I am concerned about Huia and Cornwallis Residents and Ratepayers Association’s support of Vodafone’s construction of a cellular tower at Awhitu Peninsula to provide cellular broadband coverage to Huia and Cornwallis. The positive aspects of having fast internet access are widely understood. The intention of this letter is to point out the less widely understood downsides and health risks associated with the chosen cellular broadband technology.
Types of Broadband
There are two basic types of broadband connection – wired (data is sent through a wire – either a telephone line or a fibre-optic cable) and cellular (data is sent through the air using microwave radiation).
What Vodafone offers here is cellular broadband – the modem is essentially a 3G cell phone that communicates with a cell tower using microwave radiation. This Vodafone broadband is identical to using a cell phone for all internet use – with a minor difference that it is a device mounted to the house instead of being held in the hand. It costs $228 to install with a 24 month commitment of $110 per month for local calls and 15GB of data.
To compare this to wired broadband through a telephone line, a typical plan offers free installation with a 12 month commitment of $75 per month for local calls and 30GB of data.
Cellular broadband is typically slower and less reliable – it is the same thing as using internet on a 3G cell phone.
Cellular Technology Explained
Cellular phones and cellular modems receive and transmit information (phone calls and internet data) using microwaves. They use similar microwave frequencies to microwave ovens, but at lower strength. These microwaves do not travel in a straight line between the cell tower and the cell phone or modem. The cell tower radiates microwaves in a general direction of an area. Radiant heaters work in exactly the same way – you point the radiant heater towards the desired side of the room where the occupants are. Similarly, microwave radiation from a cell tower will permeate everything in the target area (up to dozens of square kilometres) and everything on the way.
Specifically: if someone in Huia uses cellular broadband, the new cell tower will beam microwaves with internet data from across the harbour. These microwaves will travel through everyone who is boating on the harbour, every visitor on the beach, through the brain of every child in Huia and Cornwallis, through internal organs of every resident, and somewhere in this area will also be the modem for which they are intended. This is the extent of this technology’s targeting capability – every resident’s brain will receive as much microwave radiation from the tower as the target modem. Microwaves go straight through trees, wooden walls, glass, plastics and cloth.
Once an area has good cellular reception, electricity companies tend to gradually replace power meters on most houses to “smart meters”. A smart meter contains a cellular modem that transmits electricity usage information every single minute (about 1,500 times per day) generating significant additional microwave radiation. 450,000 smart meters are already installed in NZ (according to Vector) – often without home owners even knowing about it. [See my new article about smart meters for more information.]
In contrast, wired broadband sends and receives internet data through a wire – directly between modem and telephone exchange – it does not go through anyone’s body, not even the user’s body.
Health Risks of Cellular Broadband
Microwave radiation is completely invisible – humans have no sensory organs that can perceive it. NZ Ministry of Health sets its public exposure standard based on the intensity required to heat a person (like in a microwave oven) divided by fifty. The official position of the telecommunication industry and NZ government is that microwave radiation can only cause harm by heating a person, and that there is no conclusive evidence of non-thermal effects.
However, a number of independent studies have demonstrated that exposure to microwave radiation at levels that are thousands of times below heating levels can affect human health. The effects include: fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbances, feeling of discomfort, difficulty concentrating, depression, memory loss, visual disruptions, irritability, hearing disruptions, skin problems, cardiovascular disorders and dizziness. Studies have also shown links to earlier development and higher incidence of high blood pressure, brain haemorrhages, leukaemia and cancer. You can find more information and listen to expert testimonies at www.ElectromagneticHealth.org
There is also considerable evidence of damaging effects at DNA level. According to Henry Lai, PhD, author of Chapter 6 of the BioInitiative Report, “Evidence for Genotoxic Effects”, of the studies on radiofrequency (including microwave) radiation and DNA damage (28 studies), 50% reported effects; of micronucleus studies (29 studies) 55% reported effects; and of chromosome and genome effects (21 studies) 62% reported effects. www.BioInitiative.org
The damaging effects of microwave radiation begin at the cellular level in our bodies. According to TV3 NZ documentary “Is Your Cell Phone Killing You?”, children are particularly vulnerable to these effects due to their thinner skulls and developing brain. The damage can also occur during fetal development.
Recent history is full of examples of innovations that were rushed to the market without sufficient safety testing: leaded petrol and paints, CFC aerosols and refrigerants, uranium in crockery glazing, and tobacco. Cellular communication technologies were deployed at an incredible pace and scale just in the last two decades – they are now a multi-trillion dollar global industry and government bodies make millions by leasing frequency use permits.
Like with smoking, many of the effects of microwave exposure are long-term and do not occur in every single individual. Unlike with smoking, it is now hard to get away from microwave radiation exposure. The question that begs asking is: should we stay on the cautious side when something is not “conclusive”, but say 25% risky? Should we be cautious about something that has even a 2% chance of causing cancer in our children?
Despite government and industry denial, European Environment Agency issued the following warning in 2007: “cell-phone technology could lead to a health crisis similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking and lead in petrol.” This was followed in 2011 by World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer as it classified cell phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic” to human beings, placing it in the same risk category as pesticide DDT and gasoline engine exhaust. This conclusion was reached by a working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries.
“The argument against smoking is statistical. No research anywhere in the world over the past thirty years has shown how diseases claimed to be associated with cigarette smoking are caused… There is no proof of causation of even one single death from cigarette smoking” – Tobacco Institute of Australia Limited, 28 July 1983.
Huia and Cornwallis
Huia and Cornwallis are among the very few remaining areas with low microwave radiation exposure (ex: Piha beach has multiple cell towers). Good internet access is very important for modern life – there is no dispute about this – but how to go about obtaining this internet access is a very important decision. The cellular option that has been selected carries a significant health risk. Anyone is free to personally believe that it is safe to be exposed to microwave radiation – and everyone is free to choose the risks they want to take upon themselves – but in this case their decision will also risk the long-term health of all other people living in the area, including children.
Laingholm recently had fast wired broadband connected, and with some more lobbying and some more time this could also be achieved in Cornwallis and Huia. This is a completely safe, cheaper, faster and more reliable technology. But once the money is invested to build the cellular tower the chances of deactivating it will be close to zero, and wired services will be delayed due to availability of a competing cellular service. Smart meters will follow.
The intention of this letter is to point out the downsides and health risks to those who might not be aware of them – but please do your own research. Vodafone will certainly not supply or acknowledge this kind of information, but there is plenty online and in published books. I trust that you will make whatever decision is right for the residents of your communities. By default it seems that the cell tower, if not stopped, is now to be built in the next few months.
PUBLISHED IN SEP 2013 ISSUE OF LAINGHOLM ROUNDABOUT.