Telecommunications vs. The Environment

The following article is from HOPEDANCE Issue #43 ~ March/April 2004


Telecommunications vs. The Environment
by Arthur Firstenberg

In 1982 I was in my fourth year of medical school, a promising career ahead of me. Today I am homeless. My money does not provide me shelter. My good health does not ensure my survival. My friends are unable to help me. I am being killed, but the law offers me no protection.

For eight years I have run an advocacy and support network for people in similar circumstances. No one else has been doing this kind of work in North America. I am afraid time has run out for us. I will outline, later, the emergency measures that are needed in order to reverse a grave, imminent and largely unacknowledged threat to all life.

I am electrically sensitive, and I advocate and provide information and support for electrically sensitive people in North America and worldwide. The assault we are suffering is a radical increase in electromagnetic pollution, or electrosmog, that is engulfing the earth. Let me explain some terms. "Electrical sensitivity" means sensitivity to, or illness caused by exposure to electricity, electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Now we are all electrical beings, living in and affected by our electromagnetic environment, but most people are not aware of it. The term "electrically sensitive" has been applied to those of us who have become so reactive that we are not only aware of it, but our reactions are immediate and cause us disability and illness. It is applied to those whose reactivity is so obvious and disturbing that we cannot be talked out of it by well-meaning family, friends and doctors. This cuts our numbers down to only 2-3% of the population. You see, electrical sensitivity is a political as well as a medical term. It is not politically correct to be injured by electromagnetic radiation. Our injuries cannot be acknowledged; the implications for modern communication technology would be too enormous.

In the summer of 1996 I was living in Brooklyn, New York. I had more-or-less come to terms with my electrical sensitivity, and was dealing with it as best I could. I was not a doctor, having had to leave medical school during my fourth year due to an illness of unknown cause. At first, I had had headaches and difficulty concentrating and remembering things. Then, while on a surgery rotation, I had had crippling pains in my hips, making it difficult to assist in operations. My heart rate had slowed to less than 50. One day I collapsed and was unable to get up. My chest hurt, and I could not get enough breath. I was sure I was having a heart attack. During the next two weeks I lost 15 pounds, and I was a slim man to begin with. It wasn’t a heart attack, but it was still six months before I could walk up a flight of stairs without getting short of breath. It was three years before I was strong enough to ski again. It was seven years before I met someone else who experienced pain from being near certain electrical appliances, including television sets and computers, and before I first heard the term "electrical sensitivity." It was 17 years before I gained back those 15 pounds.

In the meantime I researched the world literature on bioelectromagnetics, or the biological effects of electromagnetism, and made myself an expert. I learned that electro-machines, used in every modern surgical operation to cut through tissue and to stop bleeding, expose surgeons to much higher levels of radio frequency radiation than is permitted for workers in any industry. I learned that there was a disease thoroughly described in the Russian and Eastern European medical literature called radiowave sickness, whose existence was usually denied by western authorities. The description recalled to me my "unknown illness" which had derailed my medical career. A bradycardia, or slow heart rate, was said, in these texts, to be a grave sign.

Because there are virtually no workplaces without computers any more, I have not held a job since 1990. I had resigned myself to living on Social Security Disability, and learned, together with other members of a support group I had found, how best to live with my disability, which mostly meant learning to avoid exposure to EMFs. But in July, 1996, I learned to my dismay that an innovation was coming to my city which threatened to make it impossible to avoid exposure any more.

At that time, cell phones were still a luxury item which only worked in some locations. People were not accustomed to staying connected whenever they left their home, and even at home most still had a cord, not an antenna, attached to their telephone. Most were not accustomed to holding devices that emit microwave radiation next to their brain. In 1996, the telecommunications industry began a marketing campaign designed to change all that. For Christmas that year, all over the country, digital cell phones were going to be on a lot of shopping lists. And to make them more practical, tens of thousands of antennas were going to be erected on towers, buildings, church steeples and lampposts, all over the country, before Christmas, and hundreds of thousands more during the next few years.

In response to this emergency, a few friends and I created the Cellular Phone Task Force, and contacted all the public officials we could think of, and the press, to warn them of the danger. But on November 14, 1996, Omnipoint, New York City’s first digital cellular provider did open for business, broadcasting from thousands of antennas newly erected on the rooftops of apartment buildings. According to the health authorities, an early flu hit New York City — but not Boston, and not Philadelphia — on about November 15. The flu was severe and ran a prolonged course, often dragging on for months instead of the usual two weeks.

At Christmas time, the Cellular Phone Task Force placed a small classified ad in a free weekly newspaper. It read: "If you have been ill since 11/15/96 with any of the following: eye pain, insomnia, dry lips, swollen throat, pressure or pain in the chest, headaches, dizziness, nausea, shakiness, other aches and pains, or flu that won’t go away, you may be a victim of a new microwave system blanketing the city. We need to hear from you." And we did hear from them. Hundreds called, men, women, whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, doctors, lawyers, teachers, stockbrokers, airline stewards, computer operators. Most had woken up suddenly in mid-November, thinking they were having a stroke or a heart attack or a nervous breakdown, and were relieved to know they were not alone and not crazy.

Later, I analyzed weekly mortality statistics, which the Center for Disease Control publishes for 122 U.S. cities. Each of dozens of cities recorded a 10-25% increase in mortality, lasting two to three months, beginning on the day in 1996 or 1997 on which that city’s first digital cell phone network began commercial service. I published both the raw data and the complete analysis, with graphs.

I learned that in February, 1996, Congress had passed a law prohibiting local governments from denying permits for cell phone antennas because of environmental concerns — so long as they comply with Federal Communications Commission rules. And I learned that the FCC had just issued regulations setting public exposure limits for microwave radiation at levels at least ten thousand times higher than levels which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, were causing reports of illness from all over the world, and at least ten thousand times higher than the levels which had forced me to leave behind my home, my family, and my friends, and to run for my life, never to be able to return home again.

The Cellular Phone Task Force, along with over 50 other grass roots organizations and individuals around the U.S., became involved in a legal challenge of the FCC’s absurd standards and its preemption of local control. This was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Many cities and towns, several U.S. Senators and Representatives and dozens of other public officials submitted briefs urging the high court to hear our case. But in January, 2001, the Supreme Court, without comment, declined.

You will hear statements by supposed experts — always the same few, in the pay of the telecommunications industry — to the effect that cell phones/cell towers/microwave radiation have been proven safe in countless studies. It is an easy lie, one that the news media have been eager to propagate. But the fact is, just as for x-rays, there is no safe level of exposure to microwave radiation, and it is so easy to demonstrate harmful effects that it takes some skill to design experiments that don’t show them. It is easier today than ten years ago because now the "controls" are also exposed, the whole planet is exposed, so where can you go to do a good experiment, but most experiments still show effects anyway — effects on heart rhythms, brain waves, the blood-brain barrier, sleep, eyes, gonads, skin, hearing, calcium, melatonin, glucose, metabolism, human well-being. If you look, you will find. Zorach Glaser reviewed over 5,000 such studies for the United States Navy during the 1970s alone.

From the volumes of literature I have seen, certain results stand out in my mind: Allan Frey’s work on microwave hearing. Milton Zaret’s work on microwave cataracts. The work of Canadians Tanner, Romero-Sierra and Bigu Del Blanco on birds, including demonstrations that birds are particularly sensitive because feathers are good microwave receiving aerials. A Swiss government study on sleep, which shut down a short wave transmitter because the researchers were able to show it caused sleep disturbances up to several miles away. An international effort which found a very wide range of environmental effects caused by a Latvian radar station at extremely low levels of exposure, including: smaller growth rings in trees, premature aging in pine needles, chromosome damage in cows, decreased memory, attention, learning, and pulmonary function in school children, increased white blood cells in adults, and an altered sex ratio (more girls) in children born during the years of the radar’s operation. Loescher and Kaes’s work on farm animals sickened by cell towers in Germany. The work of Wolfgang Vollrodt, and that of Ulrich Hertel, linking forest dieback to microwave radiation, rather than acid rain. Roger Santini’s study of the health of people living at varying distances from cell towers in France. Claudio Gomez-Perretta’s similar study in Spain. A Dutch government study exposing normal and electrically sensitive people to cell tower signals finding disturbing effects on both groups. Neil Cherry’s study of childhood cancer rates as a function of distance from Sutro Tower in San Francisco. Leif Salford’s recent work on the blood-brain barrier, verifying the earlier work of Allan Frey and others, but with additional, ominous findings: l) sometimes, decreasing the amount of radiation 1,000 times increased the damage to the brain (the "window" effect); (2) animals exposed to a cell phone once for two hours were found to have areas of brain cell death two months later.

In Germany, 2000 physicians have signed a petition (the Freiburger Appeal) calling for severe restrictions on wireless technology because they are seeing such a dramatic increase in certain diseases and symptoms in their patients, which they can only attribute to ambient microwave radiation. The diseases include: attention deficit disorder, extreme fluctuations in blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, heart attacks and strokes in young people, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, leukemia, and brain tumors. The symptoms include: headaches, migraines, chronic fatigue, agitation, sleep disorders, tinnitus, nervous and connective tissue pains of unexplained origin, and susceptibility to infection. The appeal calls for a massive reduction in exposure limits; no further expansion of cell phone technology; cell phone-and antenna-free zones; a ban on cell phone use by children; and a ban on cell phones and digital cordless phones in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, public buildings and public transportation.

The California Department of Health Services has concluded, on the basis of a telephone survey, that 120,000 Californians have left their jobs because of electromagnetic pollution in the workplace. The people who have left their homes for such a reason are not being counted by anyone.

The highest profile person yet to declare that she is electrically sensitive, and thus unable to use a cordless phone or a computer, or to use or be near anyone else using a cell phone, is none other than Gro Harlem Brundtland, a medical doctor, master of public health, former Prime Minister of Norway, and until 2003 the Director-General of the World Health Organization. Yet even so public a figure on the world stage has been unable to draw the world’s attention to our collective plight, or in any way to slow down the growth of telecommunications, or even to put it on the map as an environmental issue.

This must happen. Too many intelligent, professional, useful people are wandering this country’s barren deserts, homeless, ostracized, robbed of their civil rights, with no place to land. Too many have committed suicide because they have lost all hope, have suffered too long, have had to pick up roots and flee for their lives once too often.

Within the telecommunications industry, too many equipment testers, installers, and repairpersons with radiowave sickness are afraid to speak out, or do not even know why they are ill.

So many radars, antennas, and communication devices are being deployed for government, military, emergency, commercial, and personal uses in both the developed and developing worlds, and in space, that there is nowhere left to hide. Even radio astronomers are seriously talking about the far side of the moon as the only place left that is quiet enough, in the radio spectrum, to still be able to see the stars.

The following are urgently needed:
Sanctuaries. Radiation-free zones. Places without radio antennas, cell phone service, or television cable (cable is often a significant source of radiation). These are needed right now, to save lives. Legal help. Environmental and disability rights attorneys able to take on this issue. Funding for land acquisition and legal expenses. Volunteer help for phone calling, letter writing, grant writing, etc.

To make our world safer, keep in mind these two principles:

1. Distance counts. The power drops off as the square of the distance. Antennas should be few, and as far as possible from people and environmentally sensitive areas.

2. Digital hurts. Digital (pulsed) technology is more harmful at lower levels of power than analog. The FCC’s mandate to replace all analog TV, radio, and telecommunications transmissions with digital during the next few years is very dangerous.

The following are things that individuals can do:

o If you have a cell phone, cancel your service. Cell towers and antennas degrade the environment for miles around. They kill and injure more people than they save in emergencies. A cell phone in use pollutes its own environment for a distance of 100 yards. Even when not in use, cell phones emit radiation if they are turned on to receive calls.

o If you have a cordless home phone, trade it in for one with a wire. For the sake of convenience you are microwaving your brain and polluting your neighborhood. Never expose your baby to a wireless baby monitor.

o School administrators: Developing children should not be exposed to wireless computers, keyboards, or mice.

o Community radio stations: Resist the temptation to increase your transmitter power, or to add repeaters in areas of poor reception. Better receiving antennas on the listening end will accomplish the same purpose without more pollution. Areas of poor reception are the healthiest places to live.

o Low power FM enthusiasts: Low power FM is not a good idea. No matter how low the power, antennas should never be located in residential communities.

o Concert and event organizers: Make your event safe and accessible by banning cell phones and doing security without two-way radios.

o Health spa owners: Please don’t pollute your grounds with cordless phones or two-way radios.

o Wildlife scientists: Radio collars pollute the wilderness and injure the animals you are tracking. Please don’t use them.

o Park administrators: Keep our parks and wilderness areas as sanctuaries. Keep antennas out of them.

o Local public officials: Public health must come first. Vote against proposals to put towers and antennas in your community.

o Members of Congress: Support the efforts of Senators Patrick Leahy and James Jeffords, and Representative Bernie Sanders, to repeal Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act, which purports to deny to local officials the right to protect their constituents’ health.

Arthur Firstenberg is a founder and director of the Cellular Phone Task Force, and the editor of its publication, No Place To Hide. He is the author of the book, Microwaving Our Planet: The Environmental Impact of the Wireless Revolution. He does not have e-mail or a website. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 1337, Mendocino, CA 95460, or by leaving a message at (707) 964-5196 or (718) 434-4499.

Informant: Iris Atzmon



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