Fearmongering NIMBYs vs. Bernal Heights iPhone Owners

Ugh. Here we go again.

AT&T would like to offer some relief to those long-suffering iPhone owners in southeast Bernal Heights, who have long had to endure dropped calls and poor reception. This relief would come in the form of a new antenna installation atop the building at 3901 Mission Street (at College).

But before the antenna can be installed, AT&T must first secure approval from the City’s Planning Commission. Yet glumly and predictably, the usual crew of fearmongering, science-hating NIMBYs are already lining up to oppose the project.

This email was recently posted to a neighborhood mailing list:

Subject: Stop Cellphone Tower Installation @ 3901 Mission
(Mission and College)

Why?

The proposed installation would emit radio-frequency (RF) radiation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This site would be within a 300-foot radius of numerous residential homes and close to St. Mary’s Park.

Considerable debate and uncertainty exists within the scientific community about the potential health effects to individuals, especially children, from exposure to electromagnetic and RF radiation. Some adverse health effects show up immediately, but it can take 3 to 10 years or more for the longer-term effects of RF illness, such as cancer, to appear. More research is needed to provide a definitive answer. We should not be forced to act as guinea pigs in a bio-effects experiment.

We value our neighborhood as a safe, community-oriented place to live and raise our children.

How?
– Attend the Public Hearing on Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 12 p.m. (noon) at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400
– Contact the Planning Commission:
Diego R. Sanchez
The Planning Department,
650 Mission Street, Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94103
415-575-9082
diego.sanchez@sfgov.org

Radiation! Cancer! Uncertainty! AND WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN???!!!! All the hot-buttons are pressed here, in lurid, sensationalist, and grossly misleading form.

But is any of it true? Well, it is true that the antenna would transmit RF radiation 24-7. But then again, so does the KQED antenna atop Sutro Tower, the many geosynchronous telecom satellites high above, and the WiFi router you probably have in your home. OMG!!!

As Bernalwood has patiently explained before, RF is not the kind of radiation that causes cancer. And unless you want to be an intellectual bedfellow with Climate Change Denialists and those who refuse to believe in Evolution because it is “just a theory,” the overwhelming scientific consensus on the safety of this technology should be enough to put your mind at ease.

Calling My City Supervisor

I could go on in this vein. But instead, I’ll just hand the microphone over to Neighbor Fiid, who recently cc’d Bernalwood on a letter he wrote to Supervisor Campos to weigh in on the proposed AT&T antenna at 3901 Mission:

Subject: New Cell phone tower on Mission St. & WiMax project on Bernal Hill

Greetings Mr Campos,

I’m writing to express my ambivalence to the addition of additional cell phone towers in the neighborhood. I know there are a brigade of people around Bernal that go around protesting any kind thing that looks like an antenna on the basis of “junk science”. You might think that I would write in support, but I don’t care enough about a particular project to do that; what I care about is that companies trying to provide better services to our community aren’t hampered by unnecessary burden.

As I’m sure you know, everyone expects cell phones to cause cancer, since they are transmitters that are very close to your head. It is surprising therefore, that a clearly demonstrated scientific link still has not been established. On the other hand, cell phones save millions of lives every day because they enable people to communicate in times of need and generally allow people to communicate better. Better communication hopefully allows people to be more efficient in environmentally destructive resource usage, like using cars, airplanes, or even coordinating food consumption.

If evidence comes to light that provides more clear evidence of health problems being caused, I will be the first to lobby in opposition, or to regulate any wrongdoing. But this simply is not the case at the current time.

The technology industry is a big employer in our area, and seems right now to be one of the only industries that are doing well in our incredibly tough economic climate. The economy is detrimental to everyone; government, that provides less and less of the facilities that support society as we know it, like social safety nets, infrastructure, and education. The private sector outside of technology is also suffering.

I believe the benefits that these projects provide both in terms of direct help, and indirect help via employment and economic and infrastructure support far outweigh the “maybe” risks that a minority of people use the threat of to torpedo the common good.

I wanted to mention also my dismay that the WiMax project on Bernal Hill was cancelled, for the same reasons; although I realize there may be other planning issues involved there.

I hang out on some mailing lists in the neighborhood; and I try to provide scientific and non-biased factual guidance for people on those lists. The anti-antenna lobby emails to that list have caused people to request me to weigh in on this issue with some science and fact, which I try to provide. I have received many thank you emails from other neighbors after doing this, so I think there is a majority of people that will not write to you in support of a cell phone tower, but who nonetheless reject the junk science offered by the vocal minority. I trust that you assess and take this into account when you establish your position on these issues.

Thanks for your time and your ear, and if I can help in any way, please let me know.

Nicely said, and eminently neighborly and reasonable, eh? So what can you do to help? Here are a few ways:

  1. Don’t let the tinfoil-beanie crowd get the last word. Attend that Public Hearing on Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 12 p.m. (noon) at City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 400.
  2. Write to Supervisor Campos (David.Campos@sfgov.org) to let him know that you want better telecommunications services in Bernal Heights
  3. Sound off in the comments to this post, to make a public statement about your desire for better wireless service (or just to vent about fearmongering NIMBYs).

PHOTOS: 3901 Mission, by Telstar Logistics

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34 Responses to Fearmongering NIMBYs vs. Bernal Heights iPhone Owners

  1. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    Good grief. These people are just as crazy as the climate change denialists.

  2. contrarycomet says:

    I’m with Bernalwood. And Neighbor Fiid. Supervisor Campos, make a stand for rationality!

  3. GG says:

    Jeebus. SF should just pass an ordinance guaranteeing city reimbursement of tinfoil costs for those who feel the need to make hats, cover their roofs with it, etc. Then maybe they’d feel safe and STFU.

  4. Gale says:

    I don’t want those NIMBYs in my backyard!

    And instead of worrying about the antenna, could the Planning Commission and the activists please do something about that eyesore of a building on Mission and College? Re-build it as a nice white Modernist stack of boxes? Oh, wait.

  5. Brent says:

    Better reception now!
    Let’s show them how!
    Don’t accept Junk Science and
    Punch NIMBYers Ka-pow!

  6. Joyce C. says:

    Gotta be honest. The building is ugly. BUT the antenna would be uglier. I live in St. Mary’s Park, and I wouldn’t want an antennae at the entrance to our neighborhood.

    And are there really THAT many iPhone/AT&T sufferers at SE Bernal Heights? I live there and my connectivity is just fine.

  7. Art says:

    Those antennae can be pretty small and unobtrusive. There are many of them around town that are hardly noticeable.

  8. Jay says:

    While I would LOVE another tower this close to my house and agree with the claims of “junk science”, the process that’s in place to have public hearings on new installations is sound. Granted, one objection to this installation is ridiculous, but others may not be (or objections to other, future installations). I have faith that rationality will win out in this case. Let’s allow the system to work.

    Then, if they reach a decision we don’t like we can burn that motherfucker to the ground!

  9. Todd, first off, I want to thank you for providing our community with Bernalwood. I am a big fan of your blog and work. Your posts convey the spirit of our neighborhood so well and remind us every day how proud we should be of the diversity, richness and heritage of Bernal Heights.

    As a word of warning, this is a long response that addresses many issues of the post. If you need a bathroom break or a cup of coffee, I suggest you do it now… I am part of what you would label the “fearmongering, science-hating NIMBY” camp. And if you want another bogus reason to skip my comment, big disclaimer, I was born in France, so that probably makes me a hell of an annoying NIMBY. French NIMBY? “Ugh. Here we go again”.

    Now that this is out of the way, let’s go straight to it. The first thing I have to say is that your message made me cringe. The whole “us versus them” narrative, the well-written “these NIMBY advocate junk science” conspiracy theory makes for a hell of a story, but it does nothing to really push the issue forward and educate our community. Sure, it is your blog, so you write whatever you want, but since you are indirectly a voice for Bernal Heights on the web, I felt a need to reply that your message is not representative of our whole community. What made me cringe is that I often find this argumentative approach on blogs that only cater to one particular ideology. Replace “Fearmongering NIMBYs” with “freedom-hating Muslims, “Sierra Club environmental hippies”, “San Francisco gay-loving family-hating liberals” or “open-source software anarchists” and you’ll understand what I mean. Of course, all of your opinions are well-rooted in undisputable science, so who are we to argue with you, right? In that regard, I love when you say that “As Bernalwood has patiently explained before, RF is not the kind of radiation that causes cancer.” Next time I will need hazardous advice, I will skip the EPA, WHO or the EUPHA, I will go straight to Bernalwood! On a more funnier note, I will note that I am both a “fearmongering NIMBY” and a “Bernal Heights iPhone owner”, so from the title of your article, I must be really hating myself :)

    On my background, I am a software engineer by trade and I love, love, love science. I attended Telecom ParisTech, one of Europe’s foremost institutions in telecommunications and wireless networks. As part of my curriculum, I had a few classes on how wireless networks are organized and how antennas work. My education gave me some scientific literacy into the current issue, in terms of how cell antennas work, how electromagnetic energy is dissipated spatially and what different scales of power emissions mean. I geeked for hours studying the nature of light, Maxwell equations and radiometry. Cell antennas, WiFi routers and smart meters are not all the same beasts. They all emit electromagnetic energy, but at different levels. And that’s the part that matters. I am not worried a bit about smart meters or even my WiFi router. Your comment about the KQED antenna, telecom satellites and WiFi router is disingenuous because it puts all of them in the same bag, yet their emissive capacities and effects are very different.

    I am by no-means an expert as it is not the industry I work in, but I have access to classmates who are if you ever wanted raw data. I am doing this disclaimer so you understand I am not saying what I am saying out of ignorance or fear-mongering. On the contrary, the understanding of that radiation emanating from cell antennas is dissipated using an invert quadratic law makes me conscious that the population that are the most at risk are the people living very close to the antennas… which, in this case, would be me and my family. Your portrayal of this situation is that people that are worried don’t know what they are talking about. Associating your concerned neighbors with climate change and evolution theory denialists is best explained by your own words: of “lurid, sensationalist, and grossly misleading form.”

    The same way that you can quote a list of federal agencies, engineering societies and researchers who say that there is no proof that this radiation is harmful, I can point to a list of think-tanks, NGOs and researchers who are concerned by the radiation levels that we are being exposed to. The EMR Policy Institute (http://www.emrpolicy.org and http://www.youtube.com/user/emrpolicyorg) and scientists like Martin Blank (an associate professor of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University – http://www.physiology.columbia.edu/MartinBlank.html) are great examples of that. They are as science-loving as you can get, but they don’t take all they hear for granted. They question, they raise concerns, they analyze data…. That’s what science is about. Science has, over time, no agenda. These people might be proven right or wrong eventually, but that’s not what matters. The fact that the FCC says that current levels are safe don’t make them safe (by the way, the FCC is not the HHS or the EPA, yet it is the one that sets the standards for authorized levels of cell antenna radiation. I’ll let you ponder on how satisfied the telecom lobby is with this situation). The American Cancer Society doesn’t say that cell towers are 100% safe. They say that they are “unlikely to cause cancer”. It will take time for enough data to come forward. My belief, though, is that the same way that links between cancer and tobacco, smog and asbestos were found over decades, there will be evidence that populations living in the proximity of cell antennas over prolonged time will show greater rates of cancers and tumors.

    The example of asbestos is telling in that regard: even though the link to cancer was noticed in the early 20th century, we had to wait until 1989 for the EPA to ban its use. The carconigenic effects of direct and second-hand tobacco smoke were labeled as heresy for decades, yet it is considered accepted science today. What that teaches us is that the truth takes time to come forward and that there isn’t a fixed understanding of risks ahead of time. This is the nature of the “guinea pigs” comment in the original mailing list letter. The people who are against the antennas aren’t “the usual crew of fearmongering, science-hating NIMBYs” that you reference. I think they just don’t want to find out twenty years later that AT&T’s “relief to those long-suffering iPhone owners in southeast Bernal Heights” is partly responsible for their sickness.

    Let me be clear. I am not against cell antennas. What I am against is the installation of antennas right in the middle of neighborhoods. Precaution and due diligence is not fearmongering. I would advocate for their installations in zones that have no homes in their vicinity. To put a concrete figure, some of the concerned researchers and European governmental agencies put the safety limit at 100 μW/m^2, which is 100,000 times the levels authorized by the ICNIRP/FCC (10W/m^2). I am sure “Neighbor Fiid” would probably label this as “junk science”, but I just thought you should know. Cell communications can happen as low as 0.001μW/m^2, so you are talking about enough energy to make your call from your iPhone. If you want more data/references on the different scales of power density and their effects on the body, you can check out: http://www.wireless-precaution.com/main/tableofeffects.php.

    The analogy you can make to understand the current debate is to associate a cell antenna with a light bulb, as they behave similarly in terms of power dissipation. The same way that you would not constantly stand 1 foot away from a light bulb, you probably don’t want to be living right next to a cell antenna. That’s because that where a more concentrated level of energy is found. The same way that the benefits from a light bulb are reaped relatively far from its source, this is the same thing with cell antennas. If I am not mistaken, cell antennas’ operational range is around 15 miles in unobstructed areas, 3-5 miles in hilly areas, and 0.5 mile in dense neighborhoods like ours. Compare the ratio of (200 ft : 0.5 mile= 2640 ft) for an antenna to (1 foot : 13 feet) for a light bulb and you get a sense of what I am talking about.

    If you want to go in the meat of my worry, I live less than 500 feet from the proposed antenna location. What that means is that my family and I will be exposed to much greater levels than people living 3-4 blocks from us. Also, cell antennas are directional in their power dissipation and we learned at the community meeting that we unfortunately happen to fall in the main direction of one of them. What that means is we will be exposed to greater amounts than some neighbors on our block living even 100 feet from us. Unlike you, I don’t see AT&T as a benevolent company that just wants to offer great service. AT&T doesn’t give a damn about the effects of its installations, as long as it reaps the benefits from them. Remember that AT&T and the landlord renting the space are the real winners of the project. The benefit of better cell service seems paltry compared to the prospect of constant and increased RF exposure.

    I think I have written enough and you get the picture. But hey, you never know, since I am part of the NIMBY “tinfoil-beanie [...] vocal minority”, maybe you won’t because something must be wrong with me. The anonymous one-line comments on your blog obviously lead to a better path for communal discourse, like Gale who doesn’t want me in her backyard, or Brent who thinks that a nice NIMBY-punching session would do the trick, or Jay who believes in the due diligence process but still leaves his options open if they reach a decision your “camp” doesn’t like. Oh naive me, who thought that my fellow San Francisco and Bernal Heights citizens were above that. Oh well!

    Thanks again for your wonderful blog and the opportunity to comment. Take care,

    Maxime Curioni

    • Todd_Lappin says:

      Maxime, thank you so much for your comments. And for the issues you raise. If everyone who had concerns about the safety of this technology were as reasonable and well-informed as you, I think we would be having a very different (and more constructive) conversation. But alas, that’s not been the case.

      Please understand that my post was written in reaction to the specific email (quoted above) that many of our neighbors received. And yes, while you introduce many of the nuances to the scientific discussion that are relevant and important, my comments about RF radiation coming from KQED was intentionally framed to avoid all that subtlety — and thus echo the grotesque spirit of the original NIMBY email which said “The proposed installation would emit radio-frequency (RF) radiation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” If I knew nothing about the technology and read a sentence like that, I’d be reaching for my lead pants and iodine pills. And that was *exactly* the writer’s intent.

      Bernalwood — and specifically Reader Fiid — has cited that same light bulb analogy before, and it is the important one to keep in mind. Again, to be clear, my grievance is not with doubt, or uncertainty. My grievance is with rhetoric that is intentionally designed to cause alarm and sow fear. And in that sense, I have no regrets about the language I used in the post, because I was writing about a specific note that was, in fact, deceptive and fear mongering. When other skeptics are as intelligent and well-reasoned as you, then I will gladly facilitate that debate in a more neutral fashion. But when emails such as the above go out to mailing lists for elementary school parents (as that one was), then I feel they should be called precisely what they are — deceptive propaganda.

      And so… I thank you again for weighing in, and for addressing this topic in a way that allows Bernalwood readers to make up their own minds about what to believe. Because really, that’s what we’re all about.

    • contrarycomet says:

      Maxime, you make a great point about how name-calling and grouping (“NIMBYs”) reduces debate to schoolyard taunting.

      But, respectfully, comparing non-ionizing EMF at the levels generated by cell-phone towers to tobacco and asbestos exposure is a significant exaggeration. There is zero hard evidence indicating that level of risk. According to the World Health Organization, “Despite extensive research, to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health.” (http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html).

      Even without looking at the research, common sense suggests that if low-level EMF were as dangerous as even smog, the connection would be undeniable by now after 50 years of living with power lines, TV, and radio antennae. The WHO again:

      “In fact, due to their lower frequency, at similar RF exposure levels, the body absorbs up to five times more of the signal from FM radio and television than from base stations. [...] radio and television broadcast stations have been in operation for the past 50 or more years without any adverse health consequence being established.”(http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs304/en/index.html)

      • Melissa Hurley says:

        Another link from the World Health Organization on May 31 has the headline “IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans.”

        http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf

      • Todd_Lappin says:

        *sigh*

        Melissa, you are being misleading again. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, though I can say that your public comments on this matter demonstrate a consistent pattern that does not reflect well upon your credibility.

        Yes, the headline of the WHO article is just as you describe. But the article itself discusses potential risks associated with wireless handsets, NOT wireless network antennas. And why might wireless handsets pose some danger? Because, as both Fiid and Maxime so cogently described, the intensity of RF signal strength is a direct function of proximity to the transmitter, and when using a wireless handset, most people hold the handset (a transmitter) right next to their heads.

        Now, let’s quote from the actual body of the article you cited, to see what it actually said:

        Results
        The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate. The Working Group did not quantitate the risk; however, one study of past cell phone use (up to the year 2004), showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10‐year period).

        Conclusions
        Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.”
        “Given the potential consequences for public health of this classification and findings,” said IARC Director Christopher Wild, “it is important that additional research be conducted into the long‐ term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands‐free devices or texting. “

        In other words, one study suggests wireless handsets could potentially increase the risk of brain cancer if you talk a for 30 minutes a day over a 10 year period while holding the thing right next to your ear, but the evidence to support even this assertion is far from clear. Meanwhile, the WHO document says absolutely nothing about risks associated with wireless antennas, and it is misleading for you to suggest any link between this report and the antenna installation at 3901 Mission.

        Finally, there is a very thorough and informative summary of the current research posted the website of the National Cancer Instutue of the National Institutes of Health. I won’t even try to summarize it to avoid making any potentially misleading inferences, but I encourage anyone who is curious to read the whole thing and draw your own conclusions. However, note also that while the National Cancer Institute’s summary is quite thorough, it too addresses the question of exposure from the use of wireless handsets and not from wireless network antennas.

      • contrarycomet, thanks for your comment. If you read my message as stating that the effects of tobacco, asbestos, smog and RF were comparable, then I did a really bad job explaining my point and I would understand that you thought that I was exaggerating. It would be an insult to those who suffer from asbestos poisoning to label such a claim. I was not trying to scare anyone by associating these antennas with words like tobacco, asbestos and smog. All I was trying to say is that the understanding of the carcinogenic effects of these agents took decades to come forward and that it is probably best to work with caution rather than over-confidence.

        This doesn’t make me an anti-science zealot or an exaggerating hypochondriac. It just makes me conscious that we don’t know everything ahead of time. History shows us that we humans are usually bad at risk assessment, especially when changes are made rapidly like with the emergence of wireless networks. This doesn’t mean we never get it right; it just takes time. There are unfortunately many examples where scientists, engineers and doctors made decisions based on the “dogma of the day” that turned out to put people in harm’s way. Personally, I’ll always remember the case of nasal radium therapy in the 40s and 50s that would treat different benign ailments, but ended up causing thyroid cancer. If even saying that makes me a sensationalist, then I don’t know if I should continue.

        On your comment that there is “zero hard evidence indicating the level of risk”, just know that this is your opinion as well as the accepted stance of many institutions, but that there are other people who disagree. For a digestible presentation of the counter-claim, I suggest you look at Martin Blank’s presentation before a Congressional staff (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnJDsvP97VU). The research he presents and the accepted assumptions he challenges (specifically that EMF from cell antennas do not have any physiological impact) are interesting.

        Your “commmon sense” argument saying that the past 50 years using TV and radio antennas prove that all is well in our perfect little world is great, but doesn’t really represent the reality of the current situation. Our electromagnetic spectrum landscape has changed dramatically just in the past ten years. The nature of the radiation that common citizens are being exposed to (i.e. constant but low-energy RF) and the types of usage of wireless technologies are really different than before. Hence the need to actively monitor their effects and continue to revise our safety standards, like some European and Asian countries are starting to do.

        Sadly, I don’t think you really understood my position, as maybe you think I label non-ionizing EMF as 100% carcinogenic. The real point that I have been trying to make is that populations living really close to cell towers like the one proposed right next to my home would be potentially exposed to health complications over time. This is why I am advocating that the cell antenna be installed in a zone that does not have homes in its immediate perimeter. I believe this latter request is balanced, in that it addresses the worries of the people directly concerned by the project and the rights of the wireless customers who demand better service.

      • contrarycomet says:

        Pickles. And can I just say that the sheer volume of talk here about low-level EMF is “Unbelievable.” Oh! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waacof2saZw

    • contrarycomet says:

      Maxime, I’m not sure how you can seriously claim that you’re not trying to scare people in one paragraph, and then bring up nasal radium in the next. Yes, it’s true that we don’t always know the long-term effects of things, but the comparisons you’re making are completely over the top. And I’m sorry if calling that behavior sensationalistic hurts your feelings, but it’s an attempt to frame the debate, and suggesting that it’s not is disingenuous.

      If you want to make a comparison, here’s one: as another commenter points out, the IARC has classified cell phones (note, not cell towers) as “2B,” which means “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The list of substances that are 2B include pickled vegetables and coffee. I suppose that you could argue that low-level EMF exposure is comparable to eating dill pickles or drinking espresso. But even then, the classification is for cell phones, not towers. At least that would be closer to the mark than nasal radium. Or tobacco. Or smog. Or asbestos.

  10. Frank says:

    I just wrote to Supv. Campos in support of the cell site.

    I am a Sprint customer and live on Bernal’s east slope, so while this one AT&T cell site does not benefit me personally, denying it just sets a bad precedent for future cell sites that might.

    If pressed by The City or the property owner, AT&T can do a good job of visual design to hide the antennas with rooftop screens, fake vent pipes, and other architectural features that cost more but are worth it. When the antennas are not noticeable, residents stop being annoyed at them.

    I made it a hobby of mine several years ago to find most of Sprint’s cell sites in The City, and as Art posted, many of them are expertly camouflaged on their buildings, and not with fake palm trees, either. Sorry, I have no photos.

  11. dynamutts says:

    I will help the South slope get their antennae, if you help us North slopers get ours!!! My house is a dead zone. i drop calls on Mullen Avenue, Brewster and Bradford.

  12. “To put a concrete figure, some of the concerned researchers and European governmental agencies put the safety limit at 100 μW/m^2, which is 100,000 times the levels authorized by the ICNIRP/FCC (10W/m^2). I am sure “Neighbor Fiid” would probably label this as “junk science”, but I just thought you should know. ”

    I would not. These limits are policy decisions. One hopes they are based in science that makes sense, but who knows?

    Speaking of politics, there is again this irony that I see on BHP all the time. “Cell tower cancer experiment guinea pigs think of the children” sets off exactly the same buzzers as “fearmongering, science-hating NIMBY”. Ironic.

    “If I am not mistaken, cell antennas’ operational range is around 15 miles in unobstructed areas, 3-5 miles in hilly areas, and 0.5 mile in dense neighborhoods like ours.”

    As you seem to already know, there are a *lot* of variables here. The design and orientation of the antenna is one, but you can also feed it with varying amounts of power. Cell towers have to be *very* good at this. There is a huge spectrum crunch going on, and to get this stuff to play together nicely and not sound like the radio version of loud cocktail party requires all the transmitters to use the minimum possible power levels. As a result the cells in dense areas are close together and use very low power. Out in the rural central valley, I would expect the cells to be MUCH larger and much more powerful.

    Towers and phones also vary their power output in real time in order to reduce spectrum pollution, so if the tower is further away, your phone starts pushing more power to compensate. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it calculated out that you get MORE exposure now talking to a further away tower because your phone is pushing more power. (Caveat: I haven’t done any math to figure this out, but your phone is really close to you relative to the tower, even at 500 feet.).

    IMHO – the questions you want to ask are: What is the maximum and average power you expect the cell to produce, and what is the dissipation pattern for the antenna they are expecting to use. Then you can see what the expected W/m2 you’re going to see in your house. It’s entirely possible you’ll be less than the euro policy you stated earlier regardless.

    I’m acutely aware that there is a huge lag between scientific reality and regulation / response. You only have to look at the Vaccine debacle to see that, which was entirely fabricated. It took 10 years for that guy to lose his medical license, and the damage from that continues. The way to win though is not to encourage hyperbole in the other direction. Being excessively conservative isn’t the right solution to being excessively permissive, the answer is for all of us to try be as close to the truth as possible.

  13. Cornichons and cappuccino are carcinogenic? NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOO! That’s it, I am leaving the modern world and retiring to Bhutan to raise sheep.

    Alright guys, this was a fabulous trolling experiment for me but like all great things in the world, it must come to an end. It was fun, almost reminded me of high school!

    May Life bless you all with cell towers close to your homes, five bars on your iPhones and other heavenly pleasures. LTE is around the corner, who knows, this might be it for Bernal Heights!

    Todd, thanks again for all of your work and for providing us with this fabulous piece of reporting. Hopefully see you around the ‘hood sometime!

  14. GG says:

    I have the luxury of not being as smart or polite as Todd, so I’m just going to suggest a relocation:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2011/09/14/wifi-giving-you-a-rash-move-to-west-virginia/
    Perhaps the cell phone companies will give you a relocation subsidy, and the rest of us can enjoy improved cell service. Everybody wins!

    • Todd_Lappin says:

      Wow. That’s amazing, and I will cite that next time this comes up… which it inevitably will.

      • Brandon says:

        Man. I came back to post a similar link. Now I don’t get to be Mr. Smartypants. This is disappointing to me. We need to find this GG person (if that is your real name…) and lay down an internet ban.

  15. Joyce C. says:

    So today we received a visit from some neighbors who are circulating a petition against the cell tower, based on two things:. yes, the question about the ‘health concerns’ and secondly (and newly as far as i know) is that the cell tower may impact the property value of all properties within 300 meters of the tower (one selling their house in this diameter would have to disclose this information). Based on “someone’s” historical information, there is precedence that property values could be impacted up to 20%.

    I’m a scientist; I’m not convinced regarding the potential health scare. However, I’m also a property owner, so I guess money talks, doesn’t it?

    Thoughts?

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