“Smart” technology helps San Franciscans stay connected, can improve efficiency and keep us safer. But that doesn’t mean a new wireless facility directly outside a home is necessary or appropriate. (Courtesy photo)

Plan for wireless antenna draws neighborhood opposition

Neighbors in Lower Pacific Heights are banding together to fight a small project on Baker and Pine streets.


Neighbors in Lower Pacific Heights are banding together to fight a small project on Baker and Pine streets. Verizon Wireless has proposed a new wireless antenna on a wooden light pole directly outside an apartment building. Nearby residents are troubled by its potential healthand environmental risks.

“I am concerned of the short- and long-term health effects of radiation exposure from radio frequency emissions,” a resident who lives across the street from the proposed antenna, told me. “We live in a densely populated residential area and as a mother of a 9-year-old child, I am concerned of the health risks to children, as well as the elderly, pets and wildlife and flora in our neighborhood.”

Like other residents in the area and throughout The City, the resident, who did not want her name used, uses a cell phone and wireless services. “Smart” technology helps San Franciscans stay connected, can improve efficiency and keep us safer. But that doesn’t mean a new wireless facility directly outside a home is necessary or appropriate.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that radiofrequency radiation from cell phones and wireless equipment may cause adverse effects. Since 2009, Dr. Joel Moskowitz of the University of California, Berkeley has translated and disseminated the research on the effects of exposure to wireless radiation. These include DNA damage, sleep and memory disturbances, increased stress, reproductive dysfunction and cancer. Risks to children are greater.

“The radiation from your cell phone is going out usually in all directions,” Dr. Moskowitz said at presentation earlier this year. “It’s being absorbed by your head and body.” Research also indicates that radiofrequency emissions can impact the navigation system of birds and bees, damage trees and promote the growth of drug-resistant pathogens.

The City’s requirements for new wireless antennas don’t address these risks. Wirelesscompanies must only demonstrate that radiofrequency radiation from antennas complies with Federal Communications Commission guidelines. According to the permit application for the antenna on Baker Street, Verizon Wireless made this demonstration by submitting a report to The City. But this report wasn’t made available to residents in the neighborhood.

More importantly, the FCC guidelines, which were set in 1996, are not safety standards, nor are they up-to-date. A 2008 report by the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council identified a need for further research on potential health consequences from long-term, low-intensity radio frequency exposure. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office called on the FCC to reassess and, if appropriate, change its current radiofrequency exposure limits.

But the 1996 guidelines have remained in place.

“Would you want to fly on an airplane with 20-year-old safety limits,” Dr. Devra Davis, president of Environmental Health Trust, asked me. “FCC limits are outdated, based on faultyassumptions and not protective of public health, especially children.”

Last September, the FCC delivered another win to wireless companies by making it easier to litigate cities’ attempts to regulate new antennas and facilities. Wireless companies have successfully sued San Francisco over its attempts in the past to warn cell phone users of potential risks and limit new wireless antennas.

A challenge to the FCC order is currently pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Representative Anna Eshoo also introduced H.R. 530, which would overturn the regulations limiting the ability of local governments to regulate wireless infrastructure.

“Having served in local government for a decade on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, I understand and respect the important role that state and governments play in protecting the welfare of their residents,” Rep. Eshoo said.

But proactive cities can still maintain some control. Petaluma, for example, set a 500-foot setback between small cells and homes to protect residents. Fairfax has a 1,500-feet minimum spacing between small cell installations. San Francisco could follow a similar, common sense approach by simply asking wireless companies to not put antennas right outside our windows.

For better or for worse, San Franciscans’ reliance on cell phones and smart technology is growing. Equipping residents like Yeung with small tools to protect their health won’t stop that growth. The residents on Baker and Pine streets can stay connected without the potentially risky wireless facility.

Robyn Purchia is an environmental attorney, environmental blogger and environmental activist who hikes, gardens and tree hugs in her spare time. She is a guest opinion columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of the Examiner. Check her out at robynpurchia.com

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