Should we build a cell tower near a middle school?

The latest school to face the possible threat of a cell tower nearby is Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md., the Capital Gazette reports.

The op-ed contends that we can’t be sure of the dangers to life posed by the “non-ionizing, non-thermal radiation” emitted by cell towers, an uncertainty that’s confirmed by James B Burch, a Colorado State University professor who teaches environmental and occupational epidemiology. In a Washington Post article, Mr Burch is quoted as saying he wouldn’t want his child attending a school with a cell tower near it, even though he’s not 100 percent sure the tower poses a risk.

A 2011 study out of India, however, shows that “continuous exposure to microwave radiations from cell phone towers, TV, and FM towers [causes] serious health problems over the years.” Researchers Neha Kumar and Girish Kumar write, “Exposure safety standards are mainly based on the thermal effects, which are inadequate,” since radiation from cell towers is non-thermal. “Measurements have been carried out at various places near the cell towers and it has been found that the radiation levels are very high,” and there may be “significant biological effects far below the current standards.”

How might a cell tower affect students’ bodies?

The report shows that it works like cooking a human being in a microwave oven, more or less, because the height of a typical human is much greater than the typical wavelength of radiation coming from a cell tower. “So there will be multiple resonances in the body, which creates localized heating inside the body,” researchers write. “This results in boils, drying up the fluids around eyes, brain, joints, heart, abdomen, etc.”

But is it dangerous? An extensive review of the literature published in the August 2013 issue of International Journal of Research in Engineering and Technology reveals that living near a cell tower is associated with an increased long-term risk of developing brain tumors because the radiation accumulates and damages the barrier between the blood flow and the brain. It also causes damage to cells in the brain that deal with learning, memory, and movement.

And depending on how close students spend a good portion of their day to the cell tower, other long-term risks include the following:

  • Within 100m: diabetes, heart disease, and hearing problems
  • Within 200m: respiratory problems, skin diseases, hair loss, anemia

In terms of immediate symptoms, other reports show the following, again based on how close to the cell tower people spend a good portion of their days:

  • Within 10m: nausea, appetite loss, visual disruptions, difficulty moving
  • 10–100m: depression, concentration problems, memory loss, dizziness
  • 100–200m: headaches, sleep disruption, discomfort feelings, skin problems
  • Beyond 200m: fatigue, especially among females

Money talks, but some don’t listen

The Post also reported that Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties in Maryland recently rejected proposals to build cell towers at school buildings because of strong community opposition to the towers.

Quon Wilson, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Public Schools, Tasker’s district, told the Post that the district’s agreement with Milestone Communications to build up to nine towers near schools, including Tasker, Charles Carroll Middle School in New Carrollton, and Oxon Hill Middle School in Oxon Hill, will bring in $25,000 for each site plus 40 percent of the gross revenue from each tower. That could add up to $2.5 million over five years.

Sorry, but to me that’s just not enough money to take a chance on something we still don’t know all that much about. Follow the lead of Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties: stop the construction of cell towers near schools until we understand the science a little better.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.