More cell towers beginning to generate a backlash

A World Health unit’s report classifying cell phone radiation as a possible cancer cause came at the wrong time for Costa Rica.

Two companies that have been authorized to offer mobile telephone service are putting up more base stations. These towers are in addition to the many in service by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said Tuesday that it had classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans based on the increased risk for a malignant type of brain cancer.

The research agency has yet to publish the monograph that contains its reasoning, and the agency did not do any of its own research.

Still some in Costa Rica are getting uneasy.

One is Arlette Kerr Kaplan, proprietor of Villa Sunni Daze in Tárcoles on the near Pacific coast. She sent out an email Wednesday seeking a halt to the construction of a cell tower near the soccer field in the community.

She said that she recently learned that Claro C.R. Telecomunicaciones S.A. received permission to build a cell tower about 10 meters north of her aparthotel even though there is a cell tower operated by the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad about 200 meters to the southeast.

She worried that the two towers will produce a microwave effect and she and her guests will be food cooking in the microwave because the aparthotel will be sandwiched between the two cell towers.

In addition, she expressed unhappiness that she was never informed of the project and that a notification sign was placed well off the main road, she said. She also said construction would hurt the local scarlet macaws.

Claro appears to have a legal right to put up the tower. Municipal approval is required, but few people pay attention to such local decisions until they are final.

Ms. Kerr Kaplan also expressed concern about the effect on children. So she and others with the same concerns are moving into an uncharted area along with persons who object to high tension electrical transmission lines.

Residents in Guanacaste battled the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad over a 32.8-kilometer high tension electrical transmission line from Miravalles-Liberia.

The case went to the Sala IV constitutional court in 2006. The court decision was just that the institute had to provide relevant scientific data on health risks to those along the path of the project.

The line passes through Barrio la Victoria in Liberia where the court said they are only a few meters from houses in which children and adults live, schools, churches and all the urban infrastructure.

Like electromagnetic radiation, the long-term effects of electric radiation and magnetism on human health are not fully known, but the court decision requires that the institute provide the information that is available.

The transmission line concerns are not confined to the Liberia area. The institute is involved with the Sistema de Interconexion Electrica para los Paises de America Central. This 1,830-kilometer (1,135-mile), 230-kilovolt energy distribution
line runs between southern Mexico and Panamá. The line involved in the court case is part of this project.

A flurry of Sala IV appeals are likely as a result of the new cell towers in light of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. That is probably even though the agency did not say very much.

A working group of scientists from 14 countries met from May 24 though Tuesday in France to discuss possible hazards from exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields. The agency said it estimated the number of mobile phones at about 5 billion globally. The summary is HERE!

The report said that there is limited evidence that radio frequency radiation causes cancer “but chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence.”

“The available studies are of insufficient quality, consistency or statistical power to permit a conclusion regarding the presence or absence of a causal association between exposure and cancer, or no data on cancer in humans are available,” said a summary of the coming report.

Since 1971, more than 900 agents have been evaluated by the agency, of which approximately 400 have been identified as carcinogenic or potentially carcinogenic to humans, it said.  Agents include chemicals, complex mixtures, occupational exposures, physical and biological agents, and lifestyle factors, said the agency.

The main point the news media got from the agency report is that cell phone owners should limit the use to 30 minutes or less a day.

Radio frequency waves are different from stronger types of radiation such as x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet light, which can break the chemical bonds and damage human DNA, says the American Cancer Society on its Web site

At very high levels, radio frequency waves can heat up body tissues as in a microwave oven, but the levels of energy used by cell phones and towers are much lower, said the society on aWeb page.

The society also says that public exposure to radio waves from cell phone tower antennas is slight for several reasons: The power levels are relatively low, the antennas are mounted at high above ground level, and the signals are transmitted intermittently, rather than constantly.

At ground level near typical cellular base stations, the society said, the amount of radio frequency energy is thousands of times less than the limits for safe exposure set by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission and other regulatory authorities. It is very unlikely that a person could be exposed to radio frequency levels in excess of these limits just by being near a cell phone tower, it added.

Of course the American Cancer Society also faces the same problem as the International Agency for Research on Cancer: The lack of conclusive scientific evidence.

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