As a 20-year telecommunications veteran, I wanted to address the ongoing protests against cell tower construction in Laguna Beach. The concern over cell tower radiation led residents to block the construction of a planned T-Mobile tower in the Top of the World neighborhood, and efforts are underway to prevent another planned tower in Arch Beach Heights.
While nobody wants to be reckless when health issues are concerned, we should also be concerned that Laguna Beach residents will be denied state of the art telecommunication services if carriers grow weary of having their networks blocked. As more carriers upgrade to faster 4G network services, we do not want to be left off the Information Superhighway.
There’s no debate that blanket cell coverage is a necessity; it can be critical for emergency responders. Whether we have an accident on one of our biking or hiking trails, or an emergency such as the recent canyon and downtown flooding, it’s imperative that people be able to call for help. Emergency notification services such as Amber alerts and road closures will be increasingly sent to cell phones. Blanket coverage also helps the town economically, as more and more commercial services are being delivered over the Internet, increasingly over smarter and faster phones that are more like PCs. Good coverage gives residents and businesses a choice when deciding where to live and work, and which calling plans to purchase.
Laguna Beach is a challenging market for telecommunications providers. One reason is the unique topography, with mountains on one side and the ocean on the other; we’ve long noticed the poor FM reception in town. This is why cellular service is also spotty. With tough zoning and open space environmental restrictions, it’s inevitable that in order to have blanket coverage some towers will have to be placed closer to residential areas.
Protesters have cited studies pointing to harmful effects of cell signals, but a careful reading of the current body of work will show that there is no clear definitive evidence that cell phones or towers cause cancer at all. The scientists who are still skeptical are only calling for more research, and caution. To balance the debate, key findings from a 20-year study done in Denmark, which has long had much higher cell phone usage rates than the US, show no correlation between cancer and cell phone towers or cell phone usage. Additionally, modern cell phones use much less power than older versions, making up for any effects of more recent increased usage in the longterm study. If parents are concerned that their growing children are being exposed to too much radiation from cell phones, they can purchase headsets for their children, have them use a phone in speakerphone mode, or simply limit their children’s usage – that is their personal choice.
Related to cell towers, which impact service for the rest of us, the World Health Organization has stated “considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.” Lobbying the federal government to obtain local jurisdiction in regulating the location and distance of cell towers from schools, parks and homes is something the city council voted this week to investigate. A day’s exposure to cell tower radiation is about the equivalent of 30 minutes of cell phone exposure, and in itself far less than the typical effects of solar radiation. We wouldn’t want to see efforts to require sun screen and beach umbrellas, yet that would be more beneficial to our children’s health.
There is no clear health evidence to justify blocking cell towers. There is on the other hand a clear public safety risk in not having sufficient wireless coverage, and a quality of life reduction for Laguna Beach which will only get worse if our telecommunications options shrink.
Interested readers who would like to learn more are encouraged to visit the web sites of the American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org (enter Cell Tower in the search box) or the National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov/ (enter Cell Phones in the search box).
Tim Templeton, Laguna Beach