by Julie Watts and Abigail SterlingBy Julie Watts

OAKLAND (KPIX) — Is a cell tower going up in your neighborhood? If it’s not now, it may soon.

Wireless carriers are installing millions of them across the country to enable the new, faster 5G cellphone technology. While many are looking forward to faster cell service, many are also asking: Are there legitimate health concerns?

That question is keeping John Hiestand up at night. Outside his bedroom window he can see a new pole where Verizon will soon install a next-generation cell tower.

“This would be a big tower generating lots of RF outside of our bedroom window 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for many years,” he said.

It’s called a “small cell” or “distributed antenna system.” The industry says they’re safe. Many in Piedmont aren’t convinced – including the Hiestands.

“Our daughter is a cancer survivor,” John Hiestand explained.

Thirteen-year-old Sophia Hiestand has been one of many petitioning the city council to deny this cell tower.

“I mostly talked about my cancer and how it affected me, even though you’re not supposed to talk about health issues, I still did,” Hiestand said.

However, according to federal law the city simply can’t consider health concerns. It’s outlined in a small section of the Telecommunications Act, based on science from 1996, back when we were still talking on cellphones that looked like bricks.

“I find it really unfair,” said Hiestand.

If cities do consider health, cell companies can sue them.

So, with few legal arguments to deny a tower, they’re popping up outside bedroom windows and school campuses, despite objections from across the country.

“5G can be a tremendous boom to California but only if it can be put up quickly and easily,” said Hayward Assembly member Bill Quirk. Quirk co-authored legislation that would make it even harder for cities like Piedmont to object to a tower.

“You wouldn’t have to go through the planning commission, through the city council,” Quirk explained.

Quirk, a former NASA scientist, says he may resurrect the bill that was recently vetoed by governor Brown.

“I know scientifically that putting up these cell phone towers is safe,” he said.

But the International Association of Frefighters disagrees. It began opposing cell towers on fire stations, after firefighters complained of health problems.

“These firefighters developed symptoms,” says Dr. Gunnar Heuser who conducted a pilot study on firefighters at a station with cell towers.

“The symptoms included problems with memory, problems with intermittent confusion, problems with weakness,” Heuser said.

Heuser says their brain scans suggest even low-level RF can cause cell damage and he worries about more vulnerable groups like kids.

“We found abnormal brain function in all of the firefighters we examined,” Heuser said.

So, following lobbying by firefighters, assemblyman Quirk and his co-author exempted fire stations from their bill, making them one place cell companies couldn’t put a tower.

“This is the first piece of legislation that anyone is aware of where somebody got an exemption because they were concerned about health. Did they tell you at all about the study?” we asked the assemblyman.

Quirk’s response: “All I know is that when the firefighters ask, I do what they ask me to do.”

“Because they are strong lobbyists?” we asked him. His response: “Yes.”

“So if school teachers and parents had a strong lobby and they ask you to pass something that would prevent these from going up near schools, would you do that?” we asked Quirk.

His response: “If I couldn’t get the votes any other way!”

We next spoke to Tony Stefani, founder of the San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation.

“It’s not only the firefighters, it’s the people that live within the vicinity of these towers,” Stefani said.

Anthony Stefani started with the San Francisco Fire Department in 1974. The 28-year veteran retired as the captain of Rescue 1 in 2003.

Stefani notes that current regulations don’t take into account continuous low-level exposure from these small cells 24-hours a day. He also says some fellow firefighters reported that their symptoms disappeared when they move to a station without a tower.

“More of these studies have to be done,” he says.

Many international scientists agree. More than 230 scientists from 41 nations — who have published over 2,000 peer-reviewed papers on electromagnetic fields and biology and health — have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal. 

They cite “serious concerns” about “increasing exposure to EMF” based on “numerous recent scientific publications” linking low levels of wireless radiation to health effects.

They’re calling for stronger regulations, disclosure about wireless industry ties to regulatory agencies, and they want publicly funded studies on the health effects of EMF emitting devices/base stations (i.e. cell towers).

“I do not believe that there is any health impact on firefighters or anyone else, from cells, period!” Assemblyman Quirk asserted. However he added, “I think doing more studies is always a good thing.”

Considering the  the circumstances, we asked Quirk: “Do you think that maybe you should consider putting a pause on legislation that speeds up these towers until there is definitive evidence that there is no harm?”

His’s response: “We can do a lot of studies and there are people right now believe it or not who are sure the world is flat.”

In a statement the CTIA says it defers to the experts when it comes to the safety of cellular telephones and antennas:

“According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and numerous other international and U.S. organizations and health experts, the scientific evidence shows no known health risk due to the RF energy emitted by cellphones.

Likewise, the FCC monitors scientific research on a regular basis and its standards for RF exposure are based on recommended guidelines adopted by U.S. and international standard-setting bodies. That’s why the FCC has determined that all wireless phones legally sold in the United States are “safe.” This scientific consensus has stayed the same even after the NTP’s release in 2016 of its partial findings in a study involving cellphones and lab animals.

The FCC also sets exposure limits for cell site antennas that transmit signals to phones. Those limits, like the limits for cell phones, are even more conservative than standards adopted by leading international standards bodies such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

The FCC states that typical ground exposures to base station antennas are “hundreds to thousands of times less than the FCC’s limits for safe exposure” and “there is no reason to believe that such [antennas] could constitute a potential health hazard” to nearby residents.”

The World Heath Organization’s  International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified RF radiation as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Though the cell phone industry stresses there are “no known health risks.”

What about the unknown? Well, back in Piedmont the Hiestands don’t want to wait around to find out.

“We are going to get some meters. We’re going to measure the micro-radiation today and then when the cell towers go up, we can measure it and see how dangerous it really is,” said John Hiestand. He says if he has to they’ll move.

“For my daughter’s health, definitely,” he said.

Piedmont was able to temporarily block permits for some small cell towers but now the company installing them for Verizon, Crown Castle, is suing the city.

Meanwhile new research set to be published next month could radically alter the debate. For the first time it establishes a scientific link between RF radiation and cancer in lab rats:

National Toxicology Program

In response, the Chief Medical Director of the American Cancer Society said this first-of-its-kind government study “marks a paradigm shift in our understanding of radiation and cancer risk.”

Comments (97)
  1. It’s pure, unfounded hysteria. The firemen are exposed to all sorts of things through their careers – chemicals, smoke, stress, etc. The study that claims that cell towers are responsible for some brain function anomalies simply cannot possibly stand scientific muster.

    RF energy and light is really the same thing, except that visible light is at a much higher frequency. We do know that energy above the ionization barrier such as UV, X-Rays, Gamma Rays and Cosmic rays do cause cell damage and eventually cancer. But visible light, heat, radio, etc is below that ionization barrier. There are no ionization effects from this energy. Avoid excessive exposure to the sun. It does cause cancer.

    The second thing we know is that in order for chemical changes to occur, there has to be heat. If you touch a light bulb or get too close to it, it will burn or cook. So can you cook with a stadium light? Yes of course. If you are too close it can cook.

    However, there’s a third principle. The inverse-square law. As the distance from the source is increased, the intensity of the received signal or brightness of the light goes down by the square of the distance. Do you feel heat from stadium lights? Do people get cooked by them going to football games? No and no. It’s due to the distance. In the same way, even if you live below a cell tower, the intensity of the RF energy from the cell tower is very, very low. It cant cook, so no cell changes. Why are people not concerned about the electromagnetic energy coming from stadium lights? Because there is no problem.

    So how am I qualified to say all of this? I have over 40 years of experience in the field of radio and cell phones. I have a Masters degree and over 12 patents in the area of telecommunications. I have three FCC licenses and test RF communications equipment for a living. I invented one-touch dialing for cell phones in 1991.

    1. Kelley Eidem says:

      Konrad, when you look for the wrong thing, you’re bound to come up with the wrong answer. You’ve done just that, plus you’re looking at engineering assumptions instead of biological studies. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

      The biological studies – there are 10,000 of them – have found repeatedly and conclusively that the nonthermal effects of WiFi, smart ‘beaters’ etc do, in fact, produce serious disease and illness including death.

      Recently released studies from the CIA of Russian studies found for example that the microwaves associated with 5G lower ATP by 37% and double adrenaline output with a mere 2 to 3 hours of exposure for 6 weeks from a SINGLE source.

      The coming 5G will be multi-sourced as the cell masts triangulate cell phone users 24 hours a day. It’s not too hard to predict catastrophic illnesses and quick deaths based on that sort of dosing.

      Like most defenders of these assaults on our health, you’ve confused ionizing radiation effects with excess exposure to the harmful ions that electricity generates. Go into any office and measure the ions that are present compared to a park or a forest. You’ll find excess positively charged oxygen ions in the workplace.

      5G, with its one million towers and their proximity to us turn your inverse law into a smokescreen. The air will be severely depleted of the negatively charged ions we need for good heath.

      We wil inhale some of the positive ions to an excess and that interferes with our electrolytes including our ATP production which I’ve mentioned already. The same ions will also lower our biological membrane potential, a.k.a. our cells’ voltage. It’s that voltage that repels the 28,000 viruses we breathe.

      This explains why there have been sudden spikes in the flu in cities that have experienced a mere sip of 5G already, such as in Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, and Louisville to provide a few examples. As more 5g is rolled out, we can fully expect the flu continue to increase even though the flu season would otherwise slow down soon. Japan, France and New South Wales are also getting hammered by very high flu rates.

  2. Gary Briggs says:

    Cancer Towers, Death Towers !

  3. Hey Julie Watts,

    Just wondering if you even considered talking to one of the Broadcast Engineers that works at your station. I mean…it doesn’t LOOK like you did because you don’t really present any facts about the portion of the RF spectrum that the new Cellular 5G protocol works on.

    If you HAD talked to an Engineer, you’d know that the new 5G service works in the same frequency neighborhood as your satellite trucks…no, not your LiveU, actual uplink and downlink.

    Nah…it’s more fun to manufacture outrage and hysteria when you write stories…amirite, or amirite.

    -A former Broadcast Engineer that left the industry because I could no longer stomach the mind-poison/garbage that I was a party to putting into the world.

    1. 5G causes serious health issues, not only in Human Beings, but in Animals and Insects. This is a matter of Fact. Anybody denying such a thing has swallowed the Industry Kool Aid or simply does not understand what is actually happening. Facts are facts, does not matter how you look at them, in the end they remain as facts.

  4. evdebs says:

    “The symptoms included problems with memory, problems with intermittent confusion, problems with weakness,” Heuser said.

    Sounds like Donald Trump has been affected by that tower on the White House roof.