Libby expresses her concerns about the dangers of cell phone towers

December 10, 2010

Hon. Tony Clement
Industry Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Hon. Leona Aglukkaq
Health Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Dear Ministers,

RE: Cell Phone Towers

I am writing on behalf of constituents who have contacted me about their concerns about cell phone towers in their neighbourhood. I am including a letter from Janice Evans, who articulates the neighbours’ concerns, for your background. Theirs is a widespread and growing problem across Canada, and I respectfully request that your respective offices investigate this matter.

Specifically, the concerns are threefold:

•First, the primary concern is the health effects of the towers, especially on children; and the risk of placing them in residential areas, especially near schools.
•Second, visual blight created by the towers compromises views and property values for homeowners.
•Third, local municipalities must be included in the decision making on this issue.

In all these cases, improved regulation is necessary, to ensure that health is not compromised; community consultation is mandatory; and that there is municipal oversight.

With regard to health effects, it has been commonly accepted that the radiofrequency radiation (RFR) from the towers is too low to cause adverse health effects. However, rapid change in cell phone technology, coupled with the furious growth in cell phone towers to meet the demand of cell phone users, leaves serious questions as to whether there is a link between certain health problems and cell phone use and/or living near a tower. Despite the assurances on Health Canada’s website, there are genuine worries because scientific examination has lagged behind this proliferation. In short, the research upon which Health Canada bases its findings is outdated.

For example, the findings on long term exposure to low level rates of RFR, and absorption rates are “sparse and contradictory” according to the well regarded article by B. Blake Levitt and Henry Lai, “Biological effects from exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell tower base stations and other antenna arrays” (November, 2010).

In fact, our own parliamentary report by the Standing Committee on Health, “An examination of the potential health impacts of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation” (December, 2010) states in five clear recommendations that the Government of Canada must do more to address the gap in scientific research between health effects and EFR (page 11).

This report drew attention to the effect of wireless technology on children, and how scientific results on adults cannot necessarily be applicable to children. As we have learned from tobacco and asbestos, the negative effects are not necessarily evident until after long terms of exposure.

In addition to the unknown health effects of cell phone towers, there is a secondary concern, the visual blight that they create. Municipalities from across the country, including Vancouver, have heard that the towers’ design and location often compromise views and property values.

With regard to the third concern about the exclusion of municipal consultation, according to Industry Canada regulations, so long as the towers remain under 15 metres in height consultation is not required. Both the public and the local land use authority have no say in this matter. As a result such structures can be, and are, erected anywhere, and they become visibly pervasive and invasive to the landscape. Municipalities feel the pressure of residents’ worries, and wrath, yet they are powerless to intervene.

Industry Canada is not doing enough to address these concerns. Instead, it has allowed the cell phone companies to police themselves. This virtual “free for all” situation is not working, as the growing number of court cases across this country will attest. The regulations that exist rely on the companies’ goodwill and not on the public interest. In this regard I believe that ongoing site surveys must be made mandatory.

Site surveys would assess the RFR experienced by residents living in the area of the installation. Surveys would measure such effects as reflection and scattering of electromagnetic waves; exposure duration; distance from the source; and additive effects of other sources of RFR. These surveys would ensure that there are ongoing checks in the system, which are currently non-existent, to ensure that safety protocols are met.

To conclude, conflicts are happening all across the country, but it need not be this way. Industry Canada must put in place regulations that require its own department, companies, municipalities and residents to work together to find locations that are mutually acceptable and safe.

I look forward to your early reply, as this matter is one of urgency for local residents faced with these cell towers.

Sincerely,

Libby Davies, MP Vancouver East

This Open Letter to Ministers & Public Officials was posted on December 20, 2010