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Health, Safety Cited as Opponents Rally Against Small Cell Installations

Leaders in Marin, Calif., are being asked to prevent the deployment of the antennas throughout the unincorporated areas of the county.

(TNS) — About a dozen people this week called on the Board of Supervisors to act to prevent telecommunications companies from installing “small cell” antennas throughout unincorporated Marin.

“We are very concerned about the serious adverse health and environmental effects that may be caused by exposure to microwave radiation emitted by small cell facilities for 4G and 5G technology,” said Sharon Rushton, who heads Sustainable TamAlmonte, a citizens group active in the Tamalpais Valley.

Rushton and others spoke during the public open time portion of the supervisors’ weekly meeting. They asked that the supervisors put the issue on the agenda of an upcoming meeting for discussion.

Large groups of people also have turned out recently at city council meetings in San Rafael and Mill Valley to call for stricter regulation of the new technology.

Earlier this month, the Mill Valley City Council adopted an emergency ordinance that prohibits new wireless telecommunications facilities in areas zoned residential and requires annual EMF readings to ensure that wireless facilities are complying with federal and state laws.

San Anselmo and Ross have adopted ordinances similar to Mill Valley’s, and Fairfax’s planning commission will take up the issue when it meets Oct. 18.

The Federal Communications Commission Wednesday will consider adopting new rules designed to speed deployment of small wireless facilities. The rules would limit the review of new installations by local jurisdictions to 60 days for existing structures and 90 days for entirely new facilities.

In a report on the proposed rules, FCC staff stated “5G can enable increased competition for a range of services — including broadband — support new health care and Internet of Things applications, speed the transition to life-saving connected car technologies, and create jobs.”

The report estimates that wireless providers will invest $275 billion over the next decade in next-generation wireless infrastructure deployments, which “should generate an expected three million new jobs and boost our nation’s GDP by half a trillion dollars.”

The report notes, “Over the last few years, providers have been increasingly looking to densify their networks with new small cell deployments that have antennas often no larger than a small backpack.”

And it adds, “To support advanced 4G and 5G offerings, providers must build out small cells at a faster pace and at a far greater density of deployment than before.”

That is just what opponents fear.

“If we allow millions of new antennas along the rights of way — very close to where people are working, living and going to school — it will be a health disaster,” said Mary Beth Brangan of Ecological Options Network, a nonprofit based in Bolinas, another of the speakers on Tuesday.

“The FCC already has standards that are thousands of times higher than what triggers disease and cancer, according to thousands of peer-reviewed studies,” Brangan said.

“I have 10 pages of epidemiological studies, peer-reviewed from all over the world, that show that people within 1,500 feet of a macro-tower experience blood abnormalities, depression, higher rates of suicide, all kinds of illnesses,” Brangan said. “We’re not making this up.”

Leland Kim, a spokesman for AT&T, however, wrote in an email, “We maintain power levels at our antenna sites that are at or below, and most of the time far below, the limits established by government regulations. Expert scientists and government agencies responsible for health and safety have stated repeatedly that wireless antennas in compliance with FCC regulations do not pose health concerns.”

Heidi Flato, a spokeswoman for Verizon, wrote, “We ensure that all applicable federal, state and local regulations are followed. Emissions from small cells, which are low power, run at a small fraction of FCC-permitted levels.”

Speaking Tuesday, William Now of Inverness said he is worried about overloading utility poles with new equipment.

“Case in point, the Malibu fire,” Now said. “They’ve identified that over 20 percent of Southern California Edison’s poles were overloaded and that was a contributing factor. That is a real issue for us.”

Another speaker Tuesday, Barry Smith of Point Reyes Station, used irony to make his point.

“I’m very excited about the Internet of Things,” Smith said. “For example, I’d love my neighbors to be able to walk their dog while they’re watching a movie on their device; I’d love to be able to send email from my refrigerator; and my personal favorite, I can’t wait to get a device that you can put in a baby’s diaper that alerts your phone when your baby pees.”

After the meeting, Supervisor Damon Connolly said that he and Supervisor Dennis Rodoni will serve on a new board subcommittee to study the issue.

“We will be working with our Community Development Agency to review our telecommunications policy and consider issues around 5G siting in areas of Marin County and related impacts,” Connolly wrote in an email.

Connolly has already fired off a letter to the FCC raising issues with the new proposed 60-day shot clock and the overloading of utility poles with equipment.

Local jurisdictions, however, are somewhat limited in their ability to regulate antenna installations. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 pre-empts local decisions premised directly or indirectly on the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions.

“That is what makes me really angry, that democracy is being rolled over,” Katharina Sandizell of Point Reyes Station told supervisors Tuesday. “So we are asking you to stand up strong.”

©2018 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.