So I’m reading the Washington Post while eating my lunch last Monday, and a story in the Metro section catches my eye: “Fight over cell towers on school land grows: Prince George’s system is latest to hear health concerns from parents.”
The story’s lede reads: “Prince George’s County has become the latest school system in the Washington region to become locked in a debate over building cellphone towers on school property.” It turns out that two other Washington, D.C.-area counties, Montgomery and Anne Arundel, have recently abandoned plans to build cell phone towers on school property over parents’ safety concerns about exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
I’ve always been fascinated by irrational fears engendered by most people’s poor understanding of science and the often unsuccessful efforts by organizations like the American Chemical Society to counter such fears with accurate information on the benefits and risks of, for example, chemicals. Partly because I had no idea what to write about for this week’s Editor’s Page, I decided to look into the current state of fears over radiation from cell phone towers.
I Googled “electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers.” One of the first hits was to an ad for the Marion Institute, which bills itself as “a root cause solution based non-profit that acts as an incubator for programs & serendipity projects.” The institute posted an article, “Cell Phones & Wi-Fi—Are Children, Fetuses and Fertility At Risk?” The article quotes one expert as saying, “It may take some sort of catastrophe to get people’s attention” focused on the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. It warns that “such a catastrophe is already brewing and … is now already negatively affecting children, fetuses and fertility.”
Another early hit was to a well-organized, factual site dealing with cell phone towers by the American Cancer Society. Over several pages, the cancer society answers questions such as, “How do cellular phone towers work?” “How are people exposed to the energy from cellular phone towers?” and “Do cellular phone towers cause cancer?” To this last question, the society answers: “Some people have expressed concern that living, working, or going to school near a cell phone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems. At this time, there is very little evidence to support this idea. In theory, there are some important points that would argue against cellular phone towers being able to cause cancer.”
It would be hard to come away from reading the cancer society’s sober assessment not feeling reassured.
The next hit to the website of a company called Safespace would like to undo that reassurance. “What happens when human population centers are flooded with massive amounts of powerful wireless microwave radiation? Nobody knows … yet,” the site proclaims. “But we will soon. Because you are exposed to 100 million times more Electromagnetic radiation than your grandparents were.” Safespace claims that studies point to the “extreme hazards” of living near a “powerful electromagnetic field” including “everything from stress and sleep disorders to birth defects, cancer and Alzheimer’s.”
Of course, Safespace offers an array of EMF Protection Products including the EMF Adapter for Home/Office ($299.95), which is described as “an all-in-one solution for clearing and protecting an entire home or office space from the harmful effects of EMF radiation. The EMF Adapter works through a building’s electrical circuitry to send a corrective, harmonizing resonance signal throughout the wiring of the entire space. Just plug in one EMF Adapter to protect your entire home or office space!”
Of the 13 working links on the first page of Google hits to my query, three dealt with the health risks of cell phones themselves, three suggested that there were no health risks from cell phone towers, and seven insisted that the health risks were real and severe.
I know. I’m hyperventilating over nonsensical websites, some of which are selling phony products. But this kind of scientific illiteracy is affecting real-world decisions, like those cell phone towers in Prince George’s County.
Thanks for reading.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.