by Arthur Firstenberg
Earth Island Journal
In February of last year, only five senators and 16 representatives
voted "no" on the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
We have, consequently, hundreds of new
satellites competing for space in our crowded skies, hundreds of
thousands of new communication towers sprouting up in our midst and
the uncontrolled proliferation of wireless broadcasts. This amounts
to an electromagnetic war on life from which there soon will be no
place to hide.
While the visual impact of
telecommunications technology has come under fire, environmental
circles have paid surprisingly little attention to its biological
impact - one of the most dramatic and rapid alterations of the
Earth's electromagnetic environment ever to occur.
Yet, there has been a deliberate absence
of debate on microwaves and radiation.
Meanwhile, virtually the entire microwave spectrum, from 300
megahertz (MHz) to 100 gigahertz (GHz), has been or will soon be on
the auction block. (Cellular phones operate within this range at
860- 900 MHz; personal communications service phones operate at
Telecommunications companies are
spending billions of dollars leasing chunks of spectrum from the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
for use in dozens of new types of cellular, paging, radio,
television and other global networks that will link computers and
people without the inconvenience of costly, hard-to-maintain copper
Personal communications services (PCS),
the largest of these networks, are spreading over the Earth's
surface with incredible speed.
Introduced on a wide scale only last
November, PCS already provides wireless voice, fax and data
transmission capabilities to subscribers in hundreds of US cities.
Sprint PCS is building 50,000
new broadcast towers this year
Omnipoint Communications has
erected thousands of antennas in New York City and plans to
Primeco Personal Communications
is following suit, along with Pacific Bell, Bell South and
Altogether, 1,500 companies have
obtained PCS licenses from the FCC.
The industry is mounting antennas on
apartment buildings, water towers, churches, schools, billboards,
highway signs, lamp posts and traffic lights - while telling us that
all this is safe. But the energy emitted by PCS antennas is
extremely close in frequency (1.8- 2.0 GHz) and power (up to 1,000
watts or more) to the energy that cooks food in microwave ovens.
Essentially, hundreds of thousands of
microwave ovens are being placed on rooftops and towers - and
they're being turned on with their doors open.
of Suppressed Studies
The electromagnetic bombardment from telecommunications systems is
so great that it also has become necessary for companies to spend
huge sums of money to develop better shielding for pacemakers,
hearing aids, computers, guidance systems in airplanes and
helicopters, and most other electronic equipment.
Despite well-documented exposes such as Paul Brodeur's
The Zapping of America (1977) and
Cross Currents (1990), the industry
continues to deny that this same radiation has any effect on human
beings, plants or animals.
We are being asked to believe that there are no non-thermal effects
and that if microwaves aren't strong enough to cook us, they will do
us no harm.
Much as the asbestos and tobacco industries have done, the
telecommunications industry has suppressed damaging evidence about
its technology since at least 1927, when colloid chemist Ernst
Muth first discovered that red blood cells exposed to radio
frequency waves (at levels far less powerful than permitted today by
the FCC) are forced to line up in chains resembling strings of
In the 1950s, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe began to set
microwave exposure standards that were up to 1,000 times more
stringent than those in the West.
US scientists entrusted with the safety
of radar systems, microwave relay towers and radio and television
networks had no difficulty convincing the American public that
Eastern bloc scientists didn't know how to do proper research. Never
mind that some of the most careful and meticulous work in the field
was being done in the US - with identical results.
Biologist Allan Frey, for example, was publishing data that
showed damage to the heart, nervous system, eyes and other organs
even by levels of microwaves permissible in the Eastern bloc. Some
of his work was done under contract with the US Air Force and Navy.
Frey also demonstrated that people can hear low-level pulsed signals
as buzzes, clicks or tones in their heads. Other scientists
confirmed that even extremely low-energy microwave signals heat
enough brain tissue to set up pressure waves inside the head -
similar to those occurring in a concussion. When the pressure waves
reach the inner ear, they produce a sound.
After three decades of research, Frey complained that very little of
this kind of information was reaching the public.
In 1983, he wrote that US citizens,
"have to fight for every piece they
want and then cannot trust what little they get."
Frey warned of,
"a small group of scientists
controlling the setting of health hazard standards, controlling
what research bearing on that standard gets funded or published,
while providing testimony for various companies and government
agencies to the effect that substantial microwave energy
exposure is safe."
This "small group of scientists" was
made up of engineers and veterinarians, not doctors, biologists or
The American National Standards
- the agency that was (and still is) setting microwave exposure
standards - is not a government agency but a private organization
funded and controlled by industry.
Though Congress authorized
the FCC to set safety standards for
radio frequency and microwave broadcasts, the FCC has seen fit to
make a voluntary industry standard the law of the land. In February
1996, Congress made ANSI's standard not a minimum but a maximum
1996 Telecommunications Act
"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."
In addition, the 1996 federal budget cut
EPA funding for studying the health
effects of radio frequency and microwave transmissions. It wasn't
restored in 1997.
This means that if novel telecommunications technologies fall within
the FCC's safety guidelines but nevertheless prove hazardous,
injured citizens will have no recourse, and a threatened environment
will receive no protection.
The most extensive and well-controlled epidemiological studies on
the biological effects of radio broadcasts have been underway since
1989 near a radar station in Skrunda, Latvia.
impaired motor function,
reaction time, memory and attention among schoolchildren
chromosome damage in cows
abnormal growth, shortened life
span and impaired reproduction in duckweed plants
decreased thickness of growth
rings in pine trees
premature aging of pine needles
The levels of radio waves involved are
not much higher than what we receive on Earth from the newest
Data published by radio frequency/microwave consultant Kathy Hawk
in her 1996 book Case Study in the Heartland document the
disappearance of birds and honey bees, an increase in farm animal
birth defects and the sudden deterioration in the health of farm
families living near newly erected cellular towers in the Midwest.
Perhaps the most ominous news comes from a survey by the Cellular
Phone Taskforce, an organization comprised of citizens injured
by radio transmissions. The task force runs a clearinghouse on
health problems it believes are caused by PCS broadcast antennas.
Reports from cities throughout the world indicate a new kind of
illness that coincides in every case with the activation of a PCS
The symptoms are striking:
pressure behind the eyes
dry, puffy lips
sudden rise in pulse rate and
pressure or pain in the chest
loss of appetite
coughing or wheezing
testicular or pelvic pain
pain in the legs or the soles of
pains that move around the body
varying degrees of dehydration
occasionally fever, rash or
The illness appears to be confined to
geographical areas served by new PCS and other digital systems.
Remarkably, a growing number of environmental refugees have
recovered immediately upon leaving the PCS coverage area.
Time to Pull
The net is closing. All of the older communication technologies that
broadcast analog signals at relatively low frequencies are being
phased out and replaced by higher-frequency digital signals that 70
years of research indicate are hazardous to life.
Microwave radiation levels in major metropolitan areas have
increased 1,000-fold overnight. And telecommunications companies are
well on their way to covering every square inch of the Earth with
digital wireless broadcasts from Earth - and space-based antennas -
faster, they are betting, than it will be possible for anyone to
mount an effective opposition.
The stakes are too high to sit still.
The Telecommunications Act must
be amended to require epidemiological studies on the effects of all
this radiation on the public and to restore the prerogatives of
local and state governments concerned about their citizens' health.
Money for scientific research must be restored to the EPA. There
should be full congressional hearings on the environmental
implications of the wireless revolution and on the
telecommunications industry's wholesale suppression of scientific
In the absence of congressional action, local communities need to
challenge the constitutionality of a law that prevents them from
protecting their citizens and the environment.
Otherwise, 1998 could be a silent spring
- not because of pesticides, nukes, ozone depletion or global
warming - but because of the electromagnetic fallout from the
information explosion that so many in the environmental movement had
counted on as our salvation.
Telephone Antennas in
Last year, President Clinton gushed that the Telecommunications Act
of 1996 would "bring the future to our doorstep," but a
little-noticed section of the act could bring broadcast towers and
satellite dishes to the top of Mount Rushmore and Yosemite's Half
As Washington Post reporter Tom Kenworthy discovered,
the Telecommunications Act will make it,
"considerably easier for the
communications industry to erect antennas and other unsightly
gear within national parks, wildlife refuges and other protected
Corporate telecommunications giants love
the act, Kenworthy reports, because "so many mountaintops and
high-elevation areas" are found on public lands.
The act orders that,
"requests for the use of property,
rights-of-way and easements... be granted absent unavoidable
direct conflict with the department or agency's mission."
The big question is: Who determines
whether there is an "unavoidable, direct conflict" - park officials,
the Federal Communications Commission or the corporations?
"The telecommunications industry is
one of the fastest-growing industries in the country," an
anonymous Interior Department official told the Post. "You're
talking about taking on 2 to 3 percent of the GNP.... They've
been trying to get into parks and refuges for some time."
Park officials have been besieged with
requests to place towering infernals on the Channel Islands
National Park off California so broadcasters can beam signals to
customers in the Los Angeles area.
Dropping the 'E' Bomb
The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that cellphones repeatedly
disrupt telemetry systems monitoring patients' heartbeats at St.
Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Even when not in use, cellphones
interfere with ventilators, infusion pumps for delivering
intravenous fluids, anesthetic delivery systems, dialysis machines
and brain wave monitors. Canada estimates that it will take 15 years
to equip hospitals with proper radiation shielding.
In the United Kingdom, Volkswagen warns new car buyers not to use
cellphones inside automobiles, where a "resonance" effect can
increase signals tenfold. The wavelength of a 900 MHz mobile phone
held next to the ear is 4 centimeters - enough to penetrate the
Britain's Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, warns that mobile
phones can interfere with electronic braking and steering.
On October 30, 1995, the London
Independent reported that a Jaguar,
"traveling at a high speed on the
motorway suddenly stopped when the driver's phone activated the
In Brussels, Camellia Gabrielle,
a microwave expert with Cenelee, which sets standards for the
European Community, warns against heavy use of mobile phones.
Noting research by Britain's National
Radiological Protection Board showing that as much as 70 percent of
a mobile phone's radiation is absorbed by the head (where it can
create "hot spots"), Gabriel recommended limiting emissions to 20
milliwatts (most mobile phones emit 100-600 milliwatts).
In the US, University of Washington researchers Henry Lai and
Narenda Singh found that microwave radiation comparable to
mobile phone emissions spilt DNA molecules in rats' brains.
These breaks, they note, are linked to
Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and cancer.