The Town of North Hempstead recently joined three local villages in being sued by ExteNet Systems, a wireless infrastructure provider that has been contracted by Verizon Wireless to build cell nodes across the North Shore.
North Hempstead earned the honor for essentially the same reason as the villages of Lake Success, Flower Hill and Plandome – it failed to respond in a timely fashion to applications for cell nodes needed for a 5G network. In this case, 16 cell nodes in unincorporated areas of Port Washington.
ExteNet has a point.
The town, like the villages, has been delaying approval for cell nodes for months, if not years, depending on when you consider the start date.
But these delays do not appear to be based on some newfound desire to waste taxpayers’ money on unnecessary lawsuits.
Rather they are a result of a dilemma that has placed municipalities across the country between a rock and a hard place.
The rock: residents increasingly concerned with possible serious health problems associated with exposure to radiofrequency microwave radiation.
These health concerns are compounded by financial concerns – that proximity to cell nodes will impact the value of their homes. Which are, of course, based on health concerns.
The hard place: FCC regulations that give local governments input on the aesthetics and placement of cell nodes but bars them from rejecting the location of cell nodes based on health concerns.
There is a logic to this. It is hard to build a national network if local governments can stand in the way.
So local officials have used the one tool left at their disposal – delay.
Is this, and the lawsuits that follow, a good use of taxpayer money? Well, maybe.
The giant wireless companies and many others say the new 5G technology will provide the speed and immediacy needed to drive innovation that will improve the lives of people across the country and bring economic growth. Even spur another industrial revolution.
This, the companies add, will keep the United States competitive in the world economy. And make at least some people lots and lots of money.
So the benefits are large.
What about the risks?
The FCC says the federal government has for years set guidelines regulating the level of exposure to radiofrequency microwave radiation produced by cell nodes, radio stations and a wide variety of other devices including cell phones that protects the public.
But there are some caveats in their assurances.
The first is that scientists acknowledge that “very high levels” of radiofrequency radiation can be harmful to people.
So like X-rays and the rays of the sun, radiofrequency radiation can be dangerous to people at a certain level. The question is at what level. The government says the radiofrequency radiation from cell nodes falls well within what they consider safe.
But the history of tobacco, asbestos and now 1,4-dioxane tells us that the science can sometimes be very wrong.
The FCC also acknowledges that there are questions about lower levels of radiofrequency energy.
“A number of reports have appeared in the scientific literature describing the observation of a range of biological effects resulting from exposure to low levels of RF energy,” the FCC acknowledges on its website.
Of particular concern are the effects on pregnant women and small children.
The FCC goes on to say that there has been “no determination that such effects constitute a human health hazard. It is generally agreed that further research is needed to determine the generality of such effects and their possible relevance.”
In other words, we don’t think so but we’re not completely sure.
These are the caveats that manufacturers of devices that use radiofrequency radiation frequently use.
Just check your iPhone. Buried deep in your settings is a disclaimer that the “iPhone has been tested and meets applicable limits for radio frequency (RF) exposure.” Emphasis on the applicable limits.
Assuming that they ultimately come to an agreement with ExteNet, the town and local villages should insist on a system to monitor that the cell nodes are complying with their legal limits.
The iPhone’s disclaimer then goes on to say that to reduce exposure to RF energy, “use a hands-free option, such as the built-in speakerphone, the supplied headphones, or similar accessories.”
This raises a much larger question.
Radiofrequency radiation is already all around us – in our cell phones, tablets, cordless home phones, baby monitors and in all those smart-home devices.
What is the cumulative effect of all these devices on us?
North Shore residents’ concerns are currently focused on one of the issues created by 5G – the need for more cell nodes than its predecessors. The increased speed of 5G is the result of it operating at a higher frequency. Which travels shorter distances. Which means more cell nodes.
And in the end, 5G will also drive more devices, including things like driverless cars.
So we may want to ask what’s the impact of all the devices in our homes, at our offices and in our cars right now? And in the future?
As we have said before, there are many ways for people to reduce their exposure to radiofrequency energy starting with schools that hardwire devices rather than rely on Wi-Fi.
Technicians stand behind walls when taking X-rays. And we now minimize our exposure to the sun with hats and suntan lotion.
Then we need to weigh the risks of 5G and radiofrequency energy against the benefits.
We accept the loss of tens of thousands of lives doing things like driving automobiles and drinking alcohol because of the benefits and enjoyment it brings.
So there are no easy answers.
North Hempstead, Lake Success, Flower Hill and Plandome may simply decide to fight the telecom giants in court and hope that they can increase the cost of installing cell nodes so high they can discourage their installation.
They can also seek to join other municipalities across the country in this fight. Public pressure may prevent them from doing otherwise.
But the odds are against them.
In the end, we think municipalities and residents need to look for ways to minimize the exposure we now all face from cell nodes and all the other devices around us.