Cell tower opposition lacks common sense

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We’re surrounded by EM and RF fields — by our own choice

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
If there’s one thing that’s changed dramatically since I first had my written words published in a local newspaper in 1980, it’s how rapidly technology has changed not just how we gather (and report) the news, but the stories we write and how much understanding of technology we need to have to just be able to report intelligently on the matter.

This struck me as two local towns, East Marlborough and Chadds Ford are again struggling with issues regarding cell phone towers. Proposals that would help to plug a couple of notorious dead zones — one in the heart of Unionville and another along the Route 1 corridor — are the subject of no small amount of opposition.

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I’m not sure the two situations are identical, as the Chadds Ford site is more directly in a purely residential area, but the primary issue is the same: radio and electromagnetic frequency emissions. Now, unlike your garden variety local news reporter, I’ve also edited some of the largest readership technology magazines and covered the birth of a lot of technologies we take for granted today.

The truth is this: we don’t entirely understand the impact of living in close proximity to EM and RF emissions. But here’s another truth: even if there were no cell towers, your home would be abuzz with RF and EM. Here’s a fun trick: find an old AM radio, tune it to about 630 AM and wander around your home. The static and odd sounds are a small part of the radio emissions flooding your home, emitted by your gadgets — and just in one, lower bandwith. Higher bandwiths are filled with emission from everything from your WiFi network to your microwave.

The irony of it all, is the people who freak out, all the time wearing a Bluetooth earpiece, cooking their dinner in the Microwave, sending out emails to protest the proposed towers on their iPad are, more than likely exposing themselves to much more EM and RF than any cell tower could put out. Also, consider what old fashioned cathode-ray tubes emit — what comes from older TVs and computer displays.

Now, understand, I’m not saying that all of this is good for us. The science on this is decidedly split — and the fact of the matter is that we don’t know. What we do know is that the cell towers are not decidedly more dangerous than the things we gladly surround ourselves with daily, from remote controls to garage door openers, to car lock key fobs.

And there is a safety concern with not having cell towers. In Unionville, the proposed cell tower would fill a notorious dead spot — and immediately make both the Unionville Recreation Association site as well as the new Unionville Park safer, because there would finally be a reliable cell signal in the area. Also, it would mean much needed funding for the Po-Mar-Lin Fire Company — and with all volunteer fire companies strapped for cash, better funding means better ability to protect the area, pure and simple.

In Chadds Ford, well, maybe again, the argument is less effective, if only because the new tower won’t benefit a fire company and the proposed location is next to a residential area. But again, if your teenage daughter has a car breakdown right in the middle of the dead zone there, you might see it as more of a safety issue.

I ran a quick survey of the cell towers near our offices. There are some 59 cell towers — including the giant antenna arrays at the Chester County Prison — within four miles. And yet, because of the cordless phones, WiFi and dozens of other devices, I have to wonder whether any of them would rate in the top 10 in terms of radiated power RF and EM sources where I sit as I type.

Yes, without doubt we should be aware of these emissions and continue further study. But, unless people are willing to live without Bluetooth, microwaves, keyfobs, wireless internet and so on, it seems a little hypocritical to get all hot and bothered by a new cell phone tower, to be honest.

While more conversation makes sense, a little more perspective makes a whole lot more sense.

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