A (Health) Tale of Two Cities


It is the worst of times for Vancouverites as city council under the advice of their chief medical officer John Blatherwick, has decided in January, 2000 that cellular phone companies would no longer be required to notify the public as to where or when they planned to site cellular phone antennas on public property. Blatherwick’s advice; that cellular phone towers pose no known health risk, is exactly opposite to that of the chief medical officer of Canada’s largest city, Toronto.

After extensive independent research, Dr. Shelia Basrur, and consultant, Ron MacFarlane raised their concerns in a memo of November, 1999 to city council. They recommended to:

1. Practice prudent avoidance - site towers at least 200 meters from schools and day-cares.

2. Reduce radiation emissions by 100 times below current limits.

3. Notify residents of new or changed installations, allowing citizens to be an integral part of the process.

Until now, federal government regulations have allowed cell phone companies to locate antennae any where they want, as long as the company notified residents living within 100 meters of the base of a support structure. By deciding not to tell citizens about where antennae are going to be located council has removed the last vestments of free or fair public process. Vancouver City Council, the victims of slick PR campaign by the cell phone industry and the Radiation Protection Branch, has ruled that no citizen will be told if a multinational communications giant, decides to place an antenna against their back fence, or on top of their child’s daycare centre for that matter.

Some might consider that something so fundamentally and morally wrong would violate every thing that a free and democratic society represents. They may think that this bylaw steals basic civil rights away from them in much the same manner as the regulations promoted by the MAI and the WTO or that such a draconian law violates their rights as laid out in our country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms - and they might be right. This may put Vancouver city council in the constitutional hot seat they deserve. Unless this type of bylaw is declared unconstitutional any city council could decide to take these fundamental rights away from the very people who elected them.

This can and will happen in other municipalities in Canada, or worldwide. For the most part, the corporate media in Canada has given little serious coverage of this issue, but if you check out other information sources such as the Internet, you will find these same struggles are happening all over the world. In the Victoria area, in 1998 and 1999, a small group of activists helped 5 neighborhoods repel efforts by cell phone companies to erect towers. Because the cell phone company must notify local governments and the citizens near to the proposed tower, activists have found out where the towers were to be located and went directly to the neighborhoods to warn the residents. That is why cell phone companies want to get rid of this requirement.

In our area in Victoria the companies will soon run out of existing structures to attach their antennae, and they will have to apply for permits to build towers again. They are carefully assessing the ideologies of each council member in each local council, and if the political climate is right, the cell companies will approach councils to adopt a bylaw such as that in Vancouver.

In Vancouver, with no public notification of where these structures are proposed, environmental activists will no longer find out where the towers are going and they can no longer warn those most affected of the potential health hazards. With one little bylaw and the cell phone companies have cut off the enviro-warriors vital communication lines and removed the public’s primary source of information about associations between disease and cell phones. Consequently, Vancouverites will remain uninformed about the devastating health effects of EM Radiation and mega-corporations will get to put their antennae anywhere they want.

In another Canadian city, Toronto’s medical health officer, Dr. Sheila V. Basrur is going in exactly the opposite direction to Blatherwick, by declaring that there are negative health effects of EM Radiation occurring at exposure levels far below that which Health Canada’s Radiation Protection Branch, (RPB) claims is safe. This is not surprising given their EM Radiation guidelines, known as Safety Code Six, are only concerned about how much EM Radiation it takes to heat human tissue. What Basrur and the all Canadians are concerned about are disease processes that are triggered by EM Radiation exposures that are thousands of times less than what is required to heat tissue.

If you call the RPB today and express your concerns about EM Radiation exposure, from cell phones or antennae, they will quote Safety Code Six, which lists your exposure level as thousands of times less than what will cause "harm". The problem is, the RPB conveniently neglect to tell you that their definition of harm is when EM Radiation begins to heat your flesh. They also do not mention that diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s are associated with exposure levels thousands of times lower than what heats tissue. They use guidelines that have nothing to do with the health effects that the public is concerned about, guidelines that allows massive levels of exposure to EM Radiation.

The RPB rests their whole case of public safety, on their wacky definition of harm, and it is a position that can not supported scientifically. If the truth gets out the public could get mighty angry, so the RPB has no choice but to perpetuate the deception. The RPB is really nothing more than a public relations department for the cell phone industry as they collaborate to influence health officials. The plan has worked well so far, but now it appears Basrur has seen through them. Her job will probably be on the line only because she is honest.

Dr. Sheila V. Basrur is recommending guidelines for exposure to microwave radiation as emitted from cellular phones and antennae, 100 times more stringent than those that currently exist. Health Canada’s claim that Safety Code 6 is "one of the most stringent in the world" is simply not true. Switzerland’s emission standard is 90% lower than ours, Italy’s is 85% lower, the province of Salzburg, Austria is 98.5% lower, and six municipalities in Australia have standards 10, 000 lower than our "stringent" standards. Dr. George Carlo headed the industry’s Wireless Technology Research and served as the industry’s spokesperson from 1993 to 1999. This $27 million US research program oversaw over 50 studies in 16 different laboratories. In a letter dated Oct. 9, 1999, to C. Michael Armstrong, CEO of AT&T, Dr. Carlo cautioned the industry against dealing with public health concerns "through politics, creating illusions that more research over the next several years helps consumers today, and false claims that regulatory compliance means safety."

"The current popular backlash we are witnessing in the United States today against the tobacco industry is derived in large part from perceived dishonesty on the part of that industry in not being forthright about health effects. I urge you to help your industry not repeat that mistake."

In October, 1998 scientific experts gathered in Vienna to discuss health effects of RF electromagnetic fields. They unanimously signed an accord stating "The participants agreed that biological effects from low-intensity exposures are scientifically established." Regarding cellular base stations, they said "The public should be given timely participation in the process. This should include information on technical and exposure data as well as information on the status of the health debate. Public participation in the decision [limits, sitings, etc., ] should be enabled."

One of the signatories was Carl Blackman of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Another was Dr. William Leiss, President of the Royal Society of Canada. The E.P.A. has classified electromagnetic radiation as a possible human carcinogen.

Another signature, Dr. Henry Lai of the University of Washington said, "I have come to the conclusion that exposure to RFR from use of mobile phones and possibly from chronic exposure to phone masts and transmission towers has not been proven to be safe. Actually, recent research data in the last few years have added to the concern. To deny any "possible health effects" from RFR emitted from wireless communication devices is scientifically not defensible given the growing evidence of RFR bioeffects."

Let's hope our local councils adopt Toronto’s recommendations and have the wisdom to allow the citizens that they represent basic civil rights, by insisting that the public is informed about any proposed cell phone antenna installation.

Source: http://www.emfacts.com/weblog/index.php?p=292


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November 2005

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