Cellular Service

Mendocino Communications: Cellular Service – Problems and Recommendations

September 5, 2009. Below is a document on cell phones, antennas, and radiation. The original material on this page was written in 2004 with edits throughout the past five years. However, immediately following this introduction is the recent information collected during August, 2009, concerning studies of cell phone radiation. We think it is urgent to present this information and wish that mainstream media had picked-up the leads we discuss.

Note: Base stations – that is antennas – are not the problem: handsets, the phones we hold in our hands, are. The closer we are to a base station or antenna, the less power our phones need and the safer they are. The information below suggests that there are substantial gaps in our understanding of radio frequency radiation (RF radiation) and that precautions are necessary. Most alarming is that this information applies to cordless phones (those we use in our homes to connect to our land lines) as well as cellular. Please take appropriate precautions. The technology properly used is both useful and safe.

Cell phones, Cordless Phones and Cancer – Real Warnings!

For the last 15 years, I have been following research on the effects of non-ionizing radiation produced by cell phones Our entire family and most of our staff and guests use them. Knowing their hazards makes using them a bit geeky and definitely less convenient, but, importantly, somewhat safer. In any case – let’s start with the recommendations from a stellar panel of scientists from the planet’s premier universities.

First, this information is from a study released in August, Cell phones and Brain Tumors 15 Reasons for Concern – Science, Spin and the Truth Behind Interphone. The authors advocate the adopting the “precautionary principle”

The precautionary principle applies where scientific evidence is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain and preliminary scientific evaluation indicates that there are reasonable grounds for concern that the potentially dangerous effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be inconsistent with the high level of protection chosen. (European Commission Communication on the Precautionary Principle – 2nd February 2000: In Cell phones and Brain Tumors…)

Finding that published information regarding microwave radiation to be insufficient, uncertain, manipulated and even biased and that a variety of peer reviewed studies demonstrate correlations between the use of cell phones and cancer, the study recommends taking personal responsibility and lists actions you can take. Below is a modified version of their list:

  • Use a wired headset, speaker option, or text. (Bluetooth uses microwaves to communicate with the earpiece.)
  • Keep the cell phone away from your body. Use a holster; keep on the outside of a purse, messenger bag, backpack, etc.
  • Avoid use in a car, train, bus, or plane. Vehicles are metal and microwaves are reflected by metal ricocheting until they dissipate their energy.
  • Avoid use in rural areas moving vehicles or wherever there are less than full bars. The greater the distance from antennas, the greater power the cell phone will generate. Distance equals “more power.”
  • Use cell phones as answering machines. Leave off until you can use it to check calls.
  • Use a corded land line whenever possible to return calls.
  • Avoid cordless phones. Recent studies indicate that they also increase the risk of cancer.
  • Avoid use inside buildings, particularly with steel structures
  • Do not allow children to sleep with the phone – under their pillow or on their bedside table
  • Do not allow your children under 18 to use cell phones except in an emergency

Here are the 15 reasons for concern summarized:

  1. Industry’s own research showed cell phones caused brain tumors
  2. Subsequent industry-funded research also showed that using a cell phone elevated the risk of brain tumors
  3. Interphone studies, published to date, consistently show use of a cell phone for less than 10 years protects the user from a brain tumor
  4. Despite the systemic-protective-skewing of all results in Interphone studies, significant risk for brain tumors from cell phone use was still found
  5. Studies independent of industry funding show what would be expected if wireless phones cause brain tumors
  6. The danger of brain tumors from cell phone use is highest in children, and the younger a child is when he/she starts using a cell phone, the higher the risk
  7. There have been numerous governmental warnings about children’s use of cell phones
  8. Exposure limits for cell phones are based only on the danger from heating
  9. An overwhelming majority of the European Parliament has voted for a set of changes based on “health concerns associated with electromagnetic fields”
  10. Cell phone radiation damages DNA, an undisputed cause of cancer
  11. Cell phone radiation has been shown to cause the blood-brain barrier to leak
  12. Cell phone user manuals warn customers to keep the cell phone away from the body even when the cell phone is not in use
  13. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warning for cordless phones
  14. For Digitally Enhanced Cordless Technology, the FCC warns, “This equipment should be installed an operated with a minimum distance of 20 centimeters (almost 8 inches) between the radiator and your body.” The radiation from these phones is based on GSM cell phone technology.
  15. Male fertility is damaged by cell phone radiation

One of the studies cited by the authors is particularly striking in its indictment of not only cell phones but also cordless phones. Pooled analysis of two case-control studies on use of cellular and cordless telephones and the risk for malignant brain tumors diagnosed in 1997-2003 reports odds ratios with a confidence level of .95 of 3.7 for digital cellular phones and 2.3 for ordinary cordless phones for malignant brain tumors when used for more than 2,000 hours. Worse, odds ratios are higher for younger users. (Odds ratio is a measurement between two groups – those who have used the devices versus those who haven’t.) To summarize their findings: Cumulative use of cellular and cordless handsets, particularly on one side of one’s head, is correlated with increased risk of malignant tumors including gioblastoma.

This study alone is alarming. And it is only one of many cited by the authors of Cell phones and Brain Tumors…

The bad news just keeps coming: A few years ago when I looked-up information concerning the nature of microwaves’ effect on the brain – the only effect was understood to be as a point source of heat. This newest report points out that there are unknown effects other than heating: “…why does medicine use these fields for healing bone fractures that did not previously heal with a cast, and the military use them to discourage the enemy?” (Cell phones and Brain Tumors…)

Cell phone manufacturers are providing more substantive warnings than even five years ago. For example, BlackBerry specifies that users carry the phone in an approved holster or keep the phone approximately 25mm or nearly an inch from the body. The company warns that the popular Curve should not even be carried on the body if not in an approved holster that must have a belt clip.

Carrying solutions, including RIM approved carrying solutions and carrying solutions not approved by RIM, that do not come equipped with an integrated belt clip SHOULD NOT be worn or carried on the body. For more information regarding the wearing or carrying of this BlackBerry device without using a RIM approved carrying solution equipped with an integrated belt clip, see the Holster information in the Additional safety guidelines section of this document.

For what it is worth, the iPhone is 10mm better!

For optimal mobile device performance and to be sure that human exposure to RF energy does not exceed the FCC and European Union guidelines, always follow these instructions and precautions: When on a call using the built-in audio receiver in iPhone, hold iPhone with the 30-pin connector pointed down toward your shoulder to increase separation from the antenna. For body-worn operation, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) away from the body, and only use carrying cases, belt clips, or holders that do not have metal parts and that maintain at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) separation between iPhone and the body. When using the EDGE data transmission feature of iPhone (see the iPhone User’s Guide for more information), position iPhone’s antenna at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) from the body.

Note: Radiation density, to which the “specific absorption rate” (SAR) ultimately refers, decreases at a rate equal to the square of the distance. SAR ratings are calculated based on the position of the phone. (This is a link to an on-line explanation). The telephone antenna is assumed to be as close as possible. In one set of tests, the antenna, due to the phone configuration, is 5 mm from the surface of the head and generates maximum allowable SAR of 1.6 watts per kilogram. If the phone’s antenna is moved just 60cm or 2 feet away in speaker mode, the radiation is reduced by a factor 14,400! (60cm/5mm squared) – approximately 1/10,000 watt. It is clear that distance is the key to safe use of cell and cordless phones.

There’s more information. But more is not necessary. Just be careful. Use the precautionary principle- be sure to use wired headsets. Don’t carry your phone in a pocket and particularly near organs. If you need to use your phone in a vehicle – stop, open the windows. Similarly, use your cell phone outdoors as much as possible or by an open window. A local RF engineer told me when that dual pane glass reflects RF signals, which will cause the phone to power-up. (Interference AND distance = more power!) The cell phone is a wonderful product and a BlackBerry, iPhone and other smart phones are computers usually smaller than a cigarette package – and perhaps far more dangerous. Take care!

Communications in Mendocino Cellular Telephones and Base Stations, Health and Emergencies

In December, 2004, Edge Wireless switched on a GSM antenna located about 40 feet above sea level below a house across Mendocino Bay from the town. Service is now available in Mendocino. Customers of Edge, Cingular, and companies using similar technologies having roaming agreements with Edge Wireless can now use their phones in an area of less than a square mile. Marginal GSM service is also available at The Stanford Inn. Additionally, in December, 2006, a CDMA antenna began service at the Stanford Inn providing Verizon-type signals for the Inn and the town.

The benefits of cellular phones are well known – accidents and medical emergencies can be reported when traveling without having to find a land-line phone; children can call their parents and report where they are or ask for a ride; and families and businesses can reach traveling parents or principals. There are some people who feel that these benefits do not out way the hazards of the technology. It is these people who have worked to keep cellular service out of Mendocino. They have not been totally successful.

Edge Wireless’ GSM signal and the CDMA signal from the Inn provide connection for Edge-Cingular, Verizon, Sprint and US Cellular. Taken together, these companies provide the full range of signals used in the United States with the exception of those by Nextel. These signals are CDMA – a technology by Qualcom – and used by Verizon, Sprint and US Cellular, and TDMA-GSM used by Edge, ATT, Cingular, T-Mobile. GSM is the current European standard and CDMA is prevalent in Africa and China. TDMA is a technology which overtime will not be supported.

Although Mendocino is a rural area and preeminent destination for North Coast travelers, Mendocino remains primarily cellular free through the activism of a tiny group.

A very small group of ardent anti-cell activists are persuaded that cellular technology is dangerous. They fervently believe that “radiation smog” is damaging them and is the source of a multitude of illnesses. A small group of local citizens are sympathetic and are moved by the anti-cell folks’ emotional arguments. One of the activists recently wrote the Mendocino Beacon from his car ‘somewhere in New Mexico’ in an attempt to find an area free of radiation. There is little validated science supporting the claims of the anti-cell activists especially with regard to cellular base stations. Nevertheless, many of their local supporters find science to be unemotional and uninteresting as well as difficult to read and understand.

Cell phones operate within a range of frequencies called microwaves, 300 thousand cycles per second (hertz) and higher. Unlike X-rays, the microwaves are non-ionizing. In 2000, responding to a review of scientific studies of the biological effects of non-ionizing microwave radiation, Britain’s National Radiological Protection Board in concert with their Health Protection Agency called for another review of studies “on the biological effects of non-ionising radiation relevant to human health and to advise on research priorities.”

On January 14th, 2004, the Associated Press reported the results of the study: The British government determined that “cell phones pose no cancer risk,” but, “long-term research [is] still needed.” The report Health Effects from Radio frequency Electromagnetic Waves (this is a link which you may click on) evaluated peer reviewed, scientific studies. Generally, the report absolved antenna sites, or base stations, as health hazards, but suggested handset use might be problematic.

More recently a Danish study released in December 2006 suggests that cell phone use does not cause cancer. Surveying data on 420,095 Danes who have been using cell phones for 7-20 years, researchers found 14,249 incidents of cancers, a lower incidence than would be expected in the population. However, the disparity could be caused by the fact that early adopters of a technology tend to be among the intelligentsia of a society and a recent British study demonstrates that individuals choosing to become vegan tend to have higher IQs. vegans tend to have less disease, including cancer and especially chronic disease. The Danish study has not eliminated other lifestyle variations affecting cancer.

1. A Problem with Older Technology

With regard to handset use, Reuters, on October 15th, 2004 reported that a Finish study demonstrated that “ten or more years of mobile phone use increases the risk of developing acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor on the auditory nerve.” However, Rueters notes that the study was done after a period when powerful analog phones had been in use for more than a decade. The institute, a medical university and research center which awards the Nobel Prize in medicine, reported that their research could not determine if newer GSM digital technology would produce similar tumors. GSM is the technology use by Cingular, T-Mobile and other companies. The Finish study found that the risk of acoustic neuroma was almost twice for cellular customers who started using cell phones at least ten years prior to diagnosis.

The primary effect of cellular radiation is thermal. Microwaves are absorbed by water molecules, essentially heating them as in a microwave oven. The heat spreads into the tissues and can lead to a breakdown of the blood-brain barrier. Of course, one may easily avoid the thermal effect by using an earphone and by staying out of the sun and avoiding a heat stroke when on a long call.

2. Indeterminate Results – Power is not all there is.

Digital signals, although generally weaker, may not be safer than analog signals. Louis Slesin, editor of Microwave News notes that research demonstrates that digital pulsed signals are more “biologically active” and may react in the body more strongly.

One of the reports we reviewed in our continuing exploration of potential health effects of cellular technology was Henry Lai and Narendra Singh’s studies of the effects of “safe” microwave radiation on rats’ brains, reviewed in the University of Washington Alumni Magazine. Lai and Singh found that two hours’ exposure to FCC “safe” levels of microwave radiation caused the destruction of DNA in rats’ brain cells. They compared rats exposed to a low dose of microwave radiation for two hours to a control group of rats that spent the same amount of time in the exposure device, but didn’t receive any radiation. The exposed rats showed 30 percent increase in breaks in DNA compared to the control group. It is not clear if the damaged DNA would lead to any other than cell death or cell repair. Other experiments did not find an exact correlation between duration, power and damage. In fact, this indeterminacy is common in biological systems: “It happens with chemicals. One dose can do one thing, while a higher or lower dose does the opposite,” according to Jerry Phillips who reviewed the studies for Motorola and suggests that research be undertaken into repair methods.

3. Warnings from a Technical Writer – The Handset

Molly Wood, senior editor of CNET.com compares the cell phone industry to big tobacco in The Buzz Report – The Cell Phone Industry: Big Tobacco 2.0?

She notes that recent studies suggest that the cell phones can be harmful to users, citing some of the work we studied while exploring the safety of cell phone technology, for example, Lai and Singh’s studies of rats’ brains. Wood lists additional “bad news” for the cellular industry.

Research must be funded and encouraged, however, as Wood points out, cell manufacturers are attempting to discredit research such as Lai and Singh’s and uses economic muscle to discourage research in universities. These and other studies suggest that cell phones might be harmful – “even cancer causing.”This is one of the first high profile articles written about the safety of the industry. Molly Wood’s article in a major on-line technology journal is a harpoon, unfortunately, this harpoon is more like a neutron passing through the earth than even a mosquito bite. Cell phone users are unfazed, if even aware of the potential dangers.

4. Handsets: Cellular and Home Remote Phones

In addition, a comparative analysis of cell and other wireless technologies such as walkie talkies and remote phones used in the home, reports that the standard 2.4 gHz remote telephone used in the home operates at 20% of the FCC’s maximum public exposure – MPE. The average Motorola cell phone operates at 5% MPE.

The research we undertook such as that noted above suggests that cell phones and remote handsets for home phones should be used with caution. British health officials urge children 8 or younger not use them. For adults, whenever possible, headsets, wired preferably, or the phone’s speakerphone should be used during a call.

5. Manners, Health and a Warning from a Cellular Manufacturer

LG Cellular Phones writes in its User Guides that base stations operate at higher wattage than handsets, but are so designed that “the RF exposures that people get from these base stations are typically thousands of times lower than those they can get from wireless phones.” LG then goes on to suggest the use of a headset.

The anti-cellular people are fighting base stations, but for many the real issue is manners: they are upset by ringing phones in restaurants, movie theatres and other public places. Many users, hearing static on their phones, yell into to phone and disturb others. And an often heard silly complaint comes from those who eavesdrop – they don’t like the inane conversations they hear.

The fight against base stations whether for unsupported health concerns or because of manners has diverted attention, at least in the coastal area of Mendocino County, from the need to properly use cellular handsets where they can be used. The antennas within or on the phones require that the phone be held at a correct angle, that the phone not be held by the antenna and that it never be used if the antenna is damaged. Proper use is critical to maintain the antenna’s distance from the brain. For longer calls, headsets or speakerphone options should be used. And as stated above, children should not be allowed to use the phones at least until more definitive research is completed, assuming that it has even begun.

These issues regard handsets. This article has to do with base stations, or the lack of them along the Mendocino Coast.

The lack of cell service is in part due to the difficult route taken to get approval for cell sites in Mendocino County. Almost all cell sites require separate use permits. After a site is found and an agreement reached with the owner for the siting of antennas, a plan is created, engineered and submitted to the County’s planning department with a request for a use permit. The use permit is subject to a public hearing before the Planning Commission at which time a variety of issues can be addressed by the public and the Commission.

Co-location is a huge issue. The Mendocino County planning commission issued guidelines for the placement of antennas. One such guideline is that where there is one tower, there should be several antennas mounted, in effect directing that there be less sites, with each site carrying the signals of all the providers in the area. Towers are not particularly an option in the Coastal Zone. Special rules exist to protect the scenic beauty. These rules have caused cellular companies to develop stealth sites hiding the antennas in water towers, chimneys or other building sofits, man-made trees, etc. The stealth site immediately eliminates the basis of ganging antennas on towers – that is, protection of scenic values by limiting towers.

Planning meetings are often consumed by issues such as co-location. In 1996, the Federal Government passed the Telecommunications Act that authorized the Federal Communications Commission to be the primary agency responsible for determining safe levels of electromagnetic radiation. Those who believe that “radiation smog” is dangerous have had to find other grounds on which to fight the installation of cellular antennas. One of these is co-location.

How it has worked is that a stealth site is found, a permit applied for and a condition of the permit is that the site owners allow the siting of other cell services. Most of the sites are small and can only serve a single company and because only one company can be served, opponents claim that the owners are in breach of the use permit.

We entered into an agreement to lease chimney space to a cellular company on the condition they provide a public relations effort to proactively inform the public regarding the efficacy, safety as well as proper use of the technology.

Principals at the company did not believe that such an effort was necessary and we were exposed to protests and other assorted hysterics.

In the meantime, we fully understand the need for cellular phones. In fact we can only leave the inn because the staff can reach us in case of emergencies through this technology and we have all three major services, CDMA, TDMA and GSM. The only system we are not signed up with is Nextel which is not in many rural areas.

If guests have a cellular phone which is neither Edge or Cincular, we suggest they try driving out onto the ridges. To accommodate communications at the inn we have voice mail and offer free local calls and long distance calls throughout the United States cost only $0.30 a minute, about the same as within a cellular plan.

Cellular technology is not antithetical to organic farming.

We embraced natural lifestyles, low impact recreation, organics many years ago, in fact long before terms such as “green hotels,” “eco-tourism” were in the popular lexicon. When we embraced cellular technology, we stunned local activists who understand the difficulties they have encountered in their lives as the result of modern lifestyles, in particular cellular radiation.

We chose to partner with a cellular telephone company understanding that we would help to bring an important technology to Mendocino. We intended to supply our staff with cell phones rather than walkie talkies which, by the way, peaked radiation meters when activated while cell phones were hardly measurable. With ten acres, nine major structures, and very few phone lines, we embraced cell phones as a better way to communicate.

Opponents of the technology wrote and called us telling us to “stick with organic farming; something you know about!” We also know about cell phones and in our intended use of the technology we planned to supply headsets and a rule sheet regarding the proper technical and cultural uses of the phones.

We use a backhoe to turn our compost, which is used throughout the property for fertilizer, and diesel powered trucks fueled with biodiesel made with deep fat frying oil, rather than spend hundreds of grueling man hours in the compost piles and horses and carriages for transportation. In other words, we have chosen modern methods but have mitigated some of their harmful effects.

Cell phones have a similar place on an organic farm.