This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
Bethel School District parents upset about the prospect of two Clearwire wireless towers on school property have the wrong target in their sights. They should be more concerned about possible long-term effects of cell-phone use on their children’s health.
While there’s no evidence that energy from wireless communications towers has negative health effects, at least some research points to potential problems with heavy cell phone use, particularly in children because their brains are still developing.
Just last week, a National Institutes of Health researcher publishing findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association that cell-phone use does affect brain activity. University of Washington bioengineer Henry Lai says the study shows that talking on a cell phone pressed to the ear “is not really safe.”
Even scientists who acknowledge that several more years will be needed to gauge whether long-term cell-phone use can lead to brain damage or cancer say they personally use a hands-free device to make calls just to be on the safe side. Those devices reduce the amount of radiofrequency energy exposure to the brain because the antenna, the source of RF energy, is not placed against the head.
Wireless towers, however, emit RF energy outdoors that is many thousands of times less than that of a cell phone, according to the American Cancer Society. Andrew Thatcher, a health physicist with the state Department of Health, told the Bethel School Board and those attending a Feb. 8 study session that the wireless towers don’t pose a threat.
The Bethel School District, which like most school districts is facing severe budget challenges, could earn $31,800 a year by leasing the two tower sites to Clearwire, a Kirkland-based wireless service provider. However, Clearwire has withdrawn its construction applications for the towers on Bethel property and 10 others elsewhere in Pierce County, not because of parental pressure but because the company is re-evaluating expansion plans while the economy is still slow. It can exercise its lease agreement option until March 28, 2012.
If Clearwire does resubmit its application, Bethel School Board members should stand their ground. While the parents who are fighting the towers are obviously well-intentioned, they’re reacting viscerally to the issue.
In the scheme of things that threaten their children, wireless towers rank very low. If these parent are truly concerned about the effects of RF energy, they should buy hands-free devices for their children’s cell-phone use.
Thatcher, the state health physicist, has yet another perspective on cell-phone use: A much greater threat than RF energy, he says, “is talking while driving and texting while driving. If parents can keep their kids from doing these activities while driving an automobile, we would have significantly less accidents. It would not be a bad idea for the kids to keep the parents from texting while driving as well.”