This writing is posted as a service to the Canadian public and interested persons elsewhere
additinal information may be available from Cellular Alert Canada

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February 1996

INFO: Microwave Transmitter Towers

Modern technology is coming to everybody's doorstep. The convenience of wireless communication drives a big industry. The advertising highlights all the benefits, but never talks about the hazards or adverse effects. Politicians join the effort of selling the new technology mainly stressing the job situation and opportunities, overlooking that it probably creates jobs short term only until the computerized network is set up.
Most people are not even aware of the battle for turf the big communication companies have going until it hits home. The new cellular networks need transmitter sites more to secure frequency licenses for tomorrow’s systems than for cellular communication today. But they claim the need is now to ensure that their service is uninterrupted when more business is expected, or where the bulk of their customers would use the service most.
Hundreds of sites have already been established. Duplication of service is common and towers go up everywhere. Some sites are installed to the surprise of unaware property owners right in their "back yard." When they try to do something about it, they find out that their local authorities do not even know what has happened. When they embark on further opposition they learn it is most difficult to fight something that is carefully prepared. Since transmission towers are considered a utility, they need no zoning change and no building permits preempting all the known procedures for consultation and appeals.

Being run over is the first impression for most people, and when they look for help they find very little, even if they know exactly where to go. This situation fuels fears, that a 'secret' procedure was established to hide the dangers of the new technology. Yes, the hazards are there and not yet addressed properly. If you live in a city you may have a transmitter on a tall building right across from your bedroom window, and you are being exposed to high levels of radiofrequency or microwave radiation without knowing it. However, people in the country side learn of the fact, when the towers are visible and they fell threatened by the radiation hazards. If you live outside the cities you did not expect this problem. Some people are frustrated that things they wanted to get away from seem to follow them. Others are upset that such development takes place without any respect for their interests. The attitudes taken in such circumstances are not helpful for both sides. Companies try to use there muscle to push trough with their projects. They seem to back down only if consultations or negotiations get too delicate or delays too lengthy, making it more feasible to start over some place else. Time is essential in a run for a limited resource (radiofrequency licenses).
The reaction of some people has allowed for their opposition to be labeled a 'not in my backyard' issue only. Insufficient information is the main reason for lack of real arguments and trying to find facts can be puzzling. Mostly the rejection for a site is based on the 'ugly view' in lieu of real concerns most people have never heard about. When unspecified technical hazards are cited to prevent such towers from being built, people are labeled paranoid and ridiculed. However, there are real hazards, one from mechanical failure of the tower, the other from radiation in the microwave frequency range.

Most people rely on the government to protect them from technical hazards by establishing standards, but unfortunately the government reacts in most cases only after bad things have happened. Even then it often has to rely on data that come mostly from the same source; the source that wants to sell the new technology, therefore evaluations may be presented favourably and hazards minimized. Lobbying for a new technology with a Million dollar to back it up is easier than speaking against it with the threat of losing your position and/or reputation. Most standards are considered to be in support of the industry, even more that the industry has a head start because strings have been pulled before they even started with a project.
Fighting in a situation, where laws, regulations, and procedures have been designed for use by the people who want to go ahead with something is not easy. It is even more difficult when politicians in general are publicly supportive, and the few concerned experts are afraid of speaking out. The single opposing citizen feels lost or is sometimes even told to 'get lost'.

However, nobody is perfect. Regulations, standards and procedures may have flaws that can be changed, or may already contain something that can be used. There may be glitches in the setup that have been overlooked. Those can be used to the advantage of the opposing position. Being reasonable and practical are the most important ingredients for being successful in this venture; going overboard, appearing to be paranoid, or only being annoyed is not good enough and not helping either. The following material is intended to give interested people a hand to get facts straight and to present reasonable requirements to find better acceptable solutions. You may have heard this: Everybody has the right to his own opinion, but nobody has the right to get the facts wrong. So here are some facts:

Wireless communication is favoured by the industry, because it does not need an expensive cable network. For a network transmitters have to cover the country in an interconnecting pattern. Technically transmitters could be located nearly anywhere. However, transmitter towers are set up so close to people for nearby power supply and easy access. Building power lines and road ways to remoter places is costly. Companies trying to minimize cost will stay as close to roads and power lines as possible. Transmitter towers in itself are probably ugly but not dangerous if installed properly; what goes on them - or better what is radiated from them - makes the difference.

There are two hazards to be considered:  Mechanical failure at the transmission tower structure and radiofrequency radiation / microwave radiation, both are addressed in the documents below.

Biological Hazards of Radiofrequenzy Radiation     (References)

Mechanical Safety Aspects of Transmitter Towers

Safety Aspects of Radiofrequency Radiation

the appropriate government agency dealing with this issue is Industry Canada
to be found under federal government in the blue pages of your phone book

posted 01/11/1997

copyright © 1997   by Wolfgang W. Scherer

for comments or questions e-mail the author Wolfgang W. Scherer

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