Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Find answers to frequently asked questions such as “How can I protect myself and my family from wireless communication radiation?” and “Why do my local leaders say ‘Sorry — our hands are tied!’ when we ask for relief from what feels like an invasion of 5G cell towers?” and more.
How can I protect myself and my family from wireless communication radiation?
We rarely hear warnings about cell phones and children. What are the risks?
The American Academy of Pediatrics, a non-profit professional organization of 60,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists, stated in a letter to the FCC on July 12, 2012:
"Children … are not little adults and are disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation. In fact, according to IARC International Agency for Research on Cancer, when used by children, the average RF energy deposition is two times higher in the brain and 10 times higher in the bone marrow of the skull, compared with mobile phone use by adults."
Does wireless radiation cause cancer?
In 2011, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified wireless radiation as a Group 2B possible carcinogen. This conclusion was based upon an increased risk of malignant brain cancer (glioma) identified in those who used cell phones for over 10 years for an average of 30 minutes per day.
Anthony B. Miller, M.D., Senior Epidemiologist, IARC, states in a 2018 updated assessment to the 2011 IARC classification of wireless radiofrequency radiation (RFR), “When considered with recent animal experimental evidence, the recent epidemiological studies strengthen and support the conclusion that RFR should be categorized as carcinogenic to humans (IARC Group 1).”
Is there a risk of having a cell tower near my home or my child’s school?
There is a substantial risk. Studies of children and adolescents living near cell towers found higher exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation was associated with delayed fine and gross motor skills, spatial working memory and attention among adolescents, reduced inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility, reduced visuomotor coordination, lower verbal expression and comprehension scores, more likely to have obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorders, fatigue and higher risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.
The following studies were found in a search of the EMF-Portal database accumulated on mobile phone base stations (cell towers) and children or adolescents:
Summary of Results
- A study below FCC limits designed to mimic radiation from cell towers found that tumors found in large-scale studies were of the same histotype as in some human epidemiological cell phone studies.
- The embryo, fetus, infant and child are more vulnerable to many environmental insults, with potentially lifelong impacts.
- Children absorb substantially higher RFR doses from cell phones, and in deeper brain structures, compared to adults. The same effect was found for wireless laptops and utility meters.
- Damage from low levels of RFR to genetic material including DNA and nuclear structures in the cell, and potential mechanisms of child neurodevelopmental impairment.
- Behavioral problems have been associated with prenatal and postnatal cell phone exposure.
- Studies of children and adolescents report possible associations of wireless technology use with addictions and depression, fatigue, altered baseline thyroid hormone levels, and poorer well-being.
Meo et al (2018): Higher exposure to cell tower RFR was associated with delayed fine and gross motor skills, spatial working memory, and attention among adolescents compared to students exposed to lower levels of cell tower RFR. (13-16 years of age.)
Calvente et al (2016): Children living in higher RFR exposure areas had lower verbal expression and comprehension scores, more internalizing and total problems, and were more likely to have obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorders, in comparison to those living in areas with lower RFR exposure. These associations were stronger when maximum RFR exposures were examined as opposed to average exposures. (9-11 years of age.)
Meo et al (2015): Students exposed to higher cell tower RFR had a significantly greater risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus relative to others exposed to lower cell tower RFR. High cell tower RFR was associated with elevated levels of HbA1c and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus. (12-17 years of age.)
Are telecom giants, U.S. regulatory agencies and global health organizations engaged in a cover-up regarding health risks?
In 2000, the ECOLOG Institute, a research organization founded in 1991 by scientists from the University Hannover, was commissioned by T-Mobile in Germany (parent company to T-Mobile in the U.S.) to study the risks of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) because of the rapidly expanding mobile telecommunications industry. The aim was to evaluate EMF risks and the need for implementing precautionary health protection. The results were twofold: (1) findings of adverse health impacts associated with exposure to EMFs and (2) strong precautions and warnings to significantly lower the power of the EMFs to which the public would be exposed. This 2000 ECOLOG Institute study was apparently never distributed nor translated into English until a copy was leaked almost a decade later to a nonprofit that commissioned its translation.
Here are some of the findings:
- Cancer: “The results of the studies for all stages of cancer development from the damage of the genetic material via the uninhibited proliferation of cells and debilitation of the immune system (see below) up to the manifestation of the illness prove effects at power flux densities of less than 1 W/m2. For some stages of cancer development, intensities of 0.1 W/m2 or even less may suffice to trigger effects.”
- Central Nervous System: “electromagnetic fields with frequencies in the mobile telecommunications range do play a role in the development of cancer. This is particularly notable for tumors of the central nervous system, for which there is only the one epidemiological study so far, examining the actual use of mobile phones. The most striking result of this study was an obvious correlation between the side at which the phone was used and the side at which the tumor occurred.”
- Leukemia: “Higher risks were also demonstrated for several forms of leukemia.”
- Testicular Cancer: “The epidemiological findings for testicular cancer also need to be interpreted in conjunction with the results of the studies of fertility problems occurring in relation to high frequency electromagnetic fields.”
- Debilitation of the Immune System:
- “Damaging effects on the immune system which can aid the development of illnesses were demonstrated in animal experiments at power flux densities of 1 W/m2 (mouse, exposure duration 6 days, 3 hours per day, SAR (mouse) 0.14W/kg). In in vitro experiments on lymphocytes, defects of the genetic material were demonstrated at power flux densities of circa 10 W/m2. The presence of stress hormones, which when permanent can debilitate the immune system, was found to be increased in human experiments from power flux densities of 0.2W/m2. In animal experiments (rat) a similar effect was observed at a Specific Absorption Rate of circa 0.2 W/kg.”
- Influences on the Central Nervous System and Cognitive Function:
- “Effects of high frequency electromagnetic fields on the central nervous system are proven for intensities well below the current guidelines. Measurable physiological changes have been demonstrated for intensities from 0.5 W/m2 . Impairments of cognitive functions are proven for animals from 2W/m2.”
- Electromagnetic Sensitivity:
- “The sensitivity manifests in a variety of symptoms including: nervous symptoms such as sleep disturbances, headaches, exhaustion, lack of concentration, irritability, anxiety, stress, cardiovascular complaints, disruptions of hormones and metabolism, skin complaints. The composition and strength of the complaints varies enormously in different individuals. The correlation of the complaints with electromagnetic exposures and other environmental influences seems to vary strongly not only between affected persons but also in time, a fact that has so far impeded the conclusive scientific proof of a cause-effect relationship in provocation studies. The present results of scientific studies are often not conclusive and partly contradictory. On the other hand, however, there is a wealth of data by the self-help organizations of affected people, which has not yet been explored.” It concludes, “On the basis of current knowledge it is impossible to estimate the risk of electrosensitive reactions or to make recommendations for guidelines designed to avoid such a risk for the general population, which is composed of sensitive and non-sensitive persons.”
The ECOLOG Institute then went on to emphasize the importance of developing “a strategy for the research of the ‘electrosensitivity’ phenomenon and its incidence, which would acknowledge the failure of traditional scientific methods to address the problem and allow the inclusion of the data available from the self-help groups and associations of the affected.” The ECOLOG study recommended that when the risk is impossible to estimate, precautionary health measures must be implemented:
- “If a security factor of 10 is applied to this value, as it is applied by ICNIRP and appears appropriate given the current knowledge, the precautionary limit should be 0.01W/m2. This should be rigorously adhered to by all base stations near sensitive places such as residential areas, schools, nurseries, playgrounds, hospitals and all other places at which humans are present for longer than 4 hours.”
- “Given the state of technology now and in the foreseeable future, it is currently technically impossible to apply the recommended maximum value for mobile base stations also to the use of mobile phones. However, a lowering of the guidelines to a maximum of 0.5 W/m2 should urgently be considered.”
- “A particular problem in this exposure group is posed by children and adolescents, not only because their organism is still developing and therefore particularly susceptible, but also because many adolescents have come to be the most regular users of mobile phones.”
- “Advertising towards this population group should be banned. Furthermore, particular efforts should be made to lower the exposures during calls. It would be recommendable to conduct advertising campaigns propagating the use of headsets. It would also be important to develop communications and advertising aiming at minimizing the exposures created by carrying mobile phones in standby mode on the body.”
In direct conflict with these findings and warnings, 22 years later, T-Mobile (U.S.) states on its website under Radio Frequency Safety:
“Wireless phones emit low levels of radio-frequency (RF) energy during use. Based on scientific data currently available, T-Mobile has not determined that RF energy from wireless phones causes health risks. Nonetheless, we want our customers to be informed as the wireless industry and government agencies continue to monitor the ongoing scientific research on this important subject.” T-Mobile has chosen to not just ignore, but went on to purposefully misrepresent the study results it commissioned. This is an omission of the facts and findings of the ECOLOG Institute. The recommendations were replete with warnings to bring the levels of radiation down, particularly in vulnerable locations “residential areas, schools, nurseries, playgrounds, hospitals and all other places at which humans are present for longer than 4 hours.”
This narrative has been perpetuated by global health organizations and government agencies including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI). A fourth website is the World Health Organization (WHO) which also has a similar bias due to conflicts of interests, since a number of ICNIRP members are also members of the WHO EMF Project. The damage this has caused the health and well-being of populations globally and particularly, the invisible and silenced EMS disability population, is unknown. But the outcome is easy to see. Many have been silenced, in very large part, because their friends, family members, physicians and local, state and federal government leaders get their information from the same four biased websites.
Why are health concerns ineffective when fighting the placement of cell towers?
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 has a clause that acts as the nemesis of everybody trying to fight cell towers on grounds of health risks. It’s called Section 704 and it prohibits the denial of a cell tower based on environmental concerns.
Section 332(c) (47 U.S.C. 332(c):
“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.”
The courts have interpreted “environmental concerns” to mean health concerns. Therefore if you go to your local planning group, city council or board of supervisors and make a record that is predominantly about health concerns related to the tower, and your governing body denies that tower because of those health concerns, the carrier trying to obtain a permit for the tower can sue the city or the county, and a judge may overturn the governing body’s decision.
Therefore people have found other legitimate reasons for objecting to cell towers: Aesthetics is a legitimate and legal basis for objection. These towers may not be in keeping with the character of the community. Property values is another legitimate reason that has not worked quite as well, but nonetheless, it is worth making a record. Your property’s value may be harmed by at least 20% and it may be difficult to sell your house if a cell tower is built close to your home. Electrical, fire and building safety also is within the locality’s regulatory power. Federal and state regulators have often maintained that safety concerns should ultimately rest at the local level because it is local leaders who understand the unique character of their cities and counties and are the best advocates for protecting the residents and the land.
Is there anything we can do to keep cell towers away from residential areas & schools?
There are four steps you can take to try to reduce or even eliminate future cell towers from residential areas and schools. The cell towers currently in place are most often on leased land from the property owner when it comes to macro towers. As for small cells (5G), telecom usurped the land through state and federal law, including a sweeping FCC mandate published in 2018 called the Declaratory Ruling. This can get worse, so take these 4 steps now to minimize the damage to your community.
- Educate yourself. Learn about health risks of cell towers, city processes, the permitting process within your city and familiarize yourself with your local telecommunications zoning ordinances. Most cities have one zoning ordinance for macro towers (over 50 ft) and a separate zoning ordinance for small cells (under 50 feet/5G).
- Educate your neighbors & other parents/grandparents from nearby schools.
- Meet with your local leaders both in the city and with the educational system. Helpful resources for those conversations can be found here.
- Consult with a trusted attorney. Beware: many telecommunications law firms make their money working for telecom, not individuals.
What are the fire risks associated with cell towers and other telecom equipment?
Cell tower fires are infrequent but devastating when they do occur. According to Susan Foster, writer and Honorary Firefighter with the San Diego Fire Department, “Electrical fires cannot be fought through conventional means until the power has been cut. Firefighters or anyone else trying to put water on an energized cell tower fire will be electrocuted.” According to Tony P. Simmons, PE, an electrical engineer who is a subject matter expert on electrical safety in California and Nevada, “Many people are not aware that electrical equipment, including all cell towers and 5G small cell sites, pose a fire threat that must be mitigated by a recognized electrical fire safety expert. Every electrical device is going to fail at some point. The goal is to ensure that failures do not imperil life, health and property.”
“Imagine this scenario,” Foster explains. “A cell tower catches on fire with winds gusting at 50 miles an hour. This fire is going to spread until the utility cuts the power and that can take between 10 minutes and one hour.” Foster cautions cities to establish residential setbacks from all wireless installations so that people have time to escape in the event of fire.
Foster adds additional insight, “Most cities and counties are unaware that they are authorized to regulate the design of cell sites to protect the public from electrical hazards. Cellular installations must be viewed for what they are — electrical installations.”
“Frankly, the promise of 5G is hype and the fire danger of having cell towers close to our homes, schools, and places of business can have devastating consequences,” explains Foster. “Electric fire safety experts were not involved in the 5G mandate, telecom executives and attorneys were. They had different priorities. I want my family to be safe. Telecom wants their market share to increase.”
Western U.S. is locked in the most prolonged drought of our lifetime, and whether a region is facing drought or flooding, telecommunications equipment fires are real, they are extremely dangerous, and they are greatly underestimated for the risks they pose. Compounding the threat is the unprecedented proliferation of 5G cell towers. Four fires in California have been started either in whole or in part by telecommunications equipment failures: Guejito Fire in San Diego (2007), Malibu Canyon Fire (2007), the $6 billion Woolsey Fire (2018 in Malibu and Los Angeles County) and the Silverado Fire in Irvine (2020), forcing the evacuation of over 130,000 people. The cause of the 2020 Silverado Fire appears to be shared responsibility between Southern California Edison (SCE) and telecom giant T-Mobile.
In 2018 a telecommunications lashing wire belonging to a Southern California Edison (SCE) appears to have been the cause of at least one of two ignition points for The Woolsey Fire which destroyed over 400 homes in Malibu and caused residents to flee into the ocean because the three routes of exit out of the city were blocked by traffic and fire. SCE found, on a routine telecommunications equipment inspection, a broken communication line. Yet it was not repaired. Eight months later this equipment would factor into part of the initiation of the $6 billion fire that burned for over a month and consumed over 1000 homes.
The 2007 Malibu Canyon Fire was caused by the failure of an SCE utility pole that was overloaded with telecom equipment owned by AT&T, Verizon and Sprint (now T-Mobile). These four and NextG, now owned by telecom infrastructure builder Crown Castle International, Inc. were accused of misleading investigators, and eventually settled with the California Public Utilities Commission for over $60 million. If these companies were involved in attempting to mislead fire investigators, what reassurances do we have that when they come into our communities, they are coming in with safety and fire prevention as a primary concern.
It feels like a complete telecommunications takeover of our communities — when and how did all this happen without any advance warning?
On Oct. 15, 2018, the FCC issued its final ruling for Accelerating Wireless and Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment — the “Small Cell Order.” The Federal Communications Commission issued guidance and adopted rules to streamline the wireless infrastructure siting review process to facilitate the deployment of next-generation wireless facilities.
The Ninth Circuit largely affirmed the FCC Small Cell Order although it did reverse some of the FCC’s limits on local jurisdictions’ ability to enforce aesthetics concerns. But even under the Small Cell Order, local jurisdictions still retain several ways to minimize proliferation.
Zoning authorities can deem residential areas as improper locations unless the carrier can prove location in or near residences is the only way to provide service. They can establish extensive esthetic standards. They can impose “setback” and “separation” requirements. Finally, they can insist on a demonstration that the facility has been rigorously designed to minimize fire or electrical hazards, with attestation by a registered professional engineer. There are things you can do: See FAQ “Want to fight 5G? Here’s your roadmap.”
It all started with a resolution passed by ALEC. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council and is self-described as “America’s largest nonpartisan, voluntary membership organization of state legislators dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism.” Arizona was the first state to pass a state 5G law that followed the tenants of the ALEC resolution. That was in April 2017, just three months after the resolution’s passage. By mid-2018, 20 state legislatures had passed small cell legislation that “streamlined” their local zoning regulations to facilitate the telecommunications industry’s deployment of 5G small cells: Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia. All the bills were similar because they followed the same format. These bills were heavily supported because state legislators were heavily lobbied by telecom.
In California, however, a significant fight was put up against a state 5G bill. The fight itself became known as “SB 649,” the name of the bill that would have forced communities to streamline their local zoning ordinances to accommodate the 5G buildout. Advocates in California got letters of support from experts around the world, money was donated from across the country because people were finally waking up to the fact that they were losing their rights and the limited ability that they had with macro towers. Californians were not the only ones determined to take a stand. Advocates who bought airtime and talent stepped forward creating clever radio ads that caught Gov. Brown’s attention, but most of all, cities objected to the loss of local control. The bill would have curtailed local regulatory authority over small cells and forced local governments to lease out the public right-of-way to wireless carriers for placement of 5G small cells at regulated rates. Even though the bill narrowly passed the California legislature, Gov. Brown vetoed the bill. Residents were overjoyed but the victory was short-lived.
Whether it was because of the California pushback against the streamlining bill with 30 more states to go, or whether this plan was in the works all along, no one really knows — but sometimes dates tell a story. It was Oct. 15, 2017, when Gov. Jerry Brown of California vetoed SB 649. Less than a year later, the FCC issued its final ruling for Accelerating Wireless and Wireline Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment — the “Small Cell Order.” The Federal Communications Commission issued guidance and adopted rules to streamline the wireless infrastructure siting review process to facilitate the deployment of next-generation wireless facilities.
Specifically, in the Declaratory Ruling, the Commission identified specific fee levels for the deployment of “small wireless facilities,” and it addressed state and local consideration of aesthetic concerns that affect the deployment of small wireless facilities. In the order, the Commission also beefed up the “shot clocks” governing the review of wireless infrastructure deployments and established two new shot clocks for small wireless facilities. Applications for “small wireless facilities” (as defined by the FCC) must be processed with shorter 60-day and 90-day shot clocks. For all FCC shot clocks (except “eligible facilities requests”), all permits for wireless facilities must be approved or denied within the shot clock period unless the applicant agrees to a different time frame.
What are the privacy and cybersecurity threats posed by 5G networks?
In 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a technology assessment report on the 5G Wireless network. Regarding cybersecurity, it finds that 5G networks introduce “new modes of cyberattack” and “expands the potential for points of attack.” Additionally, it finds that “5G does not eliminate existing concerns around supply chains for network hardware.” Regarding privacy, the report finds that 5G networks will exacerbate existing privacy concerns by introducing “new kinds of user data, including more precise location data.” According to James Baker, former director of National Security & Cybersecurity and FBI general counsel who runs the national security program at the R Street Institute, “There’s a concern that those devices that are connected to the 5G network are not going to be very secure from a cyber perspective. That presents a huge vulnerability for the system because those devices can be turned into bots, for example, and you can have a massive botnet that can be used to attack different parts of the network.”
Even before the introduction of 5G networks, hackers had breached the control center of a municipal dam system, stopped an internet-connected car as it traveled down an interstate, and sabotaged home appliances. Ransomware, malware, crypto-jacking, identity theft and data breaches have become so common that more Americans are afraid of cybercrime than they are of becoming a victim of violent crime. Speed and latency are the two terms you hear repeatedly when talking about the promise, or height, of 5G. Faster speeds and reduced latency will enable an entirely new paradigm known as the Internet of Things and Internet of Bodies, where everything from your home security system, to baby monitors, to oxygen concentrators, to treadmills, to pacemakers, will be connected to the network. Not only this, artificial intelligence (AI) will also be integrated into driverless cars, MRI scanners, medical records and remote robotic surgery, posing substantial privacy and cybersecurity threats.
I don’t want to connect to the 5G mobile network, what are my options?
Connecting to a 5G network requires both a phone built with 5G network capabilities and access to a 5G network. Phones built with 5G network capabilities or “5G phones” are built with specific hardware that enables access to a network that uses a 5G air interface for connecting to compatible devices. In other words, by refusing to purchase a “5G phone” you can ensure that you are not connected to the 5G network. The network, including any associated base stations, will still be present and active. However, your device won’t be connected to it and therefore, will not emit 5G signals.
Depending on which version of software is running on your phone, you may be able to switch to a previous network generation. Note: Recent software updates may not allow you to switch to a 2G/3G/LTE network.
To change network preferences:
- Apple Users: Settings > Cellular > Cellular Data Options > LTE/3G/2G
- Android Users: Settings > Network and Internet > Internet > Settings Icon (Next to Network Provider) > Preferred Network Type > LTE/3G/2G
Why do my local leaders say “Sorry — our hands are tied!” when we ask for relief from what feels like an invasion of 5G cell towers?
The federal government (FCC) supports the expansion of 4G (macro towers) and small cells (5G) in cities and counties across the U.S. Think of 5G as an infrastructure more than a new technology. Suddenly cell towers are coming into residential areas. The FCC has made it so favorable for telecom to push their way into your city that through a combination of state and federal laws, 5G has become a mandate, not an option. Twenty state legislatures enacted small cell legislation to streamline state and local regulations to encourage industry deployment of 5G infrastructure. Then came the FCC’s Declaratory Ruling (2018) that captured the remaining 30 states. The FCC has made it easy for wireless carriers to sue cities that do not cooperate.
The rules have changed for fighting cell towers. If you go to your mayor, city council, board of supervisors, planning commission, local planning director or zoning board, you’re likely to hear the same thing: “I’m sorry. Our hands are tied. Why don’t you write to your member of Congress? It’s a federal thing. There’s nothing we can do.” Why local leaders are saying their hands are tied is a complicated issue. Some are in favor of 5G. Remember that your local leaders may have been heavily lobbied by telecommunications interests. Many planning commissioners, city council members and supervisors on county boards may be scared that they will be sued if they do not go along with federal and state laws encouraging the 5G buildout. The telecommunications industry has made good on its threats to sue. When the 5G mandates were first implemented, some city leaders wanted to invoke a moratorium so they could study the matter further. Many of those cities got sued and none of the cities won. The federal government, through the Federal Communications Commission, made it unlawful to invoke a moratorium in the face of the 5G buildout.
State and new federal regulations such as the Declaratory Ruling have nearly limitless power. They rely on the backing of The Telecommunications Act of 1996 which states: “[n]o state or local statute or regulation, or other state or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide … telecommunications service.” Yet your hands are not entirely tied. See FAQ: “Want to fight 5G? Here’s your roadmap.”
Want to fight 5G? Here’s your roadmap.
- Educate yourself and your local community about the hazards of RF-EMF, the science behind it, your city’s or county’s local zoning ordinance, and get on a list with the local planning department so you can be notified when a wireless carrier applies for a permit.
- Do not wait to act until you hear that a cell tower has been permitted near you. By that time it will be too late to mobilize the hundreds of people you will need to create change. If you do not have power on your side (and remember power rests with telecom’s influence over those federal, state and local laws), then you need numbers of people. You don’t need a handful, you need hundreds. If you live in a big city, you need thousands. Let your leaders know you want change. You want more protection in your local zoning ordinances when it comes to telecommunications equipment – both macro towers and small cells (5G).
- Get hundreds of people to write letters to local leaders demanding every legal protection available for your local small cell (5G) ordinance.
- Use every tool in your toolbox:
- Aesthetics: The small cell order provided that local aesthetic regulations were to be (1) reasonable, (2) no more burdensome than those applied to other infrastructure deployments and (3) objective and published in advance. The Court struck down some of the small cell order’s limits on local aesthetic regulations, restoring significant local discretion over aesthetics. Local aesthetics requirements must be “reasonable” but they should be used to the maximum extent possible.
- Safety: Did you know telecommunications equipment is a fire risk? Therefore, demand setbacks from residential and densely populated areas like schools, daycare, nursing homes and some places of business based on safety concerns. People need time to escape in the event of a cell tower fire. Electrical fires cannot be extinguished through conventional means. The power must be cut first. That can take up to 60 minutes. Make sure your local ordinance forces telecoms to conform to all electrical, fire, structural and building safety codes. Four major California wildfires have been linked, in whole or in part, to telecommunications equipment. These fires include Guejito Fire in San Diego which fed into Witch Creek Fire, the most destructive fire in San Diego history (2007); the Malibu Canyon Fire from structural overloading of power poles by 4 carriers (2007); $6 billion Woolsey Fire in Malibu which burned for a month and destroyed over 1000 homes, taking the lives of 3 people trying to escape (2018); Silverado Fire in Irvine California which merged with another fire and forced the evacuation of 130,000 people, engulfing multiple homes (2020).
- Setbacks: Implement setbacks from residential property lines and from entrances and exits to neighborhoods. 100 feet from residences and 500 feet from schools would be an ideal minimum, and separation between towers regardless of carrier of 1000 feet again would be ideal but discretion is limited. Aesthetics and safety should be the focus.
- Fall zone: The fall zone is the height of the tower plus 20%. If the cell tower falls over because it was structurally unsound, no person should be at risk. Again, this is a request for setback based on safety.
- “Special Areas” are allowed in some states and localities where 300’ to 500’ setbacks are created around these areas that may include schools, daycare centers, nursing homes, and some cities have even included residential areas. This is a quiet acknowledgment that certain areas need a little more safety protection, often with emphasis on aesthetics.
- As an example, San Diego County’s small cell ordinance created “special areas” but phrased their protected zones very discreetly:
- In order to reduce clutter and maintain the aesthetic quality and community character of certain civic and community uses, SCWs in the right-of-way shall not be located within 300 feet of schools, child care centers, hospitals, religious facilities, fire stations or sheriff stations unless the applicant demonstrates that compliance with this requirement would be technically infeasible. Distance, without regard to intervening structures, shall be a straight line measured from the closest property lines.
- As an example, San Diego County’s small cell ordinance created “special areas” but phrased their protected zones very discreetly:
- Don’t forget about fiber: Part of the justification for more cell towers, macro and small cells, is to “close the digital divide.” Empty promises of providing Internet in underserved neighborhoods have been used by telecom to justify cheap wireless fixes. Fiber is future proof. Now the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) has opened applications for $45 billion in broadband funding, kicking off a campaign from President Joe Biden to deliver “Internet for All.” Fiber is featured in funding guidelines released by the DoC’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), with the agency noting priority will be given to projects which use end-to-end fiber architecture.
- Create a tiered order of preference. It is legal to create areas within your city that range from the most preferred (for the siting cell towers) to least preferred (the best example is residential). This means telecom has to try to get into the most preferred zones first before they are allowed in the least preferred. Think of “least preferred” like the most protective of you and your family. Your local zoning ordinance should require proof from wireless carriers in writing as to why they cannot cite their cell towers in the most preferred area(s).
There are some precedents that have been set all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that you should know about and take advantage of.
In 2001, local leaders along with telecommunications and resident representatives got together to come up with San Diego County’s first telecommunications ordinance. They decided the preference of the majority was to have cell towers in industrial sections of the County rather than residential. They preferred a fire station over an elementary school, so San Diego County came up with the first 4-tiered order preference to try to direct carriers to go to the most preferred area first and the least preferred, residential, last. They realized they could not say no to the telecommunications carriers but they wanted to direct them to go to the least objectionable areas first. Sprint sued the County of San Diego and the case Sprint Telephony PCS, L.P. v. County of San Diego went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. SCOTUS upheld a lower court ruling which allowed San Diego County to retain its four-tiered order of preference which has continued to be used by many municipalities until they met a major stumbling block — the buildout of the 5G network.
City attorneys are often from telecommunications firms and they may say cities hands are tied but you must insist on adding amendments to the existing ordinance through numbers of people writing hundreds of letters to your local leaders, and armed with knowledge of the law that you can enact a small handful of protections.
What cities have done a good job at creating 5G zoning ordinances?
Examples of ordinances that have worked, even to a limited degree, include the following:
- Encinitas, CA: one of the first ordinances is to specifically ban discrimination against those sensitive to RF radiation, required pollution insurance that could not exclude RF radiation, protected this beachfront community’s character, and provided a number of legal hoops for telecom to jump through, making it more expensive for telecom to come into Encinitas. There are restricted areas but there are “exemptions” in case telecom cannot go anywhere else. The exemptions kept Encinitas from being sued by telecom.
- Malibu, CA: First city to incorporate Electric Fire Safety Protocol at the design stage so the safety of macro towers is evaluated before the towers even built by requiring a series of 8 tests, documents & diagrams that must be signed off on by the telecom “PE” or professional engineer before the carrier can even apply in Malibu.
- Scarsdale, NY: Limit cellular antennas by establishing 500-foot setbacks from homes, schools and daycare.
- Model Wire Ordinance (Americans for Responsible Technology).
Want to create a local zoning ordinance for your community? Here are the most important requirements.
Even though your city or county may have passed a small cell ordinance that is very favorable to telecom, these ordinances can be amended. And even though everybody feels that telecom has the upper hand, there are still things you can do to improve your local zoning ordinance. It is through zoning laws that we are afforded a small amount of protection. Consider the following:
- Aesthetics & community character.
- Setbacks of 300 feet — 500 feet from a residential dwelling unit.
- Setbacks of 300 feet — 500 feet from a daycare center.
- Setbacks of 300 feet — 500 feet from a school.
- Setbacks of 300 feet — 500 feet from parks & playgrounds.
- Prohibiting small cells in certain areas, sometimes called “special zones” & at other times refer to aesthetics and reduction of clutter in keeping with community character.
- Imposing administrative requirements; ALL cell towers should adhere to federal, state & local fire, building, electrical and structural codes. This should be required at the Design stage of the zoning ordinance and should be noted on your county/city’s website as a requirement.
- Post-installation RFR (radiofrequency radiation) testing by an independent contractor.
- Pre-notification of cell tower applications to residents within 1000 feet of proposed installation.
- Restricted zones: Some cities have gotten away with restricting telecom from residential, schools, daycare, nursing homes, places of worship and parks. (Unfortunately, other cities have been sued for such restrictions.)
- Require an insurance bond from the wireless carrier per incident and in the aggregate.
- Require an insurance bond for “pollution insurance” that does not prohibit coverage for RFR (radiofrequency radiation) damages.
- Require a removal bond so that if carriers abandon a tower, a bond that remains with the city will allow the city to remove the cell tower and return that area to its original state.
- Protection of environmental resources (trees). Find out the root circumference of established trees and make sure small cells are set back so they do not interfere with the life and health of the tree. This is part of preserving community character.
- Location preferences include multi-tiered order preferences. This means carriers must attempt to locate in the “most preferred” zone, e.g., industrial. If the city does not have an industrial zone, then the most preferred zone would likely be commercial. Residential remains the least preferred, giving residents the most protection.
- Setbacks from entrances and exits to residential neighborhoods and schools for fire safety reasons. If there is only one route of egress, no cell tower can be placed there by a school or residential neighborhood. People need time to escape and safety belongs to the municipality to regulate. Telecommunications equipment increases fire risks. Cell tower fires are electrical fires, and they cannot be extinguished through conventional means. The power has to be cut first and that can take up to 60 minutes.
The small cell order from the federal government was published in the fall of 2018 and went into effect in January 2019. City councils and boards of supervisors across the country were forced to “synchronize” their local zoning ordinances with the forced 5G rollout which mandated the cities and counties to lease out the public rights-of-way to telecom for small cells. Most cities across the country sprang into action, few supporting the 5G land grab by the telecommunications industry. Some cities invoked moratoriums which were illegal under the small cell order and they were sued.
Victories were hard to come by but some were had, particularly the County and City of San Francisco, defending their right to maintain the historic skyline against T-Mobile. The California Supreme Court sided with San Francisco in a dispute with T-Mobile, saying the city has the authority to limit 5G infrastructure for aesthetic reasons. In essence, San Francisco was saying to T-Mobile, “You cannot come into our city and change our historic skyline which has existed on postcards for over a century.” On most issues, the judges agreed with San Francisco.
Consider finding a trusted attorney to help you through the local zoning process. It is important that you find out ahead of time whether or not the attorney you are considering has hidden telecommunications interests. Talk to those who have prevailed in other cities.
CHD v. FCC: Does CHD’s historic win directly impact the buildout of 5G?
There is no direct impact on the buildout of 5G. But some of the wording from the judicial decision may be helpful when educating local city councils and county boards of supervisors. Even though state and federal laws mandate that the public rights-of-way must be leased out to telecommunications carriers, there are still areas like aesthetics, safety, insurance and performance and removal bonds that can be implemented through local zoning ordinances.
The Court admonished the FCC for setting the majority of the regulatory limits in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. It is extremely rare for the Courts to criticize a federal agency or commission in this way. The following quote from the second-highest court in the land should be shared with city leaders who are likely not to have heard of this historic and impressive win from other sources:
“The case be remanded to the commission to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation …”
This may make community efforts to improve local small cell (5G) ordinances somewhat easier in the following way. If your city or county leaders understand that we are not living under an umbrella of safety when it comes to the radiation emitted from cell towers, they may be more willing to listen to well-reasoned and well-organized efforts to amend local zoning ordinances for both 5G small cells and macro towers. Safety is a very important issue that belongs to the local municipalities to regulate. Make the most of what safety can afford you, including setbacks and “specialty zones” which can include setbacks of 300, 500 or even 1500 feet for schools, daycare centers, parks and other areas that are of significant interest to residents when it comes to setbacks from cell towers.
It may be helpful to lobby local leaders using some of the language from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judgment in favor of Children’s Health Defense and against the Federal Communications Commission. For example, from pages 9 and 10 of the Majority Opinion rendered on Aug. 13, 2021:
Under this highly deferential standard of review, we find the Commission’s order arbitrary and capricious in its failure to respond to record evidence that exposure to RF radiation at levels below the Commission’s current limits may cause negative health effects unrelated to cancer. (As we explain below, we find that the Commission offered an adequate explanation for its determination that exposure to RF radiation at levels below the Commission’s current limits does not cause cancer.) That failure undermines the Commission’s conclusions regarding the adequacy of its testing procedures, particularly as they relate to children, and its conclusions regarding the implications of long-term exposure to RF radiation, exposure to RF pulsation or modulation, and the implications of technological developments that have occurred since 1996, all of which depend on the premise that exposure to RF radiation at levels below its current limits causes no negative health effects. Accordingly, we find those conclusions arbitrary and capricious as well. Finally, we find the Commission’s order arbitrary and capricious in its complete failure to respond to comments concerning environmental harm caused by RF radiation.
CHD v. FCC: What did the court rule?
In a historic win for CHD, the D.C. Court of Appeals found on Aug. 13, 2021, that the FCC failed to consider the non-cancer evidence regarding adverse health effects of wireless technology. Even though the current standards remain in place for now, the court held that the FCC had failed to consider, much less address, the vast amount of scientific literature regarding the ubiquitous wireless environment and the cumulative effect of exposure from multiple RF sources, the effects of sophisticated modulation and pulsation, the particular vulnerabilities of children, the negative impacts on nature and wildlife and how RF exposure impacts the brain and nervous system, contributes to male infertility, and causes Electrosensitivity, oxidative stress and DNA damage. The court tasked the FCC with providing “… a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation…”
In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set regulatory guidelines, not safety limits (though they have often been perceived as such), for radiofrequency (RF) emissions. Since that time and in spite of five generations of advancement in wireless technology, those limits have remained the same — for over a quarter of a century. These guidelines now apply to devices and facilities that were not even in existence in 1996: wireless devices like smartphones and tablets, carrier small cells, Wi-Fi routers and smart meters. The FCC’s 1996 guidelines only aim to protect consumers from thermal effects (temperature change in living tissue). They completely ignore evidence of harms from RF radiation at non-thermal levels even though there is a clear biological response.
In 2012 the federal watchdog, Government Accountability Office (GAO), issued a report suggesting the FCC’s RF energy exposure limit may not reflect the latest research, and testing requirements may not identify maximum exposure in all possible usage conditions. It was because of this report that the FCC published an inquiry in 2013 to decide whether the guidelines should be reviewed. It opened Docket 13-84 for the public to file comments. Thousands of scientific studies and opinions were submitted over the next nine years.
On April 24, 2019, a letter was written by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). This letter gave the FCC the “green light” on its current guidelines by indicating that the present regulatory limits were sufficient to cover health concerns by stating, “no changes to the current standards are warranted at this time … the available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits”. With limited explanation, on Dec. 4, 2019, the FCC adopted the FDA letter of recommendation and decided to keep the 1996 RF radiation limits in place. They then terminated the docket.
This historic case was filed by CHD on Feb. 2, 2020. CHD challenged the agency’s decision to retain its 25-year-old RF emissions guidelines. The lawsuit, called a Petition for Review, contended the FCC’s decision was arbitrary, capricious, not evidence-based, an abuse of discretion and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Court consolidated cases filed by Environmental Health Trust headed by legal counsel Edward Myers and the Children’s Health Defense led by attorneys Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and W. Scott McCollough. The organizations filed joint briefs in the case. The petitioners in the case filed 11,000 pages of evidence of harm from 5G and wireless technology which the FCC ignored, including evidence of already existing widespread sickness. The case was argued before the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. on Jan. 25, 2021, by CHD lead counsel W. Scott McCollough.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit published its decision on Aug. 13 2021. The court ruled that the FCC failed to consider the non-cancer evidence regarding adverse health effects of wireless technology. The court’s judgment stated: “The case [is] remanded to the commission to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation …” CHD Chairman and attorney on the case Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. said:
“The court’s decision exposes the FCC and FDA as captive agencies that have abandoned their duty to protect public health in favor of a single-minded crusade to increase telecom industry profits.” CHD’s lead attorney for the case, Scott McCollough, a telecommunication and administrative law attorney who represented the petitioners in the hearing, said: “This is an historic win. The FCC will have to re-open the proceeding and for the first time meaningfully and responsibly confront the vast amount of scientific and medical evidence showing that current guidelines do not adequately protect health and the environment.”
The Courts typically do not like to interfere with federal agency or commission actions. Yet, it was the inaction of the FCC that CHD argued against. The Court only needed to determine that the agency had considered the science to decide in favor of the FCC, yet the Court felt the only area in which the FCC had examined the literature and rendered a conclusion, albeit a different one than the plaintiffs, was that relating to cancer. The Court expressly found that the FCC had failed to consider, much less address, the vast amount of scientific literature regarding the ubiquitous wireless environment and the cumulative effect of exposure from multiple RF sources, the effects of sophisticated modulation and pulsation, the particular vulnerabilities of children, the negative impacts on nature and wildlife and how RF exposure impacts the brain and nervous system, contributes to male infertility and causes Electrosensitivity, oxidative stress and DNA damage.
The petitioners have filed a motion asking the FCC to reopen the proceeding, but it has not yet acted on that motion. Anyone who is concerned with these issues should file a comment in the docket asking the FCC to obey the court mandate and get the remand proceedings started.
Instructions to File a Comment in the Docket:
- Go to https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express and insert “13-84” in the proceeding box.
- Fill out the required information and type your desired text in the “Brief Comments” box. It can be as simple as “Honor the Court remand and reopen this case. Then, please perform an honest, full and fair review of the science.” Or add more, if you desire.
- Check the box acknowledging that your comment will be “public,” and click on “Continue to Review Screen” and finish the submission.
What does this mean for consumers who still must live under the FCC’s ancient and clearly obsolete regulatory guidelines? For now, the regulatory limits remain the same. However, the court has required the FCC to honestly and fully review the scientific evidence before it and justify their guidelines accordingly.
CHD v. FCC: What comes next?
Without a specific timetable, the Court has told the Federal Communications Commission they must:
- Provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation unrelated to cancer.
- Provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to retain its testing procedures for determining whether cell phones and other portable electronic devices comply with its guidelines.
- Address the impacts of RF radiation on children, the health implications of long-term exposure to RF radiation, the ubiquity of wireless devices, and other technological developments that have occurred since the Commission last updated its guidelines.
- Address the impacts of RF radiation on the environment.
What do I need to know about smart meters?
Wireless-based technologies such as cell phones, Wi-Fi and smart meters receive and transmit pulsed radiofrequency radiation. Exposure to radiofrequency radiation affects your health and the health of your children. According to Erik Anderson, PE, a forensic electrical engineer, smart meters contain transmitting antennas that wirelessly transmit the data to the utility companies. They pulse intense levels of RF radiation up to 190,000 times a day, some exceeding the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) allowed levels. If you would like to take action against the installation of smart meters on your property, consider raising these concerns to your local health department, your local utility, as well as your local, state and federal leaders.
According to a letter by Dr. David Carpenter, a Harvard-trained medical doctor who serves as director of the Institute for Health and the Environment, a Collaborating Center of the World Health Organization, Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) meters occupy similar frequency bands as cell phones on the electromagnetic spectrum. This means that cell phone research can apply to smart meter radiofrequency (RF) radiation. The scientific evidence is continuing to build that the harm from smart meters comes, in large part, from the intensity of the pulses that occur throughout a 24-hour cycle. According to Dr. Carpenter, “Governments should be reducing RFR exposures, not increasing them.”
On Sept. 15, 2021, Children’s Health Defense and eighty (80) safe-technology and environmental organizations filed an amicus brief or “friend of the court” brief, in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in support of a lawsuit challenging the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s (PAPUC) interpretation of the Pennsylvania’s Act 129 of 2008. This act is the state’s law mandating smart meters and denying disability accommodation to people adversely affected by pulsed radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted by wireless devices, including smart meters. There has been no decision yet in the Pennsylvania case.
Can I opt-out of having a smart meter put on my home?
As smart meters are deployed across the country through utilities and some locally-owned energy cooperatives, an increasing number of groups oppose their installation. Groups and individuals are fighting for the right to opt-out of smart meters and related fees. Fighting the fees has proven an uphill battle. Fighting for the right to opt-out, on the other hand, has been more successful.
Here are some tips and suggestions for opting out of smart meters in your area:
- Call your utility and find out if an opt-out is available. There may be a local mandate and there may be a statewide mandate.
- In most areas you must be a residential customer receiving service at a single-family home. Multi-family residential units frequently do not qualify.
- You must be the owner of the property. For renters, work with the owner to see if an opt-out can be accomplished with the owner’s cooperation.
- If you still have analog meters and are able to opt-out, the preference would be to keep the analog meter if at all possible. Most utilities will replace an analog meter with a digital meter and tell you there is no RF radiation coming from the new meter. But there is the possibility of stray current or what is frequently referred to as “dirty electricity.”
- You will likely be charged a one-time fee that could be in the $75 – $100 range and then a monthly fee for “meter reading” that will range from $10 a month to $30. Occasionally, these monthly fees are higher.
- You can ask to be accommodated if you are, for example, sensitive to RF radiation, going through treatment for cancer, immunocompromised or pregnant. You can clearly state you are opting out for health reasons and can offer to provide a letter from your physician. However, the utility is not obligated to waive the fee.
- You may be told by the utility representative that the smart meter cannot cause health problems you are complaining of. You do not need to convince the person you’re talking to of the validity of your request. People can request an opt-out to preserve their health simply because they have read about the adverse effects of smart meters. The person responding to your request for an opt-out is answering your questions based on the script in front of them. They alone will not have unilateral power or authority to help you.
- Obtain the opt-out application and fill it out completely.
Health is not the only concern. Privacy is a concern, as well. There is a large set of data that a smart meter can gather from activities inside the home. That information is conveyed to the utility, purportedly for the purpose of saving energy but privacy concerns persist that our information is being sold for marketing purposes, and the truth is we do not know the full extent of the market for our data.
Because smart meters are often set up as part of a “mesh network,” data is transferred from one neighbor’s meter to the next and the next until it is collected at a central point in your neighborhood. That data is then transferred to the utility. This means that you can be exposed to RF radiation from your neighbors’ smart meters. You may want to ask your neighbors to opt-out, as well. To incentivize their cooperation, it is a good idea to offer to pay for their opt-out if they would otherwise not be doing so.
This opposition has led at least seven states to enact policies to allow customers to opt out of having a smart meter installed on their home, while New Hampshire requires customer consent for smart meter installation and Pennsylvania law prohibits opt-outs. In another nearly 40% of the states, utility regulators have ruled on whether utilities can implement opt-out programs on a case-by-case basis. In recent years, the issue has more frequently landed before state legislatures.
I have Electromagnetic Sensitivity (EMS) but my utility company is requiring me to pay a monthly administration fee unless I switch to a smart meter. What can I do?
In most states and cities across the country, utility companies are requiring homeowners to pay a monthly administration fee, unless they agree to switch to a smart meter. However, if you have Electromagnetic Sensitivity (EMS), the most effective way to take legal action against your utility company is to seek an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA Act), the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA), and possibly portions of The Rehabilitation Act. A disability rights attorney in your area will be best positioned to assist you.
Under basic ADA law, the disabled person cannot be forced to bear the cost of the accommodation. ADA law is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice. Regarding smart meters, this means that a person with an EMS disability should not be forced to pay monthly administration fees to the utility company if they refuse to switch. This is because smart meters are not the service being rendered; they are merely the means to access the electric utility service. Roughly analogous to this is forcing a person in a wheelchair to pay to use an elevator to enter a restaurant since he/she cannot use the escalator that is provided to everyone else for free. However, before you embark on suing your utility based on ADA law, call the DOJ to make sure they will indeed support the claim you wish to make. You can call the ADA Information Line, finding them on this website, or writing to the address listed below:
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section — NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530
Fees may be proposed by your local utility, your city or determined at the state level. Relief from fees by approaching your utility commission will present a challenge. Likewise expect a challenge in obtaining help through the DOJ when attempting to fight for your rights under ADA Title III — which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in places of public accommodations, such as private businesses. The correct venue for Title III is a state or federal court. When it comes to utilities, if the commission is mandating the fee (rather than merely approving a utility-proposed tariff that imposes the fee), ADA Title II may be of use. ADA Title II governs state and local government programs, protecting individuals from discrimination on the basis of disability. Invoking Title II usually requires exhausting administrative remedies first. Even if the case is handled correctly, the issue will come down to what accommodations are reasonable. Additionally, if a plaintiff invokes a state law equivalent, there may be a requirement to first seek relief from the state disability board. However, on the federal side, there is no requirement to exhaust administrative remedies.
Regardless of whether or not you decide to pursue legal action under ADA and/or the Fair Housing Amendments Act, it is important to make a record regarding the reason why you want to opt-out (impact on your health) with both your utility and with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. If your health has been adversely impacted by the smart meter on your home or at your place of work, make a clear, succinct record of that complaint and how long you were exposed to the smart meter before your symptoms occurred. This will vary by individual. Keep a record of your communication with your utility and/or DOJ.
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