Suggestions from Elizabeth Kelley

Public health advocate
On Preventing Deployment of Cellular Antennas

– An excerpt from An Electronic Silent Spring

Because one cellular antenna or one transmitting utility meter affects a whole community, efforts to prevent further deployment of wireless equipment can build community–starting with neighbors who educate themselves about our federal laws and the health effects of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation.

The Telecommunications Act’s Section 704 serves the industry and pre-empts local control. It prohibits a municipality or state from refusing a permit to install or upgrade cellular antennas based on environmental or health effects. It mandates that the FCC’s guidelines for exposure to radiation are “the law of the land,” and that no state can adopt lower limits to protect its citizens. Section 704 has desensitized many government agencies to peoples’ valid concerns.

Still, citizens can argue successfully against new antennas by treating the equipment as a neighborhood nuisance that disturbs an area’s look and/or lowers property values. To oppose cellular antenna proposals:

1. Organize a team that includes local engineers, biologists, physicians, electricians, mediators, public health workers, legislative and regulatory analysts, writers, fundraisers, public speakers and graphic artists. Give your group a name, such as Neighbors for Safer Technology.

2. Become familiar with your state and municipal wireless telecommunications siting ordinances and how they apply to the proposal at hand.

3. If the property owner has not yet signed a lease with the wireless carrier, request a meeting with him or her to present your concerns, including health concerns. Show a film such as James Russell’s “Resonance” (available at vimeo.com), Talal Jabari’s “Full Signal,” or “Public Exposure: DNA, Democracy and the Wireless Revolution” (available on YouTube). Keep your handout brief. If you can convince the property owner to be a good neighbor and forego the lease, the proposal will not go forward. This can happen!

4. Become familiar with the technical specifications of the proposed new antennas: their location, height, purpose (commercial, public safety/police), power level, frequencies transmitted, whether the site will be a co-location (with antennas owned by multiple carriers–i.e. AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile). Once approved, new co-location sites are now federally regulated; no further public notice or review of upgrades will be required. Get a copy of materials submitted by the telecom carrier(s) to your town’s planning department, and review them.

5. Make sure that all technical and local code requirements are met. For example, historic neighborhoods often have special requirements. Monitor the application’s progress for any developments by keeping in touch with your planning department.

6. If a lease has been signed, evaluate the permit application that the wireless carrier(s) submitted to your planning and land use department. Visit the proposed site with engineers and contractors who know local code requirements. List issues to raise in the zoning hearing. (Will height requirements be violated? Will a cell tower made to look like a palm tree disrupt the neighborhood’s character?) Stay in touch with your planning and land use staff to keep abreast of the review schedule, hearing dates, and changes to the application.

7. Keep your neighbors informed. Make a flyer that describes the proposal. Hold educational forums. You might feature a film or an expert speaker and give attendees a chance to voice their questions and concerns. Write a petition that briefly outlines your neighborhood’s concerns. While the permit review process cannot take your health concerns into account, you are not precluded from expressing health concerns in your petition. Actually, going door-to-door to share your concerns, especially within the proposed antenna site’s first 300 to 500 feet, is very important. Explain that permits have been denied in other parts of the country when residents argue that viewing a cell tower–whether it is disguised or not–from inside a home will adversely affect the view, the neighborhood’s character and subsequently devalue property. Noise (from the HVAC and generators that support an installation and from increased traffic caused by maintenance workers) will also disrupt the neighborhood, impact its character and lower property values. FHA financing and commercial mortgage refinancing will become more difficult. Set up a table at your farmers’ market. Submit editorials to local papers. Brief public officials one-on-one. Get informed, level-headed speakers interviewed on local radio shows and by print reporters.

8. Typically, the wireless carrier(s) that propose a new antenna will be required to hold neighborhood meetings to describe their proposal and answer questions. This is a chance to inform everyone who attends about the health risks of the proposed antenna and to ask the carriers’ reps detailed questions about the proposal. If the reps or planning and land use staff say that attendees cannot talk about health at the meeting, clarify that the First Amendment allows us to speak freely. The federal preemption that prevents consideration of health concerns applies only to the formal hearing process when the government agency reviews and decides whether to approve or deny a permit application.

9. Whether public officials deny or grant a permit for an antenna, they are concerned about their community’s health. Ask them to pass a resolution that acknowledges their concerns about the health effects of RF electromagnetic radiation and about federal preemptions that can prevent them from denying cellular antenna permit applications. The resolution could call for repeal of the TCA’s Section 704, restoration of local control over the siting and management of commercial antennas, lowering the FCC’s current RF exposure limits and/or recognition that biological creatures are affected by radiation emitted by wireless devices and telecom equipment. Pima County, Arizona, Los Angeles County, California and Marin County, California and other local governments have passed such resolutions. See CloutNow.org for more info.

10. At the hearings, show your political will! Ask people to attend and testify, to provide information specific to the proposed site that could lead to a denial of the permit application. Show pictures to illustrate the tower’s visual impact on the neighborhood as well as the radiation pattern that will be imposed on existing homes, schools and health care facilities within a mile radius. Enlarge graphics found at antennasearch.com to show the antennas and towers already located within a four-mile radius of the proposed site.

11. For more info, see Cell Tower Safety: A Citizen’s Tool Box, at http://emrpolicy.org/public_policy/siting_zoning/index.htm