Base Stations Again

September 2, 2011

Let me say at the outset that I am not a fan of cell phones. In my view these anti-social devices have done more to damage quality of life (and, when in the hands of moronic drivers, to actually end life) than any other modern invention. It is no longer possible for me to enjoy a day at the beach, or a romantic dinner without being irritated by the constant ring tones and inane, high-decibel chatter of those around me, or, much worse, by my pointy-haired boss who is so dim he thinks an after hours computer error is an emergency, despite the fact that no one will die or even feel vaguely queezy because of it. No one would be happier than I if the damn things were swept off the face of the planet once and for all, but I am reluctantly forced to take up a position in their defence against the plethora of hogwash currently being spouted about their effect on health. Read the rest of this entry »

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Base Station Blues

February 22, 2011

I recently received a letter from my local homeowners association regarding the erection of a cell phone base station in our suburb. They had received complaints about the proposed base station on grounds of possible adverse health effects, not because it would be an eyesore.

Base Station

The letter also stated that

several health organizations have expressed their concern regarding possible Tumours, Cancers, Chilhood Leukemia, changes in sleep patterns, headaches and other related diseases. 

I have asked for further and better particulars of these “health organizations” but have so far not received a reply.

It seems extremely likely that these fears are groundless. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Cell phone base stations are an ubiquitous part of the urban landscape across the globe. If they were really a health hazard as stated in this letter, their statistical impact on health would have been noticed by now.
  • RF radiation from base stations is long wavelength, non-ionising radiation, which means it cannot break down the DNA molecule and cause cancer.
  • Cell phone base stations broadcast at low energy levels—much less than TV or commercial radio stations. These energy levels are about 0.2% of the ‘safe’ levels reccommended by health authorities.

The fears expressed in the letter can be broken down into two categories: the cancers (tumours, cancer and childhood leukemia) and more subjective ailments (changes in sleep patterns, headaches).

A recent study published in the British Medical Journal, Mobile phone base stations and early childhood cancers: case-control study came to the following conclusion:

There is no association between risk of early childhood cancers and estimates of the mother’s exposure to mobile phone base stations during pregnancy. 

The American Cancer Association agrees

Most scientists agree that cell phone antennas or towers are unlikely to cause cancer. 

The headaches, changes in sleep patterns can be lumped together under the heading of EHS, or electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). A study in Environmental Health Perspectives snappily entitled Does Short-Term Exposure to Mobile Phone Base Station Signals Increase Symptoms in Individuals Who Report Sensitivity to Electromagnetic Fields? A Double-Blind Randomized Provocation Study concludes

Short-term exposure to a typical GSM base station-like signal did not affect well-being or physiological functions in sensitive or control individuals. Sensitive individuals reported elevated levels of arousal when exposed to a UMTS signal. Further analysis, however, indicated that this difference was likely to be due to the effect of order of exposure rather than the exposure itself. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has this to say on the subject of EHS

there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF
exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single
medical problem. 

I don’t care a jot whether or not they allow this base station to be built—I can’t see it from where I live and it may or may not improve my 3G data rates, but I certainly won’t lose any sleep over it, or worry about my health if they do decide to build it.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License