Warning: High Frequency
Consider this story: It’s January 1990, during the pioneer build-out of mobile phone service. A cell tower goes up 800 feet from the house of Alison Rall, in Mansfield, Ohio, where she and her husband run a 160-acre dairy farm. The first thing the Rall family notices is that the ducks on their land lay eggs that don’t hatch. That spring there are no ducklings.
Illustrations by Michael Morgenstern, mmorgenstern.com.
By the fall of 1990, the cattle herd that pastures near the tower is sick. The animals are thin, their ribs are showing, their coats growing rough, and their behavior is weird – they’re agitated, nervous. Soon the cows are miscarrying, and so are the goats. Many of the animals that gestate are born deformed. There are goats with webbed necks, goats with front legs shorter than their rear legs. One calf in the womb has a tumor the size of a basketball, another carries a tumor three feet in diameter, big enough that he won’t pass through the birth canal. Rall and the local veterinarian finally cut open the mother to get the creature out alive. The vet records the nightmare in her log: “I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire practice… All of [this] I feel was a result of the cellular tower.”
Within six months, Rall’s three young children begin suffering bizarre skin rashes, raised red “hot spots.” The kids are hit with waves of hyperactivity; the youngest child sometimes spins in circles, whirling madly. The girls lose hair. Rall is soon pregnant with a fourth child, but she can’t gain weight. Her son is born with birth defects – brittle bones, neurological problems – that fit no specific syndrome. Her other children, conceived prior to the arrival of the tower, had been born healthy.
Desperate to understand what is happening to her family and her farm, Rall contacts the Environmental Protection Agency. She ends up talking to an EPA scientist named Carl Blackman, an expert on the biological effects of radiation from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) – the kind of radiofrequency EMFs (RF-EMFs) by which all wireless technology operates, including not just cell towers and cell phones but wi-fi hubs and wi-fi-capable computers, “smart” utility meters, and even cordless home phones. “With my government cap on, I’m supposed to tell you you’re perfectly safe,” Blackman tells her. “With my civilian cap on, I have to tell you to consider leaving.”
Blackman’s warning casts a pall on the family. When Rall contacts the cell phone company operating the tower, they tell her there is “no possibility whatsoever” that the tower is the source of her ills. “You’re probably in the safest place in America,” the company representative tells her.
The Ralls abandoned the farm on Christmas Day of 1992 and never re-sold it, unwilling to subject others to the horrors they had experienced. Within weeks of fleeing to land they owned in Michigan, the children recovered their health, and so did the herd.
Not a single one of the half-dozen scientists I spoke to could explain what had happened on the Rall farm. Why the sickened animals? Why the skin rashes, the hyperactivity? Why the birth defects? If the radiofrequency radiation from the cell tower was the cause, then what was the mechanism? And why today, with millions of cell towers dotting the planet and billions of cell phones placed next to billions of heads every day, aren’t we all getting sick?
In fact, the great majority of us appear to be just fine. We all live in range of cell towers now, and we are all wireless operators. More than wireless operators, we’re nuts about the technology. Who doesn’t keep at their side at all times the electro-plastic appendage for the suckling of information?
The mobile phone as a technology was developed in the 1970s, commercialized in the mid-80s, miniaturized in the ‘90s. When the first mobile phone companies launched in the United Kingdom in 1985, the expectation was that perhaps 10,000 phones would sell. Worldwide shipments of mobile phones topped the one billion mark in 2006. As of October 2010 there were 5.2 billion cell phones operating on the planet. “Penetration,” in the marketing-speak of the companies, often tops 100 percent in many countries, meaning there is more than one connection per person. The mobile phone in its various manifestations – the iPhone, the Android, the Blackberry – has been called the “most prolific consumer device” ever proffered.