This is the first of a number of pages I have written about the resistance to the erection of a mobile phone tower in Dereel. The second is here. I originally wrote this document in August 2007, when the prospect of a mobile tower in Dereel was just theoretical. In December 2008, Optus submitted plans to build a tower in Dereel. This project was cancelled because of resistance from people like Wendy McClelland.
On 17 August 2007 I received a document in the mail from Wendy McClelland, entitled “HEALTH HAZARD FOR DEREEL: The Deadly Microwave Radiation emitted from Communication Towers”. I met Wendy on 1 August and commented on her views on that occasion, but this document makes it clear that I'm going to have to do more.
I take the following statement as being almost correct:
A draft report document called 'Integrated Urban Design Framework' for Dereel, Rokewood and Corindhap has been put out by Golden Plains Shire for the public to view and comment on for further town plans.
On page 33 it suggests putting in a radiation tower in Dereel.
There are plenty of reasons to doubt Wendy's expertise, but calling it “radiation tower” is almost certainly a scare tactic.
The rest of the document is a confused, hysterical and unsubstantiated list of claims of all the horrors that would happen if we were to have a mobile telephone tower in the area. The whole document is two pages long; I'll summarize:
So what's the difference between “radiowaves” and microwaves? Wendy doesn't say. GSM (the current digital standard) runs at 900 and (to a lesser extent) 1800 MHz in Australia. I haven't been able to find the frequencies for the old analogue system, but it appears to be have been based on the US AMPS system, which ran at 900 MHz. UMTS (which is behind buzzwords like “3G”) runs at two different frequencies in Australia: Telstra uses 850 MHz, arguably slightly less “microwave”, while Optus uses 900 MHz.
Assuming that this might be incorrect, other indications are:
The lowest frequency recommended by the ITU-R is about 800 MHz. By contrast, TV in this area, as I've been able to confirm just recently, runs in the UHF band between 541.25 MHz (SBS) and 625.25 MHz (ABC).
According to Wikipedia, the term “microwave” covers frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHz. So all of the above signals are microwaves. So, of course, are the immensely more powerful (in the order of 1000 W) and higher frequencies (2400 MHz) generated in every domestic microwave oven. All of these frequencies also fall into the more narrowly defined UHF (Ultra High Frequency) band, which goes from 300 MHz to 3000 MHz.
So all of these signals are microwaves, and in all probability they're roughly the same frequency. The other issue is power: how much power did analogue towers require, and how much do current digital towers use? I can't be bothered to spend too much time looking, but one study suggests two scenarios based on GSM technology. They apply without change for UMTS.
What does this mean in practical terms? Firstly, the tower is only about 1000 times as strong as the phone. Radiation intensity drops in proportion to the square of the distance, so the radiation intensity at a distance of 50 cm from the antenna of a mobile phone tower—closer than you could possibly get—is about the same as that from a mobile phone 5 cm from your ear.
Sparsely spaced towers (towers far away): In this case, you need 20 W for the tower and 0.2 W for the phone for GSM.
This is even more interesting: the most obvious thing is that the tower power is only 10 times as much as before, but the power used by the phone is 100 times as much so the radiation intensity at a distance of 5 metres from the antenna of the tower is 10 times less than that from a mobile phone 5 cm from your ear.
This comparison is missing something important, though: let's consider the relative level of radiation you get from your phone in the “remote tower” scenario, where the phone is emitting 0.2 W, and the level of radiation you get from a local tower emitting 2 W. The distance factor at which the radiation level is the same is the square root of 10, or about 3.2. In other words, the radiation exposure from a phone at 5 cm is the same as the radiation exposure from the tower at 16 cm! Even more important, this level is 100 times the level of the “local tower” scenario. So by not having a local tower, every user in the area—including Wendy—is exposing himself to the same level of radiation as from a tower antenna at 50 cm. And yes, Wendy has confirmed that she uses mobile phones on rare occasions. But she's only concerned about the mobile phone towers.
To be fair, this is not a completely “typical” scenario: it shows best-case situation. But it's the only direct comparison I've got. Typical mobile towers nowadays can emit up to 100 W. That's still very low in comparison with other radio frequency equipment.
Even people who don't use mobile phones are affected by this difference. They receive much more radiation from mobile phones than from towers. Considering a more reasonable closest distance of 100 metres, and assuming the comparison least favourable to towers (mobile phone emitting minimum power of 0.002 W, tower emitting maximum power of 20 W), this means that people are subject to the same level of radiation from a mobile phone at 1 metre distance and a mobile phone tower at 100 metres.
Now consider the current situation: we don't currently have a tower here, and reception is marginal at best. Mobile phones now emit 100 times as much radiation to maintain communication. This means that the same radiation level as in the previous paragraph occurs at 10 metres distance from a mobile phone.
This microwave radiation and electromagnetic radiationWendy seems to think that they're two different things, and presumably that electromagnetic radiation (which includes light) is bad. But she doesn't avoid light, though the radiation levels are orders of magnitude higher.
is [sic] very bad for human wellbeing. It causes general cancers, childhood leukemia [sic], brain tumours, breast cancer and alzheimers [sic] disease as humans are constantly being exposed to radiation from these towers.
Certainly light can cause skin cancer; that's well documented. There are some claims of statistically relevant correlations between radiation exposure and health effects, all at much higher levels. I have seen none that include Alzheimer's disease.
This is just plain incorrect. I suspect that Wendy is confusing electromagnetic radiation with radioactive decay. The only immediate effect of electromagnetic radiation on the human body is to heat it up. After that, there is no radiation any more. You can get an idea of how much heat is involved by holding your hand near an electric light globe. You get three times as much radiation from a 60 W globe as you do from a 20 W microwave antenna at the same distance.
radiation gradually builds up in your body until your system can no longer cope.
Any remote device or wireless device from a central connection (which is not attached to a lead) operates on microwave radiation i.e. broadband, mobile phones, phone headpieces, communication devices on front of your body, etc. The radiation is drawn from their base station to your remote device and goes through your body to get to it.
There are a number of inaccuracies here:
The description includes infrared devices, which do not use microwaves.
The radiation from the remote station goes through your body whether or not you are using any local device or not.
Your body is not necessary for the communications link to function; on the contrary, it literally gets in the way.
The real issue is not the radiation from the remote station; it's the radiation from the local device you're using.
However, you can have a remote device on broadband connection through satellite which is OK.
Satellite communications are microwaves too, so I don't know why Wendy thinks it's “OK”. The differences with satellite connections are:
The distribution of the radiation is very even over a large area (the satellite “footprint”), unlike that of mobile phones.
The frequencies are much higher, typically in the Ku band (about 12 GHz in Australia).
Communication devices are OK if they have and rely solely on their own batteries to operate, i.e. two way radios, headpiece music sets, etc.
This distinction is just plain incorrect. Firstly, mobile phones belong to this category (they're battery-powered two-way radios), and secondly the criterion isn't whether they have their own batteries, but whether they emit electromagnetic radiation, and how much.
As well as this technology directly killing humans it is also adding to the 'Green House Effect' in heating up the earth as microwave radiation is being beamed acess the land—similar effect as cooking food in a microwave oven
Nothing Wendy has said so far relates to directly killing humans; that suggests a flash of lightning coming out of the tower and burning people to a crisp. The best that can be argued is some very indirect way of killing humans.
I've already touched on the relative energies involved: my microwave oven runs at 1100 W, 55 times as much as a high-power mobile tower and 550 times as much as a low-power tower. A single car on the freeway uses about 30 kW, 1500 to 15000 times as much as a mobile phone tower and probably as much as all towers in Australia put together. Clearly the energy use is not a significant contributor to global warming. By making much traffic unnecessary, it might actually reduce it.
I also won't comment on the reports of a total of 25 individual cases of cancer. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world, whether or not mobile telephones are involved. Any discussion of 25 individual cases without some very solid evidence—not presented here—must be meaningless.
One thing I haven't addressed in the discussion above is whether mobile phones really do pose a health risk; I don't know, and possibly they do. But I do contend that the only way to find out is to research the issue objectively, and I don't believe that Wendy has done this. In particular, I have given references in this link, while Wendy has given none whatever that are publicly available.
My thoughts on the relative dangers are reflected in two of the documents I found. The first is the document I found while looking for information on power output above. It's in PDF format, but contains some interesting information:
Digital mobile phone base stations account for 1.40% of total electromagnetic output below 3 GHz (compared to 2.02% for TV and 95.91% for radio). If we're worried about electromagnetic radiation, there are better targets for reduction.
According to the reception advice people from ABC, the local radio transmitters in Ballarat each have an output power of 100 kW, though I haven't been able to find this information on the web. But there's no reason to believe they're lying, and that's 5,000 times the power of a mobile tower This means that the same radiation levels apply at 70 times the distance—the radiation level from the transmitters in Ballarat is the same as a mobile phone tower at 500 metres distance.
As mentioned before, the World Health Organization has a number of documents on the subject. Here are two that I found interesting:
Back in 1997 all communications towers for the analogue mobile phones were changed to microwave mobile phones (digital phones). This meant all towers were changed from radiowaves to the more deadly microwave radiation type.
The report examines potential shortcomings of previous research and suggests that more is needed. It seems that this research is also taking place. I have strong doubts, though, that any positive correlation would represent significant dangers.
WHO has a number of other Fact sheets on the subject, but I haven't read them.
Wendy has portrayed mobile phones as a danger to humans. But there's another side. They're of immense advantage:
Like others, I can't completely reject the possibility that mobile phones pose a unique health risk. I consider it highly unlikely, however, and if it exists it will be relatively minor. Given the enormous public opposition to the technology, as witnessed by Wendy, I'm confident that any such problem will be identified and worked around. I don't believe that the issues are really related to the towers.
In the meantime, Wendy is doing everybody a disservice by disseminating suspicions. There are two possibilities that I see:
On the other hand, I do want to have access to modern communications. Currently Dereel has almost no mobile phone coverage, and it has caused me—and I'm sure many others—significant problems. I hope that the tower will be built, preferably somewhere where it's not an eyesore.
The following list of links is not necessarily the best; it's what I've come across while researching this matter.
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