Public health is littered with examples where economic interests trumped scientific advice

Public health is littered with examples where economic interests trumped scientific advice
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5G is the technology that promises to tie together the Internet of Things (IoT). So, if you're one of the millions who crave faster internet downloads, or if you require constant contact between your mobile and fridge, then 5G is the “solution” at hand.

Around the nation, state legislatures are rapidly firing off bills to streamline the massive deployment of 5G wireless infrastructure, preempting local authority in favor of the telecom industry’s financial interests. But is this economic and regulatory battle the whole story?

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Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) took a bold step in vetoing S.B. 649, 5G streamlining legislation that would have granted the telecom industry a green light to place a mini cell tower approximately every hundred yards throughout the state.

 

Had the bill been signed into law, localities would have lost the right to say where these so-called “small cells” are installed, also capping fees they could charge the telecom companies for erecting these structures in public rights-of-way.

And yet, almost two dozen states are moving forward with similar streamlining bills. While Missouri’s Small Cell Deployment Act failed, over a dozen states are swiftly passing legislation despite fierce opposition. In response, 21 Texas cities including Dallas and Austin have sued their state, as have 70 communities in Ohio.

In Montgomery County, Md., a local bill was tabled after residents expressed opposition, only to be replaced by a transparency plagued draft zoning amendment. The county is pitching this rezoning as “protecting the character” of neighborhoods, because it ensures transmitters are camouflaged, yet it virtually eliminates public notice and hearings for antennas on streetlights and utility poles.

In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission approved Spectrum Frontiers, making the U.S. the first country in the world to open up higher-frequency millimeter wave spectrum to roll out 5G. Now, two federal 5G streaming bills, The MOBILE NOW Act and The DIGIT Act, have passed the Senate and are on the way to the House.

Most recently, S. 1988, “A bill to streamline broadband infrastructure permitting on established public rights-of-way, and for other purposes,” referred to as the SPEED Act, was introduced by Sens. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenator predicts Congress will wrap up tax work in two weeks The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill US warship collides with Japanese tug boat MORE and Catherine Cortez Masto.

This act exempts new wireless infrastructure from environmental and historic reviews if previously installed infrastructure on the public right-of-way has already undergone such reviews.

Seems logical at first glance. If a street already has utility pole with wireless antennas, then why undergo an environmental review to add more? After all, what's the harm of having a cupcake for dessert? And if that’s OK, why not 10 cupcakes at every meal?

In a speech to the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) show this week, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said, “I was disappointed to see, for example, that last week the governor of California vetoed a small cell bill that garnered the support of the state’s legislature. This only increases the necessity, I think, for the FCC to take action.”

Usurping local control over tower installation has been a cardinal principle of the telecom industry for over 20 years. Section 704 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act preempts state and local government regulation for the placement of wireless antennas on the basis of environmental and health effects. 5G standards are still in development by industry. Nobody knows exactly what frequencies will be used, or what powers will be required to make 5G’s Internet of Everything vision a reality.

The history of public health is littered with examples where economic interests trumped scientific advice. Warnings about the potential dangers of lead in gasoline, X-rays in pregnancy, and the dangers of tobacco were all swept aside by industry interests who gained millions from these unwise products and unhealthy practices. It was only after we had irrefutable evidence of sickness and death tolls that we got rid of these hazards. Could 5G be the next asbestos?

The 5G network intends to use millimeter length radiation never tested for long-term safety. Under the wild west system created by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the agency is poised to accept any and all applications to expand 5G today.

But we are quite far from this promised boon in wireless speed. In the past decade, the United States has seen a steady decline in connection speeds. We now rank behind South Korea, Finland, Taiwan, and many other high-tech countries. Why? Wireless will always be overwhelmed by the demand that is being created. No one ever imagined virtual reality pornography videos would compete with 911 calls to overrun capacity.

More importantly, the National Toxicology program found wireless exposed rats developed cancer and DNA damage. Millimeter frequencies have been found to accelerate bacterial growth, and when combined with antibiotics, they have an even stronger effect. Israeli scientists found that 5G’s higher frequencies are preferentially absorbed in the sweat duct, acting like helical antennas that send and receive microwave signals.

These millimeter frequencies are used by the U.S. Department of Defense as a crowd control weapon, known as Active Denial Systems. 5G frequencies have the capacity to make skin feel that it is burning. Beam this frequency at a crowd, and people flee. Is this something you want on your lamppost?   

Lessons in public health are learned at great expense. We are today finally ending the scourge of tobacco-related cancers and deaths some half a century after scientists first identified this major health risk. I have joined 180 scientists in calling for a halt to the 5G deployment. Whether building bridges, buildings or networks, it’s far better to construct it correctly now than to try to fix it later.

Devra Davis, Ph.D., MPH, is a fellow at the American College of Epidemiology and a visiting professor at Hebrew University Hadassah Medical Center & Ondokuz Mayis Univ. Medical School. Davis is also an associate editor for Frontiers in Radiation and Health and the president of Environmental Health Trust.