6 February 2018 | By RICHARD HALSTEAD | Marin Independent Journal |
Close to 200 people turned out this week to implore the Marin County Board of Supervisors to resist installation of antennas for the next generation of wireless telecommunications technology known as 5G.
Although a few speakers mentioned the unsightliness of the antennas, most focused on concerns about health due to increased exposure to radio waves.
Dozens of people spoke during a 3-½-hour workshop convened by the supervisors Tuesday to discuss direction to staff on possible amendments to the county’s regulations for wireless antenna siting.
“I’ve been at a lot of public meetings. I have never been in a 100-percent-for-one-side public meeting in my entire life,” said Judy Schriebman of San Rafael. “This is unprecedented.”
Three people did speak in favor of the new technology at the meeting; however, all were paid by wireless carriers to be there.
Supervisors made clear at the beginning of the workshop that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission preclude them from prohibiting new 5G transmitters. The 1996 law expressly preempts local governments from adopting regulations based on environmental effects.
The county has joined with other jurisdictions to mount a legal challenge to the most recent FCC ruling, which limits aesthetic review, prohibits locational restrictions, and sets accelerated timelines for approving new sites. The supervisors concluded the workshop by asking staff to look into setting some restrictions on locating antennas in residential areas, even though it is unclear such restrictions would withstand a legal challenge by the wireless carriers.
The new 5G, or fifth generation wireless technology, uses higher-frequency waves than 4G. The waves support faster speeds but don’t travel as far so more transmitters will be needed and they will need to be located closer to users, which increases the anxiety of people worried about health effects.
Several speakers Tuesday night said they have already suffered health effects due to exposure to wireless radiation.
“You don’t want to become me; you don’t want to become electrically sensitive,” said Maggi Garloff, who proceeded to recite a long list of symptoms she attributes to exposure to radio waves.
The list included: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, irritability, headaches, difficulty sleeping, teeth grinding, chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, increased allergies, heart palpitations, nose bleeds, digestive and lower tract disorders, chronic pain, aching joints, muscle stiffness, dizziness, eye strain, dry skin, eczema, rashes and weight gain.
“I call this my litmus finger because when I go into really bad areas it starts tingling,” Garloff said.
Jess Lerner, who helped organize a group called 5G Free Marin, said she first noticed a wireless sensitivity when she was a graduate student at Brown University and her roommates installed a wireless router.
“In the years to come, with exposure increasing, it would become impossible to ignore,” Lerner said.
She said her symptoms include headaches, a pounding and racing heart, shaking hands, feeling light-headed, general weakness, and insomnia.
Chandu Vyas of San Rafael said he discovered he was sensitive to wireless radiation after a smart meter was installed in his home.
“I suddenly developed terrible daily headaches,” Vyas said.
“After many tests, my doctor found nothing wrong. Then I visited my family in India for a month and my headaches went away. When I came back home, my headaches also returned.”
It is well known that ionizing radiation emitted by sources such as X-ray machines boosts cancer risk by shredding molecules in the body. It has been assumed that the only effect produced by the non-ionizing radio-frequency radiation used by cellphones is the heating of tissue.
Tiffany Baer said, “The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) safety standards rely on thermal studies, but the effects go much deeper than the skin.”
David Schonbrunn said, “While the science back in the day only knew about the thermal effects of EMFs, it has progressed since then.”
Rachel Gaunt said, “Numerous peer-reviewed studies have shown harmful effects from levels well below the current FCC limits. Replicated research has shown that low-level wireless radiation will promote cancer growth in combination with other toxic exposures.”
Harry Lehmann of Novato said that a report issued by the National Toxicology Program in November 2018 confirmed findings that microwave radiation from cellular sources is carcinogenic and the mechanism of harm is nonthermal.
“This is no longer something that is even in rational dispute,” Lehmann said. “People who are saying this is not harmful have simply not looked at the scientific data.”
Referring to the research performed by the National Toxicology Program, which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, a March 2018 article in Scientific American stated, “evidence advanced by the studies shows prolonged exposure to even very low levels of RF radiation, perhaps by mechanisms other than heating that remain unknown, makes rats uniquely prone to a rare tumor called a schwannoma, which affects a type of neuron (or nerve cell) called a Schwann cell.”
The article also noted, however, that “heart schwannomas are exceedingly rare in humans; only a handful of cases have ever been documented in the medical literature.”
Writing about this same study, the National Cancer Institute, stated, “These experimental findings raise new questions as to the potential for radio frequency radiation to result in cellular changes and offer potential avenues for further laboratory studies.”
None of the three industry representatives who spoke Tuesday addressed the health issue. They stressed that the transition to 5G is needed to accommodate increased demand for wireless service from customers.
“Most people have purchased smart phones and are increasingly relying on wireless devices for their home, residential and business uses,” said Matt Yergovich, a permitting specialist with AT&T.
Cris Villegos, a representative of Verizon Wireless, said cellphones are increasingly used to make 911 calls.
“In order to ensure that these calls are made successfully we have to ensure that the network is operating at its full potential,” Villegos said.
Villegos said 5G would also allow for the installation of smart chips in cars that will provide collision avoidance.
William Hammett, a Sonoma engineer who certifies that carriers are meeting FCC emission standards did not identify himself as an industry representative when speaking, but said after the meeting that he was paid by Verizon to attend.
“People may not like the standards. My job as an engineer is to assess compliance with the standards,” he said. “These facilities will comply with FCC standards.”