Fair Use Statement
Source: SF Examiner
Publication date: 01/27/2002
By Doug Loranger
ON Jan. 14, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal by Sprint PCS to place three cellular phone antennas in my predominantly residential neighborhood, bringing to a close an 18-month struggle by neighbors to prevent their installation.
The vote was 10-1 and marks a growing awareness among our elected officials that radiation-emitting antennas are a major cause for concern among thousands of San Francisco residents.
It is also a rare example of our government taking a stand against a well-financed, vigilant army of lobbyists acting on behalf of the telecommunications industry in Washington, D.C., and throughout the country. This industry would prefer that people remain unaware of the controversy in the scientific community over the potential dangers of the "wireless revolution" and that our government stay answerable only to them.
Microwave radiation is what cellphones and other wireless devices use to transmit their signals. These signals in turn depend upon antennas to relay calls, data and other information from one location to another.
According to the Nov. 25, 2000, issue of the prestigious British medical journal The Lancet, there is a growing body of scientific research linking microwave radiation to conditions ranging from sleep disorders, memory loss and suppression of immune response to leukemia and other forms of cancer. These studies also suggest that those with developing or weakened immune systems, such as children, the elderly and the ill, are particularly at risk.
The root problem in San Francisco and elsewhere across the United States is the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, which says local governments cannot deny permits for antennas based on health and safety concerns about microwave radiation as long as antennas meet emission standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC has no expertise in public-health matters, and its guidelines are among the least protective in the world. Switzerland, for example, has standards that are more than 100 times more stringent.
Using this federal preemption as their mandate, wireless carriers have saturated San Francisco with more than 2,400 wireless antennas in the past 5½ years, according to a partial inventory compiled by The City's Planning Department in response to community pressure. With so many antennas now in operation, residents of my neighborhood were able to argue convincingly before the Board of Supervisors that the additional antennas proposed were not necessary for Sprint's network because the company already provides service to Sprint customers in the area. Why Sprint claimed it needed these antennas is uncertain. What is certain is that we were not able to argue that the antennas pose a potential health threat. If we had, The City might have been sued by Sprint.
The number of San Franciscans concerned about this issue is telling: 2,800 Richmond district residents signed a petition against an antenna site on Geary Boulevard; 800 residents in Chinatown; 1,000 neighbors in Noe Valley; 7,000 postal workers and supporters opposed antennas proposed for post offices. The list goes on.
Supervisor Tom Ammiano has introduced legislation designed to strengthen The City's guidelines for antenna placement. In Congress, Senators Leahy and Jeffords of Vermont have prepared legislation that would overturn the health and safety preemption under the Telecommunications Act. Meanwhile, in Sacramento, the wireless companies are attempting to revoke local zoning authority from cities like San Francisco so that the public's concerns will continue to be ignored. Concerned voters need to contact their elected representatives in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to ensure that an appropriate balance is found between the convenience of wireless technologies and the protection of our health and safety.
Doug Loranger is the founding organizer of the San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union (SNAFU), a citywide coalition of residents and neighborhood organizations that focuses on antenna-related issues. .