Ever since Samuel Morse figured out how to transmit patterns of electrical signals over a wire back in the 1830s, the quest for ever-faster and more flexible means of communications has driven amazing technological progress. Marconi invented the radio, Bell invented the telephone, his corporate progeny developed television, Steve Jobs gave us the personal computer, and in 1973, the Motorola company developed the DynaTAC 8000X, a wireless hand-held telephone that could operate anywhere... as long as there was an antenna nearby.
The worldwide rollout of 5G technology requires the deployment of millions of new "small cell" antennas in close proximity to where people live, work and play, because unlike radio waves, the type of waves that carry data from 5G transmitters don't travel very far, and can be blocked by buildings, trees and even rain. Despite a lack of consumer enthusiasm for the new 5G technology (5G phones can't really do anything your old 4G phone can't do), wireless companies and site developers (e.g. ExteNet, Crown Castle, etc.) continue to construct new antennas in communities across the country.
While 5G antennas will only transmit on demand, they are almost always coupled with 4G antennas, which are active 24/7/365, whether nearby residents use the wireless service or not.
The rollout of 5G and the proliferation of wireless technology is resulting in the deployment of millions of antennas in close proximity to homes and apartments.
This exposure crosses the line from voluntary exposures (such as cell phones and baby monitors) to involuntary exposures to a proven health hazard.
Cities and towns across the country are adopting protective zoning codes to control deployment.
Thus the public's exposure has crossed the line from voluntary exposures (such as personal use of cell phones, wearables and baby monitors) to involuntary exposures to a proven health hazard. To learn more about the science linking exposure to RF radiation with serious health impacts, please see RF Radiation: Health Effects.
The amount of RF radiation received from a wireless antenna depends on the proximity or the antenna, the effective radiated power and the duration of exposure.
As with many environmental exposures, children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with implanted medical devices and individuals with cardiac and neurological problems are particularly at risk.
Public Health is at Risk
The purveyors of wireless technology have been aware for many years that exposure can cause serious health problems. Military studies in the 1950 documented physical and behavioral problems in exposed personnel, subsequent studies showed biological harm, and by the early 1990s, the EPA threatened to regulate cell phones because of their potential harm to users. The wireless industry flexed its political muscle, convincing Congress to move the authority for regulating cell phones out of the EPA and placing it with a political organization with no health staff or experience: the Federal Communications Commission.
As an insurance policy against any future trouble, the industry also convinced lawmakers to write special language into the 1996 Telecommunications Act which forbids local authorities from even considering health effects when they make decisions about antenna placement. Even mentioning health concerns at a public meeting can trigger a lawsuit from the telecoms, who have legions of lawyers ready to enforce the law they themselves wrote.
Read Norm Alster's report "Captured Agency: How the Federal Communications Commission is dominated by the Industries It Presumably Regulates" published by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University
What can you do?
Despite this, there are things that local communities can (and should) do. In the 1996 law, Congress specifically reserved for local governments the right to regulate the deployment of wireless antennas in their communities, with some specific stipulations. The way local governments take advantage of the rights granted by Congress is through their municipal code. The most important step any local government can take to control the deployment of wireless technology in its municipality is to adopt a protective code.
A good code strikes a balance between the legitimate needs and rights of the telecom industry with those of the local population. Our project Americans for Responsible Technology provides local municipalities with a tool kit of information they can use to develop and adopt a protective code. While a good code can't completely prevent the deployment of wireless antennas in every community, it can certainly give local officials the power to prevent the most egregious and hazardous placement of antennas, and force telecoms to prove that the locations they have chosen are the best and least obtrusive ones available.
Humans are not the only species at risk from exposure. Scientific research also reveals adverse biological effects on pollinators, birds, plants and trees from exposure to RF radiation. Pollinators can absorb more of the higher frequencies used in wireless technology, which could lead to changes in insect physiology, behavior and morphology. Studies also show that RF radiation exposure can disrupt the magnetic "compass" that many migrating birds and insects use, causing disorientation and potential interference with migration patterns and can damage their development and reproduction. Trees are also impacted by these exposures, including adverse biochemical changes, thinner cell walls, and altered growth.
Download our Nature Flyer. Find more in the Tool Kit at Americans4RT.org
Watch the recent video about wireless antennas and how communities can protect themselves featuring Dr. Paul Heroux, Dr. Kent Chamberlin, Dr. Sharon Goldberg and C4ST's Frank Clegg, moderated by Doug Wood, Associate Director of Grassroots. Produced in association with 5G Alert Westchester.
Wireless Networks Resources
The Americans for Responsible Technology website "Tool Kit" contains sample municipal codes, resolutions, flyers, sample letters, brochures, quotes and other advocacy materials which you can download and use in your community.