Keep cell phone towers away from schools

Apr 11, 2006 7:00 AM

WASHINGTON - A just-released study by researchers at the Swedish National Institute for Working Life found that long-term exposure to the radiation emitted by cell phones raises the odds of developing cancer. The largest such study to date compared 2,200 cancer patients with an equal number of healthy individuals and found that heavy users, defined as logging more than 2,000 hours, and those who started using the devices before age 20 had a higher risk of developing a malignant brain tumor, particularly on one side of their head.

“What the Swedish meta-analysis shows is that after a minimum latency period of about 10 years, you start to see tumor risks,” Dr. Louis Slesin, editor of the New York-based Microwave News, who has been covering the subject for 26 years, told The Examiner. In the early ’90s, only 10 to 12 million people used cellular phones, he added. But in the last five years alone, that number has swelled to 200 million worldwide. “Is this a warning sign or a statistical fluke?”

Despite increasing evidence linking such radiation to increased rates of childhood leukemia worldwide, “there’s not a single study being done on it in the U.S. today,” Slesin lamented. “Nothing. The industry is calling the shots, the government is terrified of this issue and nobody wants to hear about it.”

Anders Ahlbom, deputy director of Stockholm’s Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska, who has been studying the biological effects of such radiation for 20 years, found that the epidemiological evidence linking it to a 1 percent annual increase in childhood cancer was “rather strong and consistent” in the nine different European countries that studied it, and that the link became even stronger when the data was aggregated. Japanese and German teams reported similar results earlier this year. Scientists are still not sure how microwave radiation damages cells, but speculate that it may disrupt some electrical or chemical signals cells use to communicate.

Ignoring accumulating international evidence that cell phone radiation may be a health hazard, particularly to children, one company has even begun advertising cell phones for preschoolers. And Fairfax County has expanded its practice of installing cell phone monopoles on schools, telephone poles and park light towers without bothering to get permission from parents or local homeowners associations. The county is currently attempting to install another one on Mount Vernon High School over the objections of the PTA president and local residents — and bypassing the Planning Commission’s approval process.

Some cell towers are hidden in church steeples or disguised in fake trees, so people have no idea how much microwave radiation they or their children are absorbing. The levels are highest about 100 feet from the base of a tower. We agree with Slesin that “they should not be anywhere near a school building.”

However, the risk from cell phone towers pales in comparison with the phones themselves, which emit a thousand times more radiation. The Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it would review wireless phone safety in light of the Swedish study. Until its completed, experts say the safest thing is to use a hands-free set and not have the phone attached anywhere on your body.

Adults who know the risks should be free to yak all they want. But shouldn’t we shield children as a precaution until we know more?

Informant: James River Martin


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