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Thursday, February 13, 2003

Science experiment

The corporate weasels in the cell phone industry have a new pet place to install cell phone antennas: on and around elementary schools. Yesterday the Portland City Council voted 3-1 to allow a 75-foot-tall antenna tower to be erected on the grounds of Lynch View Elementary School, a public school on SE 169th, despite health worries on the part of parents and neighbors.

The school district, so hard up for cash that it's probably just about ready to put cigarette machines in the high schools to help keep the lights on, will get a big $1,000 a month or so under its lease of the Lynch View site to Qwest. The cell antennas will have nothing to do with the school's operations -- they're just a way of raising money.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, the cell phone industry will tell you, quite accurately, that there is no proof that constant exposure to cell phone radiation causes health problems. But it is an undisputed fact that there is also no proof that it doesn't! As the General Accounting Office explained in May 2001:

According to FDA and others, the research to date does not show that mobile phone radiofrequency emissions have adverse health effects but there is not enough information at this point to conclude that these products are not without risk. While most epidemiological and laboratory studies related to the radiofrequency emissions of mobile phones have found no adverse health effects, the results of some studies have raised questions that require further research.
Of course, there's never been a study done on the effects of long-term exposure to cell antenna radiation on children. The kids at today's schools are the study.

I don't blame the City Council for going along with this. Under federal law, the city is restricted in what it can consider in approving or rejecting a cell antenna site. Specifically, the city may not consider health effects. Since those {sarcasm} tenacious watchdogs at the FCC {/sarcasm} have determined there's nothing to worry about health-wise, the city can consider only such important things as "aesthetics" and "visual impact."

One thing that does worry me, though, is when I look at the list of fat cat contributors to City Council campaigns. Who's right up there at the top? Yep -- the cell phone companies.

Then the mayor, who publicly announces she's worried about the health effects of these monstrosities, recuses herself rather than vote no on the aesthetics of a 75-foot-tall tower in the middle of a neighborhood. She wouldn't cast a no vote for a hidden, illegal reason. When it comes to not ruffling those campaign contributor feathers, she is scrupulously honest.

Sprint on schools? The scenario has become so commonplace that The Oregonian, which carried a tiny story about yesterday's council action in its print edition today (seven paragraphs on page C3 of the paper delivered to my doorstep), apparently didn't even find it newsworthy enough to post on its web page.

A decade from now, if the research finally proves a health problem, that story will get more play.


We all need our cell phones, and the antennas have to go somewhere. But to put them on schools with so many unknowns is utterly irresponsible.

Shame, shame, shame on the Centennial School District.

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