We’ve all heard claims that radio frequency is dangerous to our health. With the rapid growth of mobile and wireless connectivity, it’s obvious that towers and rooftop sites are essential infrastructure. Network expansion through the building of towers is essential for our demands for wireless connectivity.  We see many antennas on rooftops or on towers in populated and regional areas, and roll outs such as Optus’ current $1 billion project to build 500 news sites continue.  According to an article published by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) in their website, these antennas emit low levels of radio frequency. Many of us have been skeptical at times, and some people have even been fighting to block tower installation in their neighborhood because of their beliefs about potential health issues from radio frequency emissions.

I speak with telecommunications workers regularly who are on site each day in the safety zones with no issues. After hearing some claims that emitted energy even at low level is absorbed by living tissue and the tissue’s temperature increases, and that RF frequencies may interact with living cells in a way that imposes health risks, I felt curious and asked some telecommunications professionals what they believe. It was interesting to hear their perspective and what they’re seeing in the community now.

Can you share any stories about telecommunications workers being exposed to unsafe levels of EME?

There are no instances that I know of. If we receive queries, or if there’s an upgrade or changes in the rooftop, we shut down the equipment then, we re-asses it. If there’s any chance of exposure to radio frequency and it is not safe, we shut it down for fix and upgrade. We go back to the whole process again and only if it’s cleared, then we turn it on again. – Experienced RF Manager

Thankfully I don’t have any to share. It’s a very safe environment to work in. This is mainly due to way the equipment is sighted and designed and with personal equipped with Radhaz devices and EME exclusion zones. The only time you need to be mindful of potential exposure is when undertaking site inspections on rooftops where telecommunications equipment either exists on the rooftop of the subject site or that adjoining it. – Tim Brosnan, SME Town Planner

In general, most Broadcast Australia sites have high levels of EME due to broadcasting towers which require outages or transmission to be turned down during works on towers. My opinion is that, all workers on towers or cell sites are exposed to EME and Work Health Safety protocols need to be followed e.g. using an EME meter and/or wearing appropriate EME suits. – Anonymous, Telecommunications/Broadcast Project Manager

Generally speaking, which is worse for EME exposure levels, the EME from using your mobile phone, or the EME from being near a base station, e.g. living in a residence with a wireless tower on the roof?

I think EME from Mobile phones and microwave ovens pose more of a risk that mobile towers or roof tops. EME zoning is critical to understand the levels of EME transposed. You have a red, yellow and white zone. A red zone is high EME and no works can be conducted in that area, yellow zone works can be conducted for a period of time where white zone is free from ME exposure. – Anonymous, Telecommunications Projects Manager

Both are perfectly safe. Both mobile phone towers and hand held mobile phone devices need to comply with standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) (RPS3). The topic is well documented through an array of authors, laboratory tests and investigations carried out in the field. It’s a case of filtering through the sources for what can be relied upon and how applicable it is to the topic. In short – there is no scientific evidence to state that being exposed to the EME standards set by these organisations have a negative/unsafe effect on human health. Both mobile phone towers and mobile phone hand held devices have been around a long time all over the world! If we maintain compliance with the standards set and adhere to the regulatory provisions as technology evolves then we’re going in the right direction. –Tim Brosnan, SME Town Planner

If three or more operators are sharing in a tower, it’s way more harmful than being exposed to mobile phone. The more operators are in that tower, the more power it needs. – Anonymous, RF Manager

The question is in relation to EME exposure, which is a query best directed to an RF research consultant. – Red Tandog, Town Planning Manager

Would you live in a residence with a wireless tower on your roof?

Yes and I have done so before at Chester Hill. Using an RF meter showed no signs of EME exposure in any area or room of the property. In essence I felt safe from EME exposure. Anonymous, Telecommunications Projects Manager

Yes – I would. There is a mobile phone tower within 70m from where I reside. The closer you are to a tower the less hard your mobile hand-held device and tower needs to work/transmit in order to send/receive signals. –Tim Brosnan, SME Town Planner

Absolutely. Cell sites are only turned on if the tower is safe. From time to time we make sure that the rooftop is safe to work with and nobody is exposed to radiation. Those with no understanding of EME might get scared. – Anonymous RF Manager

One must ask whether or not they have ever felt comfortable or uncomfortable occupying a space with prior knowledge that a telecommunications facility is located on the roof top facility. I understand what it is like to have a base station sighted on the roof of a building and I have not experienced matters that would trigger an immediate concern. In regard to this, I would be comfortable to have these sighted on the rooftop facility of a private residence. The reality is, is that these facilities are placed within in a very controlled environment, which achieves the safety for all whom occupy the building and or common spaces areas. This means, that work, health and safety of mobile phone Carriers is of high importance. Further, it does provide some financial relief for the owners’ corporation whom wish to reduce their strata fees. Notwithstanding, these facilities are limited to the provisions stipulated under the Telecommunications Low Impact Facilities Determination 1997 and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997, which provide the town planning controls to achieve an acceptable outcome such as appropriate sighting and location to determining the positioning of these facilities. – Red Tandog, Town Planning Manager

Why do you think some communities get so up in arms about mobile phone towers?

Communities want new technology but don’t want cell towers due to them being unsightly. There are many ways to shroud mobile cells on roof tops and towers. The common person is not an EME expert and by reading Dr. Google doesn’t make you a professional. Communities should embrace fact that although EME is a health and safety concern that Australia has one of the most stringent guidelines of what is considered safe and acceptable. – Anonymous, Telecommunications Projects Manager

It rarely occurs these days. I’ve sought environmental planning approvals for all types of proposals such as rooftops, new lattice towers, monopoles etc. and generally speaking, the majority of people welcome such proposals and understand that the social and economic benefits of such infrastructure outweigh any negative impacts. When people are first informed of a new facility in their area, I understand how they may have some genuine concerns over EME and the perceived negative health impacts, visual impacts and property values. This is mainly due to such proposal’s not being an everyday type of development such as a dwelling, shop front, industrial unit or retail premises etc. and the recipient is not familiar with such type of development. In some instances people jump to web sources that are incorrect or misleading and rely on “hearsay” comments when in-fact the facts will tell you otherwise. However, when you actually talk people through it and provide them with the correct and informative information then they’re more receptive to proposals. –Tim Brosnan, SME Town Planner

People have no end up analysis. They just see a tower. If there’s a person up on a rooftop, they’ve got clearance and there are no chances of exposure. Studies are done before putting up a cell site and even the slightest chance of being exposed, we shut it down completely. It takes long process, different phases; designers look of EME and relocate the antenna if needed. So there are no chances seriously. – Anonymous RF Manager

In my years’ experience as a telecommunications town planner I have dealt with various communities in Australia whom have an overwhelming support for these technologies, including communities that have not been in support of these things. Specifically, for those communities that do object have a genuine fear regarding the EME and health effects, however, I do find that in most circumstances and or by the course of community consultation is that most communities are accepting of these facilities. Some of the other concerns normally raised by communities are whether the sighting and location of “the proposed site” is appropriate. In regard to this, licensed telecommunications carriers, we must operate under the provisions of the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the Telecommunications Code of Practice 1997. This provides the guidelines to determine the appropriate site selection via a thorough process. –Red Tandog, Town Planning Manager

We also spoke with Ray Mckenzie of Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) and he shares similar insights. “Australia has very safe standards regarding cellular sites and the government imposes comprehensive and regulative framework”, he said.

According to studies, the relation of cancer to being exposed to mobile towers is limited. There is no evidence listed that proves the adverse impact of RF EME to human health. The World Health Organization further supports the insights “Despite extensive research, to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health”.

In Australia, all telecommunication companies must adhere to the strict rules imposed in operation of towers and it is a long process for telecommunication companies before a tower becomes operational. The slightest chance of radiation exposure would precipitate mobile operators to shut down the equipment and reassess it before it becomes operational again.

It appears that misinformation fuels safety concerns about towers and health issues related to RF/EME.  Is there another side to the position of the WHO and the professionals in the telecommunications industry? What do you think? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.