Some say AT&T's insistence on placing their cell phone antennas on the roof of the cinema in the Ashland Shopping Center is corporate bullying and an affront to Ashland's values, as many nearby (nonconventional) health care practitioners and their clients fear these antennas emit harmful radio frequency radiation.

Some say AT&T's insistence on placing their cell phone antennas on the roof of the cinema in the Ashland Shopping Center is corporate bullying and an affront to Ashland's values, as many nearby (nonconventional) health care practitioners and their clients fear these antennas emit harmful radio frequency radiation.

I suspect AT&T's motives reflect the community's values, as we increasingly value and demand tiny, richly-featured mobile phones with excellent reception. While spearheading public and legal opposition, the neighboring Hidden Springs Wellness Center owners reported: "I have a cell phone; almost everybody has a cell phone these days."

Opponents insist Ashland law requires AT&T to co-locate with other antennas (e.g. at the less densely populated Holiday Inn location). There is no isolated tower there; the existing antenna site is situated on the building, populated with overnight guests and workers, near other hotels, restaurants, a brewery, a temple, homes, etc. When AT&T argued there'd be coverage deficits, an opponent claimed that AT&T can amplify the signal, which would raise RF emissions. Some opponents insist AT&T can co-locate with the broadcast radio antennas at SOU — adding more purportedly harmful RF radiation in the heart of the campus. Sounds like anything goes, just "not in my backyard."

Exploring this subject, I found that greater population density often necessitates more base antennas to satisfy reception demands and overcome physical obstacles (e.g. buildings). Some cities have hundreds of cell stations. It's the nature of the beast. The beauty is that city-wide antenna stations are generally very low-powered. And they share the load, meaning lower RF emissions from each station. Moreover, cell phones emit less RF when the provider's antennas are nearby, as phones power up while searching for a signal.

Hidden Springs reported their opposition is not about health risks — not to declare antennas safe but "because federal law won't let the city use health effects as a criteria." It's about perception of risk causing financial impacts. Thirteen practitioners renting space at Hidden Springs, and several patrons, said they'd leave.

Fostering or supporting unsubstantiated RF fears that threaten businesses and property values could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, the Hidden Springs owners could choose to use their perceived health authority to alleviate these fears with reassuring information from credible sources:

Radio frequency radiation

The maximum RF power radiated by antennas commonly used in cities is typically just 50 watts — equivalent to a dim light bulb. You'd have to stand on the roof closer than three feet from the front of a station's antennas, all transmitting at maximum permitted intensity (uncommon), to exceed the FCC's safe exposure limit for the public. RF exposure decreases exponentially with distance. Within the transmitted beam, exposure 200 feet away would be a minuscule 1/40,000 of that at one foot.The public's RF exposure from numerous antenna stations in an area is typically trivial — thousands of times less than the FCC's safe limit. Even some researchers who suggest cell phones pose health risks will suggest cell towers are safe. Dr. Peter French reported: —… the amount of power that one gets from mobile phone masts (towers) is very much less (than cell phones) and likely to be biologically inert." Today's cell phones emit just 1 watt, or much less, of radiated power — equivalent to a pen light.

The science

"No recent national or international reviews have concluded that exposure to the RF fields from mobile phones or their base stations causes any adverse health consequence." (WHO, 2005)RF is "non-ionizing" radiation, regarded as unable to alter DNA molecules to cause cancer directly. Implausibility should raise the evidence bar for proving otherwise. So far, alarming RF studies have tended to be weak — too small, too biased, etc. (Two Viennese lab studies showing DNA damage from RF radiation stand accused by their ethics board of falsification.)Radiation isn't synonymous with radioactivity and emissions doesn't mean pollution. In scientific parlance, even the colors of the rainbow emit radiation (visible light). The recently summarized "Interphone" study conducted by 13 countries found no overall association of cell phones with brain tumors. Moreover, brain tumor rates haven't risen even as cell phones and RF antenna stations proliferate. A huge Danish study, using records rather than memory of past phone use (eliminating recall-bias afflicting many other studies), found no association with brain or various other cancers after 10-plus years use.Some sources cherry-pick alarming studies while peddling dubious RF "shields" or RF-absorbing jewelry (or related: "dirty electricity filters"). If a product substantially blocks RFR, RF exposure would increase as phones power up to find a signal.

Lorie Anderson lives in Ashland.