We need more towers

At a recent community meeting, I made a statement that many considered outrageous.

If you want to reduce exposure to radio frequency (“RF”) energy from mobile devices, then we should be putting base stations in every lightpost in the city.

Here is the basis of my line of thought. RF energy exposure decays exponentially with distance from the source. As a result, the greatest exposure you have to mobile EMF radiation is from devices themselves, because the devices are close to you. Indeed, even if a person doesn’t own a mobile device, you can bet that there are phones and data sticks being used by people sitting next you on the bus or subway or walking near you on the street or sitting next to you in the restaurant or coffee shop.

A recent study by Public Health Ontario examined EMF exposure levels near a new mobile tower located adjacent to a community centre in Vaughan, Ontario. The study examined radiation exposure levels at six locations in and around the community centre and found that, at the “worst” location, just 80 meters from the tower, the exposure was nearly 600 times below the safety standard, known as Safety Code 6 (“SC6”). The report also indicates that the hottest location found in Toronto is in the area of Metro Hall, still running at close to 50 times below SC6. The report suggests that Metro Hall’s proximity to downtown Toronto broadcast facilities has driven the higher than average RF readings – not mobile phones or devices. Keep in mind that we have been exposed to radio and TV broadcasting for generations. RF energy exposure is not new.

But let’s return to RF energy exposure from mobile services.

Health Canada states:

Health Canada reminds cell phone users that they can take practical measures to reduce their RF exposure by:

  • limiting the length of cell phone calls
  • using “hands-free” devices
  • replacing cell phone calls with text messages

Health Canada also encourages parents to take these measures to reduce their children’s RF exposure from cell phones since children are typically more sensitive to a variety of environmental agents.

Precautions to limit exposure to RF energy from cell phone towers are unnecessary because exposure levels are typically well below those specified in health-based exposure standards.

That is worth repeating. Health Canada has made suggestions to reduce RF exposure to devices, but it explicitly states “Precautions to limit exposure to RF energy from cell phone towers are unnecessary because exposure levels are typically well below those specified in health-based exposure standards.”

Despite the emotions whipped up by neighbours and purveyors of junk science, the towers are not the issue. If you are concerned about being exposed to RF energy from mobile services, then it seems to me that you would want to limit to output required by the devices. These are the transmitters that are closest to you, whether you own a device or not. The radios in these devices adjust power based on the strength of the signal from the tower. So, my logic goes that if you want the phone to dial down the power, make sure that it has access to 5 bars of network signal. The logical progression is that we need more towers in order to reduce exposure to RF energy.

I can appreciate the concerns of neighbours based on the visual appeal of towers – or more precisely, the lack of visual appeal of most towers. So I have great hopes that Douglas Coupland’s V-pole, or similar solutions get deployed in our communities. I’d like to have one replace the municipal light pole in my front yard.

At the end of the day, cell phones and mobile services save lives.

Tell your local municipal councillor that you want more towers – attractive ones, or camouflaged towers – to reduce your exposure to RF energy and improve your mobile service.

3 thoughts on “We need more towers”

  1. Always enjoy your blog — first time compelled to comment

    Everything you wrote in the piece was right on the money, until you got to the V-pole. We all wish it could be that easy, but there is no way for a structure like that to have a remote chance of working – today. The issue is the electronic technology required – Remote radio units (RRU), panel antennas etc. – are getting larger, not smaller, and are required “up the tower” as opposed to hidden in the shelter. We continue to work with the equipment vendors – Ericsson, NSN, Huawei et al but to date we don’t have anything close to possible for the small envelop presented in the V-pole presentation.

    I work at Trylon, a Canadian leader in engineering and manufacturing towers. We spend our efforts visiting with all carriers to help them develop towers that are much more pleasing to the eye in all environments. As you know this past May, Bell installed 21 cell-tower “trees” in Muskoka. Trylon manufactured all of them. We have outstanding engineering here, and we push every day to innovate our tower portfolio to the betterment of all.

    This is not meant to be negative, whatsoever, and Trylon is not accepting of all conventional structures – as the trees will attest to. Take a look at some of the solutions we have been able to come up with – given the current equipment challenges mentioned: http://www.trylon.com/products/custom_towers.aspx . In addition to trees, we have done many light pole structures throughout the GTA, similar to your idea of more, smaller site, concept. We have developed a patent-pending design to allow these pole structures to be located in very tight locations, in many cases away from high traffic areas (and in a variety of colours, I might add).

    Keep the dialogue going – this is an important issue. We need more towers, but we need to be sure they are built and installed in such a way as to be as pleasing as possible to the surroundings.

  2. Mark,
    Great analysis. The major source of EM radiation in the low GHz range appears to be from the mobile device in your pocket, not the cell tower down the street. There is a note, buried in the instruction manual my blackberry (and why would it be different for any other device…) warning to keep the unit at least 1 cm from the body.

    As a society we seem to be slipping and sliding down the slope of techno-peasantry. We fear cell towers because don’t understand them. We don’t understand the RF implications of our mobile devices either, but they couldn’t possibly be more fearful than those ugly towers.

    I had similar thoughts recently when a school district somewhere in Canada banned wireless access points due to perceived risk from EM radiation. The AP might be turned off in the classroom, but most students have a mobile phone, and a laptop or tablet, most of which contain a wireless AP that is powered up all the time. This policy may have reduced by one the number of low GHz RF sources in a classroom that may have 50 or 60 present…

    Bruce MacDougall

  3. Hi Mark. Thought you’d like to see an email I sent about two and a half hours ago to my local Markham Ward 2 Councillor, Howard Shore, (with copies to the Mayor and 2 Regional Councillors) indicating my displeasure with his actions and campaign to delay and restrict the location of new cell towers in his ward particularly and the City generally. Very recently, Mr. Shore, who is also Chair of the Information and Communications Technology sub-committee of Markham Council, managed to secure the approval of Markham’s Development Services Committee to defer from making a decision on a recommendation from Markham staff for the City to indicate to Industry Canada that the City concurred with (approved) an application from Bell to locate a 40 metre tower in a light industrial area in the general vicinity of where I live. It should be noted that I am not a Bell Mobility subscriber. I’m just an interested citizen with some knowledge of the technology and the approval/regulatory/policy processes who gets aggravated when politicians promote NIMBYism and and seek out unrealistic and unwarranted decisions just to get re-elected. Here’s the email – the portions in brackets (except for the second paragraph) were added by me after sending in order better contextualize the information for your readers.

    Subject: Cell Towers

    Sitting here at home (at 11:30am on a Sunday – October 28th) and noticed that I’ve got 5 bars of signal strength on my smart phone (and it’s still at that level at 2:00pm!). This is notable in that during the week at the same time in the same location I’m lucky if I get 3 bars. This means that during the week, because of heavier traffic in and around where I live, my phone has to work harder to provide me with reliable, quality service thereby incurring a greater risk to my health.

    (Remember that the latest evidence used by and recognized by Health Canada and Ontario Health states that the risk from handsets is 5 orders of magnitude greater than that from wireless/cell phone transmission facilities. That means that over the period of a year a cell/smart phone user is facing a health risk after having his/her device next to his/her head for a total of just 5 minutes!)

    So thanks for promoting NIMBYism, sensationalizing unfounded health fears, and attempting to delay (which you ultimately succeeded in doing) and restrict the location of new towers that would give me 4 or 5 bars of signal strength that would (i) reduce the risk of my getting a brain tumor and (ii) provide me with all the capabilities and features that my and my family’s smart phones and tablets can provide.

    Thank the lord you and the City aren’t the final decision makers here and never will be. In this instance, Industry Canada will, I’m sure, make an informed and realistic decision that will truly reflect the interests of the owners of cell/smart phones and other wireless devices (and reflect the expertise and knowledge of Markham staff who recommended Council indicate to Industry Canada that it concurred with (approved) Bell’s application for a 40 metre tower at 47 Harlech Court in Thornhill/Markham).

    Brian Gordon

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