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Refuting NIMBYism: Cell Site Tower

I was asked this 3-part question:

[Part One] Does anyone have any experience fighting the cell phone companies to prevent the erection of cell phone towers? [Part Two] I've looked at studies and there does not seem to be any evidence clearly proving that the towers are safe. [Part Three] Even if I could verify [cell tower radiation emissions], it would be difficult and costly to fight the company or the city to do something about it.

Answering Part Three

Radio Frequency emissions are like light; they travel pretty much in straight lines, ?, and are easily quantifiable with the right tools. To measure the power output of any RF transmitter, all you need is a handheld RF field strength meter: $25 to $50 for a basic meter on Google Product Search

You can probably find a ham radio operator and ask them to take some measurements for you. They can and do have to deal with "leaky" overhead cable TV lines that interfere with their equipment, which involves both locating and quantifying the leak.

Answering Part Two: is RF safe?

If proof of safety is your standard, then it will never be met. You can't prove a negative. You won't find any studies that prove that drinking city tap water is safe either - merely that there is no evidence that it is unsafe. All that can be shown is that there's no known evidence that cell phone towers are unsafe. Cell phone towers pass that test.

Answering Part One

As for further refutation that a cell phone tower by itself is dangerous, Here's a reminder of everyday RF transmitters in your life:

Handy-talkies that ham radio operators carry on their belts are usually in the 2 watt range.

A GSM cell phone is usually no more than 300-400 milliwatts, max. They frequently operate a lower than their maximum transmit power. Most people hold them up against their heads.

A bluetooth headset is usually either Class 3 (1 mW) or Class 2 (2.5 mW) transmit power. Some high power adapters are available as Class 1 (100 mW), but you typically only find those on laptops. Tiny bluetooth headsets can't carry a battery big enough to run a 100mW transmitter. These are worn right up against people's ear for hours on end. Many higher end cars now have bluetooth built into them.

The WiFi network card in laptops are usually 20-70mW. By law, these wireless devices can be no more than 1000mW (in the US). I don't know of any stock laptop that has anything larger than around 100mW.

In my office, I see wireless access points about every 50 feet apart. I would guess that these commercial units are more powerful than your average home wireless router (50-100mW).

Do you have a wireless outdoor thermometer? That's an RF transmitter too.

Do you have a wireless rain sensor for your sprinkler system? That's an RF transmitter too.

Do you have a wireless garage door opener? Again, that's an RF transmitter.

You're surrounded by RF transmitters. Get over it.

Further reading

This article contains some basic math about power over distance: http://www.wirelessweek.com/the-myth-of-cellular-tower-health.aspx

And the rules from the FCC about RF exposure limits: http://www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety/cellpcs.html

created - 2009.04.16 kjw
last modified - 2009.04.17 kjw