MA-Special permitting process is fiscally rational precaution

Special permitting process is fiscally rational precaution

Posted Jun. 3, 2016 at 10:03 PM


I’ve been a Belmont resident for eight years, and serve on the faculty at Boston University School of Medicine, in the Departments of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Biomedical Engineering. I lecture to medical, dental and graduate students about environmental risks to health. Given recent findings on cell phone antennas, I believe a special permitting process for the placement of cell phone antennas in residentially zoned areas, with particular attention paid to the proximity of antennas to homes, would be a prudent move for the town to adopt.

An early finding on the possible relationship between cell phone radiation and brain cancer was the 2010 finding that, in heavy cellular phone users who used their phone on predominantly on one side, was if they developed a brain tumor, it was more likely to occur on the side of the head that they used their phone [1].

In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a 460 page review of all available data and came to the conclusion that cell phone radiation is properly classified as “possibly carcinogenic,” based on “Positive associations have been observed between exposure to radiofrequency radiation from wireless phones and glioma, and acoustic neuroma [2].”

Now, the National Toxicology Program / National Institutes of Health (NTP/NIH), have just published a $25 million study, one of the largest and most comprehensive explorations into health effects from cellphones [3], which found that radiation contributed to tumor formation in male rats.

Given that cell phones are a pervasive fact of modern life, what reasonable precautions should individuals and the town take? Individuals should use earbuds (corded or cordless) when speaking on the phone, and the town should perform careful due diligence before placing cell phone antennas in residential areas.

As the American Cancer Society reports, 42 percent of all people develop the cancer in their lifetime. If a cell phone tower is placed near 100 people, just by chance, 42 of them will develop a cancer. Given the findings by the WHO and NIH, any one of those citizens may wonder if the cell phone tower contributed to their disease, and possibly bring suit against the town. Even if the town wins every legal case, the legal costs associated with its defense could be significant.

Health and safety issues aside, a special permitting process seems like a reasonable and low-cost policy for the town to adopt in order to minimize future legal and financial exposures, before it chooses to place a WHO-labeled possible carcinogen in residentially zoned areas.

Martin Steffen lives on School Street in Belmont. Footnotes: 1. “Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study.” Int J Epidemiol 39, 675-94 (2010); 2. “Non-ionizing radiation, Part 2: Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.” IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum 102, 1-460 (2013); 3. M. Wyde, M. Cesta, C. Blystone, S. Elmore, P. Foster, M. Hooth, G. Kissling, D. Malarkey, R. Sills, M. Stout, N. Walker, K. Witt, M. Wolfe, J. Bucher, “Report of Partial findings from the National Toxicology Program Carcinogenesis Studies of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Radiation in Hsd: Sprague Dawley® SD rats (Whole Body Exposure).” bioRxiv (2016).


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