Saturday, September 6, 2014

Are Anti-Cell Tower Activists Making Up Science?

You know cell service is bad when u need an antenna extender ;)AT&T wants to add mobile phone antennas to the top of a water tower in Dartmouth, MA. Are local NIMBY activists citing a made-up "study" when the truth is they just don't want to look at the antennas?

Here's the line that caught my eye in the New Bedford Standard-Times coverage:
Tucker Lane resident Amy Goulart cited Boston University and Harvard University studies that have called cell towers "a radiation hazard."
It just sounds funny - Harvard and BU usually put out studies on their own. Have multiple studies showing different things been combined to claim something the individual studies didn't? Or is someone putting the two names together just because it sounds more believable that way?

But more broadly, a study that showed that result would be big national news, altering the planning process for every cell tower that came after it. Yet a Google search turns up no direct links to a study like that.

Instead, the "studies" turns up as frequently referenced - but never directly linked - by anti-cell tower activists, often in smaller newspapers like the Standard-Times where corporate profits are prioritized over giving journalists and editors time to fact-check.

More alarmingly, the reference is often changed, again seemingly embellished to add false credibility:
  • "More than 40 physicians and scientists at Harvard and Boston University Schools of Public Health claim cell towers are a 'radiation hazard' and 'public health emergency.'" (example)
  • "Over 100 physicians and scientists at Harvard and Boston University Schools of Public Health have called cellular towers a radiation hazard." (example)
In reality, the Federal Communications Commission says, "radiofrequency emissions from antennas used for cellular and PCS transmissions result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times below safety limits." The FCC concludes, "there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students." Don't believe BIG GOVERNMENT? The American Cancer Society says, "Cell phone towers are not known to cause any health effects."

Look, I don't care whether AT&T gets its cell tower in Dartmouth (I have Verizon), though it's frustrating that cell service around here stinks in part because NIMBYs fight every single attempt to add a tower. It's fair to ask if companies like AT&T (2013 profit: $18 billion) should sweeten the deal for communities to speed the process. As we already know, cash is a miracle cure for "wind turbine syndrome."

But much like with wind turbine opposition, it sounds like anti-cell tower activists are spreading phony science because "I don't want to look at them" doesn't sway people in the face of a clear public need. (If I missed something and this study does exist, please post a link in comments.)
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