and are exposed to this against the parent’s will, that is also an imposition on their child’s health and should not be endorsed by the government.”

While this exposure may seem out of our control, Brown said the fact that younger generations are texting and not holding cell phones up to their ears to talk as older generations of cell phone users have is a start. And there may be a push for schools to hardwire their school’s computer rooms again or to cancel cell tower contracts, although this is not slowing down in Michigan.

And though Brown agreed with many watchdogs of the telecom industry saying that the FCC is a “captured agency,” just like shakeups to big tobacco and the lawsuits against agriculture giant Monsanto, Brown said he believes the telecommunications industry will be the next target of widespread litigation.

“It may take a while but the litigation will begin to surface,” maintained Brown. “There’s going to be major liability (cases against telecommunications companies), and they don’t have insurance. They can’t get insurance because the insurance companies recognize that this is a toxin with very, with a great deal of potential for doing damage.”

Backing up Brown’s claim is a 2019 EHT report which stated that in recent years, telecom companies have warned shareholders about future financial risks because electromagnetic radiation is increasingly regarded as a toxin. EHT pointed to articles beginning in 2019 that cover the insurance industry that state that one of the world’s largest reinsurance firms, Swiss Re, said “From data privacy regulations to 5G technology implementation, a combination of notable slow-burning risks are likely to impact the re/insurance industry.”

In its 2019 report, Swiss Re said 5G presented added risks ranging from new health concerns to cyber exposure worries and political risks.

The EHT also found that insurance companies offer special coverage called an environmental insurance product for EMFs, defined as a “pollutant” by many insurance companies requiring special risk coverage.

Another theory Brown holds that may be controversial: at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the nation was in lockdown inside, the telecom industry was ramping up outside building the 5G network, when the presence of 5G towers in our communities increased exponentially.

So when people began to have long-term symptoms from what they thought was the residual effects of COVID – fatigue, brain fog, headache or ringing in one’s ears – were these symptoms brought on by COVID or the cell tower that was constructed and newly placed in the neighborhood? Brown teamed up with biophysicist Beverly Rubik and put their hypothesis to the test in their peer-reviewed study, which was published in October 2021 in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Research.

“While we were hunkering down inside, the telecommunications industry was ramping up its 5G cell towers outside,” said Brown. “Our paper was peer-reviewed by 12 other researchers because we knew it was such a controversial topic. Of course, there were a lot of people speculating that 5G caused COVID and crazy things like this. So even just approaching the idea of linking the two was taboo, you couldn’t even mention it.”

The paper’s abstract stated: “In considering the epidemiological triad (agent-host-environment) applicable to all disease, we investigated a possible environmental factor in the COVID-19 pandemic: ambient radiofrequency radiation from wireless communication systems, including microwaves and millimeter waves.“

The researchers noted that the SARS-CoV-2 virus surfaced in tandem with the building of the 5G network across the globe.

The paper’s abstract continued: “In this study, we examined the peer-reviewed scientific literature on the detrimental bioeffects of wireless cellular radiation and identified several mechanisms by which wireless cellular radiation may have contributed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a toxic environmental cofactor. Therefore, we recommend that all people, particularly those suffering from SARS-CoV-2 infection, reduce their exposure to wireless cellular radiation as much as reasonably achievable until further research better clarifies the systemic health effects associated with chronic wireless cellular radiation exposure.”

Brown hypothesized that what 4G and 5G were doing to the body at a cellular level were exacerbating COVID symptoms and there may be an interplay between the two factors.

“There have been studies on 5G for many years that RF radiation can damage the function of our white blood cells which supports the body’s immune function,” said Brown. “Because of the volumes of data that the Environmental Health Trust has submitted to the FCC in its lawsuit, which the EHT won, the FCC will eventually have to do something. But that’s the FCC. They play the waiting game as long as possible.”

But the EHT is not waiting for the FCC to try to make changes. At the local level, Scarato said that The EHT is working with the public across the country to inform them about the dangers of EMF exposure, including with providing support, testimony and information to the families in school districts in southeast Michigan who are contracting with 5G cellular providers to install cell towers on school property.

“The needle is moving forward due to an informed public working tirelessly to get accountability on this issue,” Scarato said. “This is evident in state and local politics right now.”

Scarato pointed to proposed legislation in Massachusetts that would require that state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to establish best technology practices that protect the health and safety of students and staff and require an investigation by a special commission to research the impact of wireless radiation. Other proposed legislation would allow the public to opt out of the installation of wireless meters on homes, recognize and report incidents of electromagnetic sensitivity prohibit cell tower antennas on/near school properties, and codify disability civil rights to prohibit human rights violations.

“Cell tower radiation is an environmental justice issue, and as is the case with other environmental pollutants; its impacts will disproportionately impact people of color and with low income,” Scarato said. “Cell towers increase RF radiation in the areas close to the antennas and are often disproportionately placed on schools that have higher numbers of minorities and students needing free and reduced meals.”

In a case example, Scarato pointed to Montgomery County, Md., where cell towers are overwhelmingly placed in schools where a high percentage of the student body are people of color who receive free and reduced lunch.

Moving in the opposite direction, Michigan has legislated in favor of the telecommunications industry to build out its 4G and 5G networks. In 2018, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the Small Wireless Communications Facilities Deployment Act. Effective as of March 12, 2019, the act increased investment in wireless networks intended to provide its residents with better access to emergency services, advanced technology and intended to lay the groundwork to make Michigan competitive in the global economy.

It also gave carte blanche to wireless services providers in the right-of-way so long as it, among other things, “protects public health, safety, and welfare,” and “prioritized, the use of existing utility poles and wireless support structures for collocation over the installation of new utility poles or wireless support structures.”

In Wyandotte, there has been a battle between the school district and concerned parents about the presence of a 5G cell tower that was placed on school grounds of an elementary school in March of 2023. After a lengthy legal battle, a Wayne County judge sided with T-Mobile. The tower became operational in October 2023, and in exchange, the school district receives $1,000 per month.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti at an April 2023 board of education meeting stated that the district had 29 contracts with cell phone companies. These contracts were authorized in 2017 under an emergency management board before the current school board was elected. According to Vitti, 15 towers were installed in 2014-2015 under emergency management, with the contract running through 2067, for a one-time payment to the district for approximately $6.8 million. Under the “no termination clause” of the contract, the district would have to pay back the money if the contract was terminated.

Under the emergency management school board, four shorter additional tower contracts were created and are up for renewal consideration between 2024-2025. There are 10 other short-term leases that began in 2016-2017, and the renewal process for those is between now and 2027. For the towers added after the original 15, each generates about $2,000 per month for each tower. These towers generate roughly $192,000 to the district annually.

According to testimony from Vitti, the cell towers, while providing more connectivity for the surrounding community, do not provide stronger cell phone reception to residents in the area. He added that no risk assessments were conducted, as per the guidelines set by the WHO, FCC, and ACS, and there are no federal, state, county, or city laws prohibiting the placement of cell towers in schools.

None of this sits well with Aliya Moore. The mother of a daughter who attends Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy in Detroit, Moore has been a vocal opponent of the presence of these cell towers, along with a group of families who have closely watched the developments in Wyandotte. An active school volunteer, Moore and other parents have sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the state for additional information on the health risks of cell towers for children, have given multiple comments at school board meetings on the issue, and have leaned into EHT as a resource to bolster the concerns of parents.

Moore said in 2018, Detroit school district parents were informed that the district would soon be installing cell towers on top of its building as part of a 30-year contract with T-Mobile. The bulk of the towers were installed in the depths of the pandemic shutdown when students attended via remote classes for months. Now that kids are back full time in class and Moore volunteers at school several times per week, she wonders what the presence of the cell towers is doing to the health of her daughter, her classmates, and anyone who works and learns in the building.

“Our board of education is taking this money from the telecom companies and so why can the board of education not find the funding for an independent study to see how these cell towers are affecting our health?” wondered Moore. “We don’t have any direct proof that the cell towers are bothering us, but why is the city allowing to choose to place these cell towers where the most vulnerable people – our kids, who are still growing and developing – spend so much time every day? When I go in to volunteer, I see the behavioral issues. Kids are acting aggressively and some kids cannot focus. Is it due to social readjusting because of COVID-19, or is it because of the cell towers? It makes you wonder.”

According to Scarato, the executive director of EHT, EHT has outlined its recommendations to reduce exposure in schools. In addition to integrating education on why and how our society must reduce student exposure to RF radiation, the EHT recommends that schools minimize exposure by installing wired local area networks and using them as much as possible instead of Wi-Fi. Schools should consider rewiring classes with ethernet cables whenever there is a remodeling project. Students can also reduce exposure by using wireless devices on desks, even laptops and tablets. Other suggestions include powering off cell phones during the school day, turning wireless wearables to the airplane setting during the school day, and, as old-fashioned as it may sound, installing corded landline phones in every classroom.

Scarato said there is movement in states like Maryland, Arizona, Massachusetts and California where schools have individual policies and initiatives such as building shielding walls around cell towers near schools, encouraging students to turn off the Wi-Fi on their devices during school hours, and even setting their safety threshold levels of RF radiation lower than FCC levels. Such is the case in Los Angeles, as the city has banned school cell towers. Other cities have passed setback ordinances for how far a cell tower must be located from schools or residential structures.

In Santa Clara County, California, the county’s medical association’s best practices recommendations on RF radiation also include blue light reduction practices to reduce eye strain, establishing and promoting cell-phone-free policies, and consulting with RF professionals who can measure RF wave levels.

Cindy Russell, M.D., executive director of Physicians for Safe Technology, is a plastic surgeon practicing in Mountain View, California, and chair of the Santa Clara County Medical Association’s environmental health committee since 1995.

Her 2018 research paper on the potential hazards of 5G, published in Environmental Research, reviewed relevant electromagnetic frequencies, exposure standards, and current scientific literature on the health implications of 2G, 3G, and 4G exposure, including some of the available literature on 5G frequencies. Russell questioned what elements of this technology constitute a public health issue. She concluded that: “Although 5G technology may have many unimagined uses and benefits, it is also increasingly clear that significant negative consequences to human health and ecosystems could occur if it is widely adopted. Current radiofrequency radiation wavelengths we are exposed to appear to act as a toxin to biological systems.

“Our biology is far more complex than technology,” Russell said. “Wireless technology is interfering with our biology without us even knowing it. We cannot see or hear wireless radiation from our devices, however, some electrosensitive people can feel it. They develop a fairly rapid onset of mild, moderate, or even severe symptoms including headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, impairment of concentration and heart palpitations. These resolve when the wireless device is turned off, removed or they leave the area to a lower EMF environment.”

Russell said wireless radiation has been called the tobacco of this generation, in the way that it is ubiquitous, how we are all addicted to our screens, and how the government is minimizing claims that it is harmful to one’s health.

Among the studies Russell referenced was from Spanish researcher Alfonso Balmori. Evidence For A Health Risk By RF On Humans Living Around Mobile Phone Base Stations was published in the November 2022 Journal of Environmental Research. The study reviewed existing scientific literature to update the knowledge on the effects of base station antennas on humans and examined urban conditions, where mobile phone base stations were placed close to apartments.

According to Balmori, 5G cell towers caused three main health effects: radiofrequency sickness, (which can be defined as functional disturbances of the central nervous system and manifests as headaches, sleep disturbances, discomfort, irritability, depression, memory loss, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, appetite loss), cancer and changes in biochemical parameters. The study reviewed 38 separate pieces of literature and found that 73.6 percent (28/38) showed effects: 73.9 percent (17/23) for radiofrequency sickness; 76.9 percent (10/13) for cancer; and 75.0 percent (6/8) for changes in biochemical parameters.

Russell maintains that Physicians for Safe Technology, in their scientific research and observations, are learning that there are significant adverse health effects associated with modern technology such as 5G and wireless communications. The ramifications of our digital age have not been adequately addressed in the U.S. from a public health, individual health or environmental perspective.

“Medical professionals are warning us that RF radiation is the tobacco of this upcoming generation,” Russell said. “Industries have had a long history of denying the health hazards of substances from tobacco to asbestos to pesticides. In terms of actions on what we need to do, and maybe others have said it more eloquently than I have, I believe that we need to put a moratorium on the further building out of the 5G cell tower network, especially placing 5G towers near schools. To do this, the 1996 Telecommunications Act needs to be amended to allow for environmental effects to be further studied.”


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