Should community members be able to decide whether or not new cell phone towers will be erected in their neighborhood? A group of homeowners in the Adair Village area thinks so, and they are concerned that a planned tower just west of Highway 99 could threaten their families’ health and their property values. They’ve appealed against their neighbor Kevin Shine’s attempt to install an AT&T cell tower on his property, and another meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 1 on the issue. Over one hundred residents from the Adair Village area have signed a petition to deny the application.
While diminished property values, spread of “industrial blight,” and other drawbacks are cited by opponents, health risks are the main concern. But the potential dangers of cell towers remain the elephant in the room at council meetings: per a 1996 federal ruling, health risks are not allowed to be discussed when communities deliberate on whether to allow cell towers. According to an Adair Village resident, “AT&T can sue the county if they think they’ve been denied based on health concerns.”
Opponents of the tower cite a 2011 study conducted by the municipal government of a Brazilian city along with several universities which indicated substantial cancer risks associated with living within a half-mile radius of cell towers. The study is disputed, however, with detractors claiming that the cancer deaths increased, then leveled off quickly after the installation of the cell tower. Cancer usually takes many years to develop. However, a 2004 Israeli study by two medical doctors showed similar results with a very short latency period for the development of cancer. These studies suggest the need for further research.
Of particular concern, Santiam Christian Schools, a K-12 institution with 632 students, is located just over half a mile away from the proposed tower location. Scientists and local and national governmental agencies of Austria, Russia, India, Canada, Britain, and France warn that young people are particularly at risk from cell phone and tower radiation, and advise against locating cell towers near schools or hospitals.
Early studies, such as the ones informing the US standards for safe levels of cell phone radiation, focused solely on the thermal effects of cell tower radiation. But the primary dangers of cell towers are not thermal or heat-based. A 2005 study found that electromagnetic radiation damaged DNA of cultured cells, though the actual effects on humans could be different than on cells in a test tube (Adlkofer et al). A 2003 study found that cell phone radiation resulted in brain damage in live rats (Salford et al). While there are several studies cited by both sides, a thorough investigation of the long-term effects of radiation has not been conducted. The combination of a lack of long-term studies, enforced silence about health risks, and a lack of precaution towards a new technology are concerning.
Countries such as Canada, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Russia have proposed maximum radiation exposure levels between 100 and 50,000 times lower than the United States’ standard. But the actual radiation output by the Adair tower is a moot point, because it would be just shorter than 200 feet and thus exempt from any regulation or monitoring by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It’s hard to determine the locations of local cell towers, because most of them are shorter than the FCC’s cutoff.
Millie Funk and her family have hired a lawyer to contest AT&T’s application. Their case rests on the language of the zoning laws, which indicates that rural residential areas do not permit communication towers.
“Rural residential does not coexist with industrial blight such as cell phone towers,” says Funk of the zoning,
AT&T’s lawyers will probably try to get the cell tower approved on the basis of a precedent having been established by the installation of cell towers in other similar areas. Kevin Shine could not be reached for comment on his plan to contract with AT&T.
An Adair Village resident who asked to remain anonymous expressed concern that the tower would be located on a hillside prone to landslides. The tower, should it topple in an earthquake, landslide, or high wind, could fall onto Highway 99 directly east of the proposed location, interfering with southbound log and propane trucks coming down the hill around the blind curve.
The Adair resident also brings up destruction of the view as another negative, and says that there are many Adair residents, “even people who have AT&T, who are still opposed to the tower.” When asked about the health threats of the tower, the resident says, “People can argue one way or another about whether it’s safe or not, but nobody wants to live right behind the fence.”
David and Tracy MacKenzie, whose house is about 700 feet away from the proposed tower location, have lived there since 1988 but say they’ll move if the tower gets put in. David says, “Of course I was devastated when I found they were going to put a cell tower right in front of our house, because it’s a view property.” He says he understands that cell towers can decrease the values of nearby homes by up to 20 percent. But, he continues, “The biggest thing that bothers me is the emissions.” FCC statements about the safety of cell towers emphasize that radiation levels are much lower at ground level than they are at the top of towers. But the MacKenzie’s home is on a hill about 100 feet above the ground level of the cell tower. Their second-floor living spaces would place them even closer to the top of the nearly 200-foot tower.
“Who’s going to tell me my family’s okay?” David says of the unregulated tower. “I’m not against technology. I just don’t think [these towers] need to be right in the middle of neighborhoods. They recommend that our kids stay off of quarter-watt cell phones, yet they can put this tower emitting who knows how many watts right next to your home.”
The last part of the public hearing will be held on Tuesday, April 1 at 7 p.m. in the Benton County Sunset Building, 4077 SW Research Way. Public comments are welcome, and members of the community can give testimony at the hearing. But remember—if you want to testify at the hearing, arguments based on the health risks of cell towers are not allowed.
For the families facing the prospect of the cell tower installation, worrying questions remain. In the words of the unnamed Adair Village resident, “Why do they want them all shorter than 200 feet so they can’t be regulated?” And regarding the health risks, the most perplexing question of all: “Why can’t we talk about it?”
By Bethany Carlson