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Syracuse, N.Y., Negotiates City Rights over Small Cell Boxes

Syracuse officials have negotiated the right to conduct on-demand safety inspections of 5G antennas. It joins Portland, Ore., and Brussels, Belgium in setting up safeguards due to scant research on 5G's health effects.

(TNS) — Syracuse, N.Y., officials negotiated the right to conduct on-demand safety inspections of a new generation of cell phone antennas as part of a plan to become one of America’s first cities connected by a 5G wireless network.

The city insisted on including such added layers of protection because of public concerns surrounding the new technology, said Greg Loh, Syracuse’s chief policy officer.

Loh disclosed the agreement to Post-Standard at a time when the Syracuse Common Council and some health advocates are questioning the safety of 5G technology.

The council asked for more safety information this week when it delayed acting on a deal that would allow Verizon to install 600 small cell antennas on city-owned light poles over the next six years.

Verizon and federal regulators say the new 5G (5th generation) technology is safe. They say the technology is no different than baby monitors, Wi-Fi routers, Bluetooth and other devices that have used a radio frequency signal for decades.

Twenty-three American cities are working with Verizon to bring the new technology to their residents.

But a handful of cities have balked.

Some cities and scientists have raised health concerns because 5G requires dense concentrations of small cell antennas on every street it serves, unlike previous generations of wireless networks that use regional cell towers to send signals over long distances.

Those skeptical of the new technology are asking for studies to examine how long-term exposure to radiofrequency radiation from the new cellular networks might impact human health.

There’s no research showing a health risk from 5G. There is also no research proving a definitive link between harmful health effects and earlier generations of cell phones.

Aware of public concerns about the new technology, Syracuse insisted in its tentative deal with Verizon on having the right to monitor and test the company’s 5G small cell transmitters to make sure they comply with radiofrequency radiation limits and other federal safety standards, Loh said.

The language was included in the original agreement before Syracuse council members raised the issue, he said.

“Recognizing that any new technology can bring uncertainty, the city has negotiated an agreement with Verizon that provides the city additional oversight to protect the health and safety of residents,” Loh said.

The deal allows Syracuse to test a random sample of Verizon’s 5G transmission antennas each year, Loh said. The small cell antennas are about the size of a back pack and mounted to light poles.

“If any are out of compliance with federal health, safety, and radio frequency regulations, Verizon must immediately shut down the site and remedy the situation,” Loh said. “Verizon will then be required to test a larger sample of small wireless facilities.”

He said Syracuse also negotiated the right to test any of Verizon’s 5G equipment at any time, above and beyond the existing requirements of state and federal law.

Syracuse is among 23 American cities working with Verizon in a global race to deploy 5G wireless networks. Pres. Donald Trump says the high-speed data networks are essential for America to keep a competitive technological edge over China and other nations.

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, who asked for quick approval of the deal with Verizon, has said he views 5G as a once-in-a-generation chance to reinvent Syracuse’s economy.

Walsh says Syracuse risks being left behind if it doesn’t install a high-speed 5G data network to support the economy of the future. The network would connect the “Internet of things” that will enable driverless cars and other technological advances.

In a few cases, cities such as Portland, Ore., and Brussels, Belgium, put the brakes on 5G projects over concerns about the potential impact on human health or inadequate government oversight.

Dr. David Carpenter, director of SUNY Albany’s Institute for Health and the Environment, is among those who say it would be a mistake to install 5G technology until scientists have a better understanding about the potential health effects.

Carpenter, a public health doctor and former director of the state Health Department’s research labs, has pushed for greater government oversight of 5G in the absence of long-term studies of the potential risks to human health.

He said previous studies of existing 3G and 4G technology found a possible link to brain cancer and other health problems among excessive users of cell phones.

Carpenter said human exposure to electromagnetic radiation from 5G could be higher because it requires significantly more antennas and transmitters than existing technology, and that equipment is clustered closer to the ground.

“With these new cell towers in front of every fifth to 10th house, you’re not going to be able to walk down the sidewalk without being exposed,” Carpenter said. “There’s some legitimate debate about how bad 5G will be, but there’s no doubt exposure will increase for everyone. There’s not going to be any way to avoid being exposed.”

He said it could be a long time before scientists know about the health risks posed by 5G technology because some diseases like cancer can take decades to develop in people.

“We’re not going to have the human data for a long while,” Carpenter said. “It could be 20 to 30 years before we really get the definitive answers on cancer. That’s why it’s foolish to roll this out without more answers.”

In the short-term, laboratory studies on animals could provide some answers about the health risks from radiofrequency radiation produced by 5G transmission towers, Carpenter said. To date, the only animal studies have used earlier generation technology, such as 2G and 3G, he said.

Similar health concerns about 5G technology have surfaced elsewhere.

In March, the city council in Portland, Ore., passed a resolution calling for the Federal Communications Commission to update its research on the health risks posed by 5G before installation of the new technology begins in the city.

Last month, Brussels, Belgium, became the world’s first major city to halt 5G development, striking a blow to the technology in the heart of the European Union.

Celine Fremault, Belgium’s environment minister, cited a study that found 5G could not be deployed unless Brussels granted the telecommunications industry an exemption to its strict radiation limits.

“The people of Brussels are not guinea pigs whose health I can sell at a profit,” Fremault said. “We cannot leave anything to doubt.”

More than 230 scientists and medical doctors from 40 countries, aware of the concerns, have filed an appeal asking the European Union for a moratorium on the deployment of 5G “due to serious potential health effects from this new technology.”

Other big cities in the United States have welcomed the new 5G technology, starting with Chicago and Minneapolis, which signed deals with Verizon. Two weeks ago, the company announced it signed deals to begin rolling out the service in 20 additional U.S. cities from Boston to San Diego.

David Weissmann, a spokesman for Verizon, said the equipment used for its 4G and 5G networks complies with federal safety standards.

“Those standards have wide safety margins and are designed to protect everyone, including children,” Weissmann said. He added that “everyday exposure to the radio frequency energy from 4G/5G small cells will be well within those safety limits.”

Industry groups cite previous international studies of earlier versions of wireless technology as proof that 5G will be safe.

A 2010 analysis from 13 countries, excluding the United States, found little or no risk of brain tumors from wireless phones. The study was organized by the World Health Organization and the wireless industry. A report noted a possible link to brain cancer in the heaviest users of cell phones, but the study’s authors found the evidence inconclusive.

In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified radio-frequency radiation from wireless equipment as a “possible human carcinogen,” its lowest level of cancer risk.

The designation was based on evidence of increased risks of glioma, a type of brain cancer, among people who were exposed to long-term radiation from cell phones.

In November, U.S. government scientists said they found “clear evidence” of a cancer link when rats were exposed to high levels of radio frequency radiation like that used by older 2G and 3G wireless phone technology. The male rats developed rare cancerous tumors in their hearts.

The $30 million,10-year study by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, was the longest and most expensive study to date on cellphones and cancer.

John Bucher, senior scientist at the National Toxicology Program, cautioned that the radio frequency radiation used in the studies cannot be compared to what people experience when using a cell phone.

“In our studies, rats and mice received radio frequency radiation across their whole bodies,” Bucher said in a Nov. 1 statement. “By contrast, people are mostly exposed in specific local tissues close to where they hold the phone. In addition, the exposure levels and durations in our studies were greater than what people experience.”

Joel Moskowitz, a research scientist who tracks 5G technology at the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health, said the studies that have been completed to date are not adequate to provided definitive answers about potential health risks. He said cities would be wise to proceed with caution.

Now some members of Congress are questioning why federal agencies haven’t insisted on more research into the potential health risks of 5G technology.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., blasted the FCC and Food and Drug Administration at a Senate hearing in February, saying the agencies failed to conduct adequate research into the safety of 5G. The two agencies are responsible for making sure the technology is safe to use.

Blumenthal said the FCC has failed to offer a detailed explanation about how it determined 5G is safe.

Industry officials, when questioned by Blumenthal, confirmed they had no substantive research into the potential links between radiofrequency radiation from 5G and cancer.

“So there really is no research ongoing,” Blumenthal said at the hearing. “We’re kind of flying blind here, as far as health and safety is concerned.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees that more study is needed about potential links between cell phones and cancer.

“There is no scientific evidence that provides a definite answer to that question,” the CDC says on its website. “Some organizations recommend caution in cell phone use. More research is needed before we know if using cell phones causes health effects.”

New federal rules could make it more difficult for Syracuse to block Verizon from deploying its 5G network.

Trump and his FCC chairman said last month that the smaller size of 5G towers makes it unreasonable for local governments to stand in the way by demanding more studies and regulation.

As an incentive to telecommunications companies, Trump said, the federal government will remove regulatory barriers that slow down the approval of 5G networks.

Municipalities will have no more than 90 days to approve new physical infrastructure for 5G, Trump said.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, speaking alongside Trump at the White House, said it makes no sense to treat 5G the same as older wireless networks.

“5G will rely heavily on a web of small antennas,” Pai said. “But when I came into office, regulations designed for tall towers threatened to strangle our 5G future in red tape. We have eliminated these rules, because infrastructure the size of a pizza box shouldn’t have to jump through the same regulatory hoops as a 200-foot cell tower.”

©2019 Syracuse Media Group, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.