2005-03-09 / Editorials

Ignorance Is Not Bliss For Cell Phone Antennas

  • Once upon a time, not so very long ago, there were no such things as cell phones. Telephones lived on desks, bedside tables or outdoor phone booths. The idea of carrying a wireless telephone around and making and receiving calls wherever the caller pleased was the stuff of science fiction.
  • Now, of course, it’s hard to imagine life without a constant cellular companion. Aside from their being business conveniences, in many cases the devices have brought aid to a person in distress or forestalled an accident. Cell phones have proven their worth—and justified their expense—many times over.

    Like just about anything else in this life, however, there’s a price to pay for the convenience of cellular telephones. That price comes in the form of the antennas sprouting on buildings all over the city. Ever since these things first appeared, controversy has dogged them.

    The major bone of contention about cell phone antennas is the amount of radio-frequency radiation the towers may emit. Radio frequencies are a form of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum. Cell phones use radio frequencies that fall between FM radio waves and the waves used in microwave ovens, satellite stations and radar. Many antenna towers have been placed next to residences or schools. Residents and children innocently at play in their schoolyards are bombarded with this radiation. Whether it is good or bad no one knows. It is, of course, the not knowing that fuels our concern.

    Studies in England appear to indicate that children under age 8 should not use cell phones because the phones themselves give off radio frequency radiation waves that may be harmful to young children. “[Children] should not have [cellular phones] because children’s skulls are not fully thickened, their nervous systems are not fully developed and the radiation penetrates further into their brains. They are also going to use mobile phones for a longer period of their lives and it takes a long time for effects to come through,” Sir William Stewart, leading advisor on radiation to the British government, has said. Sir William does as he says: he has advised his own grandsons ages 6 and 8 against using cell phones.

    If the cell phones themselves give off radio frequency radiation, the effects of which on children are not fully known, it is reasonable to assume that cell phone antennas also emit such radiation. And while according to the federal Food and Drug Administration cell phones do not emit ionizing radiation, which damages DNA and causes cancer, it also stands to reason that cell phone antenna towers emit some sort of radio frequency radiation. This bears looking into.

    We appreciate the need for faster, more efficient telephone communication, be it through landlines or the now nearly ubiquitous cell phones. But we also agree with City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr.: “We have no idea what dangers are posed by the concentrations of [cell phone antennas].” Until we know more, we should avoid placing cell phone antennas on rooftops where they beam directly into schoolrooms and homes. This is a case where it is clearly better to err on the side of caution now to prevent the possibility of major health risks to many innocent people later.

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