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What You Should Know About Health Impact of Cell Towers

Concerns about radio frequency exposure cannot be addressed locally, with the Federal Communications Commission charged with deciding what levels of exposure are safe and which wireless facilities can be licensed.

Cell towers
(TNS) — Walla Walla residents have raised concerns about the health, safety, environmental and aesthetic impacts of cell towers in residential areas with one such tower proposed at Blue Mountain Community Church, 928 Sturm Ave.

At the top of their list is a concern that adults and children living, working or attending day care near the wireless facility may be at increased risk for cancer or other health issues.

Concerns about radio frequency exposure cannot be addressed at the local level. Instead, the Federal Communications Commission is charged with deciding what levels of exposure are safe and which wireless facilities can be licensed.

The FCC and other public health organizations and agencies continue to assess the public health impacts of wireless facilities, and the FCC sets exposure limits and regulates the development of new towers and antennas.

Here is what to know and what still needs to be researched about the impact of cell towers. The information comes from the FCC, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Cancer Society.

What are radio frequency emissions, or RF waves?

Cell towers receive and transmit cell phone signals in the form of RF waves. This type of electromagnetic wave is used for a variety of telecommunication services, including TV and radio. RF waves are also used in microwave ovens and for medical imaging with MRIs.

How do cell towers expose people to these waves?

When cell phone signals are transmitted back and forth to cell towers, the RF waves at the tower radiate into the environment, where people can be exposed to them.

What does the research say about the health impacts of RF waves from cell towers?

Exposure to high levels of RF waves can be harmful because of the ability of the waves to heat up body tissues, but the levels of energy used by cell phones and towers are much lower and are not known to cause significant heating. Other health effects from low-level exposure have not been proven, but it's generally agreed that more research needs to be done in this area.

Are radio frequency emissions known to be cancer-causing?

On the electromagnetic spectrum, RF waves fall between FM radio waves and microwaves. RF waves are a form of non-ionizing radiation, which means they do not directly damage DNA inside cells.

Stronger, or ionizing, types of radiation — x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet rays — are thought to cause cancer through direct damage to cell DNA.

More research is needed, but there is not a lot of evidence to support the idea that living, working or going to school or day care near a cell tower increases the risk of cancer or other health issues.

National and international health agencies have not classified RF waves from cell towers as cancer-causing. The International Agency for Research on Cancer does consider RF waves more generally as potentially carcinogenic, so more research is needed.

The FCC says there's no reason to believe that cell towers are a health hazard to nearby residents or students.

What levels of exposure are considered safe?

The FCC limits public exposure from cell towers to a maximum of 580 microwatts per square centimeter. A person would have to be in the main transmitting beam and within a few feet of the antennae for several minutes or longer to be exposed to RF levels near that limit.

RF wave exposure in the vicinity of a tower or near a tower's base is generally much lower. In other words, it's very unlikely that a person could be exposed to RF levels exceeding the limit just by being near a cell phone tower.

According to the FDA, the limit set by the FCC is acceptable for protecting public health.

Can RF waves affect electronic implant devices, such as pacemakers or insulin pumps?

RF waves can potentially interfere with several types of medical devices, including pacemakers and insulin pumps, depending on the strength of the waves. Research shows cell phones themselves do not seem to pose a significant health risk for pacemaker wearers.

© 2023 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.