After 4 students and 3 teachers were diagnosed with cancer within a 3-year period, Sprint has finally agreed to remove a cell tower at a Ripon, California school. While it is exceedingly difficult to identify the cause of a cancer cluster, parents and students in the San Joaquin County school are convinced there is one and it is caused by the campus cell tower. They are not only protesting but several have abandoned the small school which now features 4 rare cancers in students -2 brain tumors, one kidney cancer and one liver cancer. Investigations of not only cell tower radiation but also water quality have been initiated. After 200 parents stormed the school board meeting, school officials were prompted to ask for the cell tower to be removed at the K-8 school. Sprint has agreed to do so.
Parents Opposed the Cell Tower Before it was Placed
The cell tower was placed at Weston Elementary School 10 years ago and a group of parents opposed the cell tower construction before it was erected, citing health concerns. According to news reports, they have another 15 years left on the 25-year lease with a rental fee of about $2,000 per month paid to the school. A Go Petition to have the cell tower removed was initiated in 2017 after 2 children in the school developed cancer.
Radiofrequency Levels Are Within FCC Guidelines
Officials have maintained that the radiofrequency radiation levels were below the federal standard when measured and they are in compliance. Questions remain about the safety of cell towers, as well as the current standards, which many experts state are not protective of human or environmental health. Current FCC regulations for human exposure are based on heating of tissues and short term exposures, not harmful biological effects demonstrated at much lower levels in the scientific literature.
Even though the cause of any particular cancer may never be determined is there scientific evidence that removing the cell tower and taking this precautionary approach is warranted?
Is Cell Tower Radiation a Toxin?
Cell towers as well as Wi-Fi create continuous emissions of pulsed microwave radiation. Microwave ovens which use similar radiofrequencies at higher power cook by heat, however, at lower power adverse biological effects have been demonstrated in scientific studies without heating or burning the tissue. One mechanism of toxicity that has been clearly shown is oxidative damage, seen in 93 of 100 scientific studies (Yakymenko 2016). Oxidation is a common mechanism of toxicity found in pollutants such as pesticides, industrial chemicals, cigarette smoke and heavy metals. These pollutants can trigger inflammation and damage to cell structures such as DNA, mutations of which can be a precursor to cancer.
Wireless radiation passes through and is absorbed in the body and organs and thus, like chemical toxins which are ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, they can potentially cause broad harm to cellular structures and internal organs. Damage from RFR is cumulative, as it is with ionizing radiation and other toxic exposures. The longer the exposure the more harm. Toxic exposures can act separately or in combination synergistically to cause illness or cancer (co-carcinogenesis). Effects are non-linear and due to individual variation in genetics, nutrition and health.
Cell Towers and Cancer
In 2011, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed radiofrequency radiation (RFR) as a Class 2B Possible Carcinogen. Scientists have argued that considering the current level of published research on brain tumors and radio frequency radiation that RFR should be listed as a Class 1 Known Carcinogen. The National Toxicology Program (NTP) Study on Cancer and Cell Phones announced their findings in 2018, after 10 years of research on RFR, and showed DNA damage (a precursor to cancer) and clear evidence of carcinogenicity of wireless radiation emissions. They demonstrated in carefully conducted studies a significant increase in tumors of internal organs including the heart, brain and adrenal medulla (which sits just above the kidney). Another worrisome finding from the NTP was the development of aging of the heart in the exposed cohort.
Cell Towers as a Co-Carcinogen
Scientific evidence indicates that exposure to multiple environmental pollutants, especially over time can increase the risk of diseases such as cancer. Some toxins exert their effects in certain windows of development. Some are tumor initiators and some can be tumor promoters. It is a complex area of scientific endeavor. Combined toxic exposures are unfortunately incompletely studied as it would take geologic time to examine the 80,000 plus chemicals in varying assortments along with radiofrequency radiation. Dr. Ross Adey concluded, however, in a 1990 review, that based on a new understanding of the biology of cancer at a cellular level and available studies, that non-ionizing electromagnetic fields “acting alone or in conjunction with chemicals that occur as environmental pollutants may constitute a health hazard”.
Considering at least one shared mechanism of toxicity between chemicals and RFR, cellular membrane effects and the many studies performed this should be, as Dr. Adey states, “a matter of urgency” in terms of research and public policy.
Distance from Cell Towers and Cancer Rates
A study by Wolf and Wolf (2004) showed a significant increase in cancer in those living within 350 feet of a cell tower. Eger (2004) found an increase in new cancer cases within a 10-year period if residents lived within 400 meters of a cell tower. They also found that within 5 years of operation of the transmitting base station the relative risk of cancer development tripled in residents near the cell tower compared to resident living outside the area. Dode (2011) performed a 10-year study (1996-2006) examining the distance from cell towers and cancer clusters. He and his colleagues found a significant increase in cancers in those living within 500 meters of the cell tower. They noted, “The largest density power was 40.78 μW/cm2, and the smallest was 0.04 μW/cm2.” The current guidelines are about 1000 μW/cm2.
They conclude, “Measured values stay below Brazilian Federal Law limits that are the same of ICNIRP. The human exposure pattern guidelines are inadequate. More restrictive limits must be adopted urgently.”
It is notable that Lurchi in 2015 found an increase in liver tumors, lung tumors and lymphomas in mice at low to moderate exposure at (0.04 and 0.4 W/kg SAR), and well below exposure limits for the users of mobile phones.
Cell Towers, Illness and Cognitive Decline in Students
Cancer is not the only worry with cell towers. The majority of studies on cell towers internationally have shown adverse effects with cell towers in close proximity to residencies and schools. Findings include symptoms of dizziness, headaches, nausea, memory loss, and fatigue in those living within about 400 feet of a cell tower. These are symptoms of “microwave illness” reported by NASA in servicemen working on radar systems. A recent study conducted over 2 years looking at the effects of cell towers near two schools by Meo (2018) demonstrated cognitive dysfunction in students closest to the higher power cell tower.
Cell Towers and Blood Cell Abnormalities
There is also a recent study showing blood abnormalities in those living nearest to cell towers (Zothansiama 2017). DNA and lipid abnormalities were seen along with reduction in internal antioxidants which provide protection from pollutants.
Cell Towers, Wi Fi, Laptops and Cell Phones All Emit RFR
Cell towers are not the only source of potentially harmful radiofrequency radiation in schools. Most schools today have converted from the original wired classrooms to wireless with the use of wireless white boards, wireless computers and with assignments on the cell phones. Wi Fi routers and wireless electronics in the classroom bring this radiation in much closer proximity to students and levels can be higher than near cell towers. The increase in RF exposure in children is a huge concern with cell towers adding to RF cumulative exposures. Schools in Germany, Austria and France as well as many private schools in the U.S. have gone back to hardwired connections for health reasons and to reduce exposure.
Professor Tom Butler of the University of Cork has just published a concise review article about the use of Wi fi and Digital devices in schools. He notes with regards to the proliferation of digital technology in schools that, “The fact that they might pose a real risk to the health and well-being of users and particularly children was never considered.”
A recent forum was held March 25, 2019 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts titled “Questioning the Safety of Our Children’s Exposure to Wireless Radiation in Schools”. The entire program can be seen here. The slides from the presentation are available here. The Worcester, Massachusetts news station reported on the conference.
Cell Towers Banned in the Los Angeles Unified School District and Removed in Chatsworth
The Los Angeles City Board of Education banned cell towers on schools in 2000, citing health and safety concerns of the students. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD Resolution states:
- Whereas, Recent studies suggest there is evidence that radio-frequency radiation may produce “health effects” at “very low field” intensities;
- Whereas, The scientific community and most health officials agree that more research is needed to provide a definitive answer as to the effects of extremely low frequency electromagnetic and radio- frequency radiation on our health and recommend the prudent avoidance of equipment which generates non-ionizing radiation; now, therefore, be it
- Resolved, further, That the Board of Education oppose the future placement of cellular telecommunications towers on or immediately adjacent to school property currently owned by the District until appropriate regulatory standards are adopted.
In Chatsworth, on Human Rights Day, parents protested the reinstallation of a cell tower on their local school and occupied the field until the mast was removed. Angry parents took a stand and were ready to camp out on the cell tower site. The school governing board and principal were contacted and according to the report some were not aware of the reinstallation. Parents watched and waited as heavy machinery slowly lowered the mast and drove it away.
Cell Towers and the Telecommunications Act
Cell towers are regulated by the 1996 Telecommunications Act (TCA). Schools may ban cell towers however municipalities may not according to the TCA. The law states that a cell tower cannot be denied on the basis of health in Section 704 as follows, “`(iv) No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.”
The Collaborative for High Performing Schools
The Collaborative for High Performing Schools developed criteria and policies for schools to improve student performance through improved building design. This includes Best Practices for Low EMF which was adopted in 2014. This well researched and well written policy includes recommendations to reduce wireless radiofrequency radiation in schools as follows:
- Provide wired Local Area Networks (LAN) throughout the school
- Disable wireless transmitters on all Wi Fi enabled devices
- Laptops and notebooks have ethernet port and switch to disable wireless
- Keep computers and tablets away from the body
- Hardwire all phones
- Prohibit cell phones and other personal wireless devices in the classroom
- Prohibit cell phone towers and base stations on school buildings or property
- Run conduits for future fiberoptic connections
California Brain Tumor Association Agrees with Cell Tower Removal
Ellie Marks, Founder and Executive Director of the California Brain Tumor Association, agrees with the decision to move the cell tower away from the school. She states, “Our reading of the situation is that science has established enough proof of harm that regulations should be updated now and appropriate warnings issued. The “jury” actually is back and it has given its guilty verdict.” She feels the tower “should be turned off for now even before it is moved, to protect the students, teachers, staff and administrators.” Adding a ban on further cell towers within the school district, as the LAUSD has done, seems prudent as well. In an update as of March 28, 2019, Sprint has stated that they have turned the campus cell tower off.
Side Notes on Water Quality, Decaffeinated Instant Coffee and the Nestle Corporation in Ripon 4/7/19
Water quality concerns are also now being examined in Ripon with a chilling historical perspective on long term corporate pollution. The Nestle corporation manufactured caffeinated and decaffeinated instant coffee on Industrial Avenue in Ripon, California from 1957 until the plant closed in 1994. In order to extract the caffeine, they used a solvent Trichorethylene (TCE) From 1957 to 1970. TCE was banned in the 70’s as an extraction solvent in the food industry due to its toxicity. Later from 1970 to 1986 the company used Methylene Chloride, an EPA probable carcinogen, to remove caffeine.
TCE in Well Water: In 1986 TCE was found to have leached into wells in Ripon either from storage drums above ground or from city wastewater pipes. Nestle then eliminated the toxic chemicals and spent $6.5 million to remove some of the contaminated water. In 2002, a court awarded Ripon $1 million from the Nestle corporation to filter contaminated groundwater and to drill additional wells. Unfortunately, the plume of TCE and other chemicals has migrated to deeper aquifers (Item 11 on Agenda). Monitoring of groundwater is done every 1 to 3 years as the plume can wander and the TCE cannot evaporate in soil or in underground aquifers. Nestle continues in remediation with Ripon, stating in a December 2016 Ripon City Council meeting they will install a new system to pump the contaminated groundwater then send it back to the former Nestle facility for recharge into the aquifer (Item 4A).
TCE is a Known Carcinogen. The U.S. National Toxicology Program lists TCE as a known carcinogen and it is associated with liver cancer, kidney cancer and malignant lymphoma. TCE is still a component of paints, adhesives, lubricants, pesticides, electronic equipment, furniture and found in higher concentrations near industrial sites, landfills and sewage treatment plants. Studies have shown that much of the TCE exposure is not just from drinking water but more from taking showers with contaminated water with significant inhalation of the chemical.
TCE in 10% of the Population. Biomonitoring studies such as The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) found that about 10% of the population has detectable blood levels of TCE. TCE is also broken down to another potent carcinogen, vinyl chloride. It is notable that a famous book and subsequent movie called “A Civil Action “, was based on the the 1982 trial of Anne Anderson et al.v. W.R. Grace & Co. et al whereby 2 municipal wells were contaminated with high levels of TCE from 3 industrial companies. 7 children and one adult contracted leukemia. The landmark case ended in a mistrial and settlement.
Methyl Chloride is Ozone Depleting Toxin. March 2019 the U.S. EPA banned Methylene Chloride (aka Dichloromethane) in consumer paint products due to a number of fatalities from acute exposures. Methylene chloride (dichloromethane) is still used in industrial industrial paint strippers and many other products, including decaffeinated coffee and is an increasing contributor to atmospheric ozone depletion.
Are the Cell Towers the Main Risk or an Additive Risk for Cancer?
The question remains that with all other chemical exposures being equal and the presence of TCE in the water for decades, is the presence of the campus cell tower the tipping point for children’s health at Weston Elementary? Cumulative risk assessments for a specific disease performed to evaluate additive and synergistic exposures are time consuming and difficult to prove. Precaution is warranted. Removal of the cell tower is a good call.
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