If you were told that there were plans underway to build a cluster of cell towers less than a mile from your home, would you relocate? Though uprooting your life may seem like a dramatic reaction, the potential consequences of staying put are far less appealing.
Mobile towers are a constant source of high-frequency wireless radiation signals, silently blanketing all of those who live close by in potentially harmful electromagnetic fields. The transmitted wireless signals can travel as far as 45 miles over flat terrain, and have no problem passing through walls.
For these unlucky neighbors, the health effects of living near a mobile base station might start out as vague and seemingly without cause. After all, we have been told countless times that cell towers are completely safe, so why would we blame them for symptoms like headaches, memory loss, and insomnia?
The downside of living (or working) near these massive metal antennae gets worse. Recent research shows that constant, close proximity to a powerful source of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) may lead to the development of rare forms of cancer that affect the heart, brain, and spinal cord.
Recent Mobile Tower Radiation Studies
Though we’ve been constructing cell towers since the 1980s, it is only in the past couple decades that people have started to question their safety.
This 2012 article discusses the effects that the installation of three cell towers has had on a small community in Jaipur, India. Among the fifty families who live there, 7 individuals have been diagnosed with cancer since the towers were built in 2003. Two of these instances were of glioma, a type brain cancer. Beyond this, residents of the neighborhood have reported a variety of health issues: head and body aches, joint pain, skin rashes, and sleep disturbance.
Dr. Girish Kumar, a professor of electrical engineering at ITT Bombay, describes one of the key issues with the perception of cell tower safety. “In 2009, India adopted the radiation norms specified by ICNIRP, which are now outdated as they were only intended to protect people against short-term gross heating effects and not against ‘biological’ effects such as cancers and genetic damage from long-term exposure. […] Also, these safety standards are based on 6 minutes/day exposure, without accounting for people who live close to cell towers 24×7.”
This trend is confirmed by a German study that examined the medical records of roughly 1000 patients over a ten-year period, from 1994-2004. Researchers were looking for a correlation between living close (within 400 meters) to a base station and higher rates of cancer.
It was found that people who lived within 400 meters of a cellular transmission source were three times as likely to develop cancer after living there for 5 years or more. On average, those who lived within this range also were diagnosed with cancer 8 years earlier than their more-distant counterparts. Additionally, researchers referred to no less than 6 other studies that discovered a link between living in close proximity to cell towers and an increased risk of leukemia.
The German study is important because it is the only one that has focused on the effects of long-term exposure of radiation emitted by cell towers specifically on humans. The lack of attention given to health outcomes of long-term exposure is surprising, considering how widespread sources of cell transmission have become–the United States went from having 900 cell towers in 1985 to having 215,000 as of 2017.
A Groundbreaking Study
If those examples aren’t concerning enough, a study published by the Ramazzini Institute of Italy earlier this year has discovered the same correlation in rats. To date, it is the largest long-term study ever conducted on exposure of electromagnetic radiation on rats, and the only one to follow its subjects until natural death.
2,448 rats were studied, all of which were exposed for 19 hours a day to a 1.8 GHz GSM far field–the same frequency put out by cellular base stations. EMR dosage varied among the subjects: either 0, 5, 25, or 50 volts/meter. The decision to follow the rats through their entire lifespans enabled researchers to catch late-developing tumors that might have otherwise been unaccounted for.
The results of the study serve as a warning to today’s wireless-addicted society: the male rats in the highest-intensity exposure group (50 V/m) were significantly more likely to develop heart Schwannoma, and the female rats in the same group had higher instances of malignant glial (brain and spinal cord) tumors. It was also observed that both genders of the 50 V/m group were at greater risk of experiencing Schwann cell hyperplasia–an enlargement of tissues caused by increased rates of cell division.
Of course, follow-up studies that focus on human subjects are needed to confirm what this means for us. But at the very least, we can assume that base stations are not safe or healthy to live by.
The Future of Wireless: Is Any Space Off Limits?
Though cell towers have become much more common, they are still relatively easy to avoid or move away from. However, this will likely be changing thanks to the imminent arrival of 5G, which will likely require a much higher density of towers to support the new technology’s higher-frequency waves–they can’t travel as far as current wireless frequencies and are easily interrupted by buildings and trees.
If it is the case that these structures put humans (and other organisms) at risk for rare and deadly types of cancer, the last thing we want is for the wireless industry to place one in every neighborhood or at every intersection. If this becomes the reality, we will be subjected to yet another source of EMFs that will be essentially impossible to stay clear of.