Another Threat To Your Health
By Sherman Tillman, Station 13
One day you come to work and there is a scaffolding on the side of your station. You walk into your apparatus bay thinking to yourself “this is great there finally going to paint the old building.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Later you find out that it’s not a new coat of paint but a cell phone tower. Your station has the great distinction of being chosen to further the proliferation of conveyance technology. Wow, you think to yourself “maybe I can finally make a call from the dorm room.” Be careful of what you wish for. That cell tower could be a health nightmare to you or one of your crewmates.

We are provided with Scott Air Packs to aid us in breathing in toxic and caustic environments. The station has exhaust extractors to protect us from fumes. What is the protection from a cell base station that is on at full power twenty-four hours a day seven days a week? Should I line my mosquito net with tin foil? What about a lead based uniform? Well, I thought about all those things only to find out that those metals are actually an attraction for the RF radiation.

What does the cell industry say? The industry points to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC has standards in place concerning radio frequency radiation. The cell industry will tell you that the cell tower on your station is far below the FCC standards. What are those standards? The FCC standards are based on models for acute, thermal exposures only, with downward extrapolations built in for presumptions of safety. But adverse non-thermal effects, far below the standards, have been noted time and time again in research. The standards set by the FCC can guarantee that you won’t cook like a chicken in a microwave, but they cannot guarantee anything else.

These standards are all part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Which cell phone industry lobbyist help to craft. Telecommunications companies spent over three million dollars in 1999 lobbying legislators. They are one of the most powerful lobbyist groups on the hill. A testament to their power is a caveat they put in at the last minute of their Telecommunications bill. It is forbidden to discuss the health effects of cell towers at local zoning boards and commissions. If the industry or company senses that their beloved cell tower is being turned down because of health issues they have the right to sue said board, commission, or city. So, as to further hinder the public outcry. The industry also tried to strong-arm the FCC into declaring it illegal for communities to make them prove they are in compliance with the standards that they had help set. Say what? The FCC has not granted the industries request on this matter.

There is a large body of internationally accepted scientific evidence which points to the existence of non-thermal effects of microwave radiation. The issue at the present time is not whether such evidence exists, but rather what weight to give it. Some of the short term effects found by RF radiation exposure are: short term memory loss, nausea, tingling in the feet or hands, headaches, fatigue, sleep deprivation, and restless sleep. The long term effects of RF radiation are: increased cell growth of brain cancer cells, doubling of the rate of lymphoma in mice, changes in tumor growth in rats, increased number of tumors in rats, increased breaks in double and single stranded DNA, 2 to 4 times as many cancers in Polish soldiers exposed to RF. The neurological changes include: changes in the blood brain barrier, changes in cellular morphology (including cell death), changes in neural electrophysiology, changes in neurotransmitters (which affect motivation and pain perception), metabolic changes, increased blood pressure in healthy men, and damage to eye cells when combined with commonly used glaucoma medications. Got your attention yet?

Many cell company advocates say that some how all this research is flawed or misrepresented. They have tons of their own scientists who say the exact opposite. This reminded me of the time the tobacco industry scientist said before Congress that cigarettes were not addictive. For those of us old enough we can remember when we were told that lead in paint was safe and a certain level of lead in drinking water was fine. How about asbestos or DDT, and now the cancer stricken workers at IBM? They were told that the parts they made for the computer industry had a low caustic level. Ten years later many are effected with cancer, emphysema, asthma, and the like. What is the correlation you say? Cell base stations have nothing to do with those industries you mentioned. Well, there is a similar thread linking these industries. M-0-N-E-Y, the cellular industry is a multi-billion dollar business. Cingular just bought AT&T Wireless for 41 billion dollars. So, the industry has money to make and jobs to protect. Fine, if individuals wish to use their cell phones that is a voluntary exposure to RF radiation. But, exposing firefighters to a 24-hour involuntary exposure is unwarranted and in my opinion unconscionable.

What about the stations that already have cell towers? The carriers using the third generation technology are Cingular, AT&T, MetroPCS, and Sprint. The older second and first generation had cell sites were not found to have adverse health effects. But, once you have a cell tower the lease is usually for ten years. The company will upgrade the site to the newer technology. Once you have a cell tower on your station the equipment can be changed or upgraded at the will of that company. The cell company can come and go at any time as they please. In this time of Homeland Security, where is the safety of non-fire department personnel having access to your station at any time day or night?

One would hypothesize that the city is generating a huge income from putting your life at risk to radiation. Nope, they get a measly $3,000 dollars a month. This does not even cover one firefighter’s salary. The rates go as low as $1500 a month. If just one person get sick or goes off disability the city and fire department are in the red. What if two or three go off. The city and fire department are taking on a huge potential problem for the menial reward income ratio they would receive. From a business stand point it makes no sense. What about the potential lawsuits that would follow. The city and those making the decisions would be liable. The cell phone industry has insulated itself from lawsuits by using third party builders. The builders who understand the risks all too well have set up holding companies with their assets tied up in subsidiary companies. This means that most of their assets are untouchable in lawsuits. This is a frequent practice of high-risk companies.

The cell industry says “trust us it’s safe.” But paramount to trust is transparency. It is quite apparent after dealing with this issue for over five months now that transparency is exactly what Cingular wants to avoid. What can you do if they try and put a cell site on your station?

1. Mobilize the station. Tell all the watches the facts and discuss whether you agree to be lab animals.
2. Mobilize the neighborhood. Tell the local residents what is happening. You will find friends here. No one wants a cell site pointing toward their house or on their block.
3. Call your supervisor. Find out who your local supervisor for your district is, then call write and meet them voicing your concerns.
4. Be diligent and constant. The cell companies try to wear you down. They cancel meeting, discourage your contacting their bosses, draw out the process, bring out paid science representatives.
5. Send letters through the chain of command. Voice your stations displeasure.
6. Document your symptoms and if the department will not take action, see your physician.

Currently there are four stations which I know about that have cell sites. Station 40, 6, 43, and 15. They are trying to add 13, next they have four more slated. I know that 7 and 32 are two of those four. This has got to stop. The administration has to stop this cell tower blitzkrieg into The San Francisco Fire Department. We are not alone this is happening to fire stations all over America. The SFFD should lead the way in banning cell towers from the top of firehouses. It has been done in cities in Canada. I implore our new Chief to lead the way in the United States. Cell phones are a great and convenient technology. But, us as firefighters the protectors of people and property should be concerned with the law of unintended consequences.


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