Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Proposed Cell Phone Base Station (Tower) In Fairfield, Iowa USA

This post addresses the proposed installation of a new cell phone base station (cell phone tower) in Fairfield Iowa. I am writing this post as a measure of efficiency. I have received many emails and one-on-one questions regarding this topic and I am repeating myself, over and over.

This post is intended to present certain facts (classical physics) concerning the microwave radiation from a US based cell phone base station. This information will be presented in a way that allows a non-technical person to "get a physical handle" on the radio frequency (RF) radiation from such a base station and assess it along side of many other sources of radiation that are present in the modern world.

In addition, this post will address information that has been presented by various other sources, e.g. websites. All too often, information has been presented in such a way that the general public can easily come to an inaccurate conclusion. Specifically observations will be made as to the appropriateness and specificity of those sources of information as regards this proposed installation in Fairfield, Iowa.

It is *not* the purpose of this post to make an assessment of danger/safety of the proposed installation. The definition of "safe" is not at all agreed-upon.

Executive Summary
  • A great deal of information has been circulating in the community which does *not* address the perceived threat of this proposed cell phone base station (tower) installation. This information does, though, frighten people.
  • The actual Radio Frequency (RF) power (power density) at ground level, of this proposed cell base station, is very likely much lower than the "circulated information" would lead you to believe.
  • There are definitely numerous other RF sources that radiate (to ground level) an intensity quite a bit more than the typical cell phone base station (tower), and therefore might be a better focus for people to take in protecting their bodies.

Intended Audience
The intended audience is my friends who keep asking me questions. I will make a concerted effort to make this post understandable by non-technical individuals.

Here we go .....

The Problem
The proposed cell phone base station (cell phone tower) is in the center of town. It is feared that this will have a negative effect on the health of the populace. Civic action groups are working to somehow block the construction of this facility

I want to personally acknowledge the many individuals who are pursuing this civic action initiative. I want to appreciate your interest in public health and thank-you for your efforts to pursue a noble cause. May God bless you in every way.

I want to thank the 11 scientists and community leaders who provided a peer-review of this article prior to making it public. I have incorporated all of their insights and suggestions.

I have organized my offering of information into various topics. If you only read one topic, read the last one "The Irony Of It All".

Topic 1 - The Presentation of Information Regarding This Cell Base Station Proposal

A great deal of information has been supplied with regard to this topic. Emails have been broadcasted with citations and references to various papers, news items, reports, etc. Papers and posters have been made available with various citations.

All of this information has been presented in a way that can only frighten people. A great deal of mentioning of dread diseases and serious conditions has been put forth. When people are frightened they can lose sight of simple facts and thereby can fail to make logical decisions.

It does not take a scientist to make some simple assessments of this information. Here are examples of such assessments.

Example 1
These documents that have been circulated often have many, many references to "prove the point" that this cell phone base station is a threat. If you look at the nature of the references you will find:
  • A large percentage are simply a mention of some other civic group's action. While that could be a call to action for our community, if we have no way to assess whether their (the other community's) efforts were well founded or not then it means very little. Most importantly, it does not address the radiation strength of the proposed base station and hence the threat to this community.
  • A large percentage are oriented to cell phone handsets. Yes it is the same type of radiation, but it also does not address the radiation strength of the proposed base station and hence the threat to this community.
  • A large percentage are documentation of epidemiological effects of microwave radiation, and again, does not address the radiation strength of the proposed base station and hence the threat to this community.
Do you see the point?

Think of it this way. Do you think that you could get far enough away from a cell phone base station so that the radiation strength could not possibly hurt you?

What is that radiation strength? How far would you have to go?

My point is that the references above do not seem to address this at all. They vilify microwave radiation, point to others who are concerned and presume that this proposed base station must somehow pose a threat.

Example 2
Many references mention that the US standard (set by the Federal Communications Commission, FCC) for maximum allowable radiation strength at the cell phone frequency of 1.8-1.9 Ghz, is 1000 microwatts per square centimeter.

These references point to other countries around the world that have lower standards (lower max. allowed power). The verbiage in the references strongly states that somehow the US is negligent and putting the general public at risk because of the 1000 microwatts per square centimeter specification.

Here is the point. The references imply that the 1000 microwatts per square centimeter specification means that the general public is being exposed to such a radiation intensity from this cell phone base station. This is far, far from the truth. It is actually thousands of times less than 1000 microwatts per square centimeter specification. More on this later.

Example 3
The references mentioned above offer a strong implication that because some other country has a reported maximum level that is less than the US level, that the US is therefore deficient in protecting the general populace.

My point is not an argument that the US maximum exposure level is acceptable or not. This is a simple statement that the existence of someone else's lower level really does not mean that the US level is wanting in any way. It proves nothing.

Furthermore, some of these specifications are for the maximum allowed radiation for a pulsed RF signal and are *not* comparable to US cell phone radiation.

Example 4
Links ( are offered to Dr. Neil Cherry's radio broadcasts in S.F. The text titles of the links to these audio broadcasts, say "Cell Phone Tower ...". Many of the still photos in the recording are of cell towers. These Neil Cherry broadcasts do not, though, address cell phone towers.

The Neil Cherry broadcasts speak of radio and television transmitter sites that have millions of watts of transmitted power (see Note 1 below). According to the FCC, a typical (single) cell phone base station transmitter operates at 5 to 10 watts of power. That is a great deal less.

In addition, these Neil Cherry radio broadcasts also focus on believed epidemiological effects of radio frequency radiation. This does not address the assessment of a potential risk from the proposed cell base station.

Once again, much information is supplied that will frighten the reader but not address the risk of the proposed installation. How did these radio broadcasts audio files get the titles "Cell Phone Tower ..."?

Summary of Topic 1
The various distributed information is very heavily weighted with information that is not directly concerned with the issue at hand and the populace therefore will probably not make "informed decisions". Information in references and citations has been presented in such a way to allow a reader to draw inaccurate conclusions.

Topic 2 RF Falls Off Rapidly With Distance

Radio frequencies (RF) decrease rapidly in strength as you move away from the antenna. For those technical readers, it falls off as the inverse square of the distance.

I will construct a simple example.
You are talking on a cell phone handset and it is transmitting at its full power.
You are holding the cell phone 1 inch from your head and the received RF power density is 500 microwatts per square centimeter.
Now you move the cell phone to 10 inches from your head.
The power density will be 100 times less: 5 microwatts per square centimeter.

Do you see how quickly it falls off with distance? 500 down to 5.

Topic 3 The RF Power Density From A Cell Phone Base Station (Cell tower) At Its Base

The FCC specifically addresses the measured power density at the base of the tower of a Cell Phone Base Station. Please note that they are referring to a traditional free-standing tower, like the one proposed for Fairfield. Please see Note 2 below. In the FCC paper I am referring to, they cite a typical power density as:

1 microwatt per square centimeter.

Pause here for a moment and let that digest ..... only 1 microwatt per square centimeter,
at the base of the tower.

There are many documents, websites, papers etc. that lambaste the FCC for having a maximum allowed exposure of 1000 microwatt per square centimeter.

That does not mean that this proposed cell phone base station, or any other base station for that matter, produces the 1000 microwatt per square centimeter power density at ground level.

Indeed the specification is mostly pointed at the cell phone handsets.

Also, reflect upon the many articles that you may have read that offer praise to other countries for their specifications that are lower than 1000. Some are 100, 20, 5, etc.

At the base of a cell base station the FCC has measured 1 ... just 1 microwatt per square centimeter.

NOTE: 1 microwatt per square centimeter can be written: 1 uW/cm2

Here is a quote from the below cited FCC document:
For example, measurement data obtained from various sources have consistently indicated that "worst-case" ground-level power densities near typical cellular towers are on the order of 1 µW/cm2 or less (usually significantly less).

CLICK HERE For the FCC document.

Topic 4 What (really) COULD Be Dangerous ?

There are quite a few transmitters that are common in this modern life that subject people to RF power densities much, much greater than "ground level of power densities of a cell phone base station". Included among them are:
  • Cell phone handsets
  • Any PDA that transmits on cell frequencies
  • Cordless phones, particularly the 2.4 Ghz and 5.x Ghz
  • Wireless networking in your home, business, restaurant, airport, etc.
  • Blue Tooth ear pieces. These are the worst of the worst.
  • High power television and radio transmitters
  • Radar transmitters, e.g. airport radars
Special mention is offered for wireless networking. This is the scheme where you don't have to connect wires (like Ethernet) to your computer in order to connect to the Internet, and other local computers. There will usually be something called a "wireless router" that connects you. The frequency of these is most often higher than cell phones. Often they are in the Industrial Scientific and Medical band of 2.4 Ghz. Yes that is the frequency for microwave ovens.

Depending upon how you set up your computer and your wireless router, you could be bathing yourself in 2.4 Ghz energy much of the time or possibly all of the time. The power level of a wireless router is somewhat less (0.2 to 1.0 watts) than a cell phone handset. Remember, also, that your PC has a similar transmitter in it to "talk to" the wireless router.

Topic 5 A Recommendation To The Civic Action Organizers

If it has not already been done, contact the carrier in question for the proposed cell base station and have them send you the data for the worst-case (highest) ground level power densities from the base of the proposed site out to 1 mile, and we'll have a look at them.

Topic 6 The Irony Of It all

Topic 6a
These remarks are appropriate to people who actually use cell phones. The irony, is simply that more cell base stations (towers) that there are, the lower the received radiation !

Cell phone handsets adjust their transmitted power so that they transmit with the least power that is needed to reach the base station. With more base stations, the average distance from your handset, to the nearest base station, will be less - so your cell phone handset will transmit with less power, and your body will receive less power from the handset. The power your body receives from the base station itself will be thousands to millions of time less than the radiation from the handset, so only the handset radiation is of significance here.

Topic 6b
People wonder why we don't lower the FCC limit of 1000 microwatts per square centimeter. Well, we (as a nation) could. If we want to have the same coverage - the same ability to serve the same number of people - you guessed it, we would need more cell base stations.

Topic 7 A Personal Note

I have a cell phone. I keep it off most of the time. I use it, typically for 3 minutes per month. I almost always use it in the speakerphone mode so that I can hold the phone away from my body.

When I see other people talking on cell phones, held against their head, for a great deal of time, I often wonder if I should try to make them aware of what they might be doing to themselves. One of the peer reviewers of this article is a Dad and an electrical engineer (both like me). He asked me to urge all parents to insist that their children who have cell phones, use them in speakerphone mode and hold the phones at arms length. Bravo, I say!

Blessings to all,
Robert Palma

My resume can be found here.

A micro-resume of only RF related work is below.
  • Age 20, still in engineering school at UVa. Served as Chief Engineer of Wccv FM a commercial 50,000 watt stereo FM broadcast station. Responsible for all transmitter facilities and measurement of broadcast field strengths.
  • Graduated with BSEE (electronic engineering). First job with US Navy. Designed first RF instrument for RF strength measure for use on Navy aircraft carriers to prevent inadvertent initiation of explosives from RF. Later used throughout US Navy.
  • Joined Naval Research Laboratory. Designed spacecraft and launch vehicles for 23 years. One of my specialties was design of electroexplosive systems. These are inherently sensitive to inadvertent RF initiation. Did extensive work in measuring and characterizing RF - always with safety as the goal.
  • Was one of 5 engineers on blue-ribbon team to re-write specification for preventing inadvertent initiation of electro-explosive devices for the US Space Shuttle program (Mil-STD-1512-tailored). Received an award for this, here.
  • Operate microwave laboratory with brother Greg Palma. Designed/tested various devices for lowering the electromagnetic fields for humans, including a cell phone safety device that reduces RF exposure to the head - here.
  • Performed assessments of suitability for Maharishi SthapatyaVeda of various properties in the Fairfield, Iowa area for electromagnetic environments from 60 Hz power line frequencies to the microwave frequencies. One of these studies was specifically in regards to the proximity of several cell phone base stations (towers). All projects were approved.

= = = Notes

1] In Example 4 above, reference is made to the Neil Cherry radio broadcast where he speaks of a broadcast (tower) site with megawatts of transmitted power. In this article I simply reference what he said and have not attempted to verify that it is correct. I will note that there has been for many decades, broadcast sites (towers) where many, many different broadcast services (transmitters) operate on the very same tower. Indeed in some case they share the very same antenna. This would allow there to be a single tower that does indeed radiate megawatts (millions of watts) of power.

2] This article has addressed the cell phone radiation topic for the proposed cell phone base station (tower) in Fairfield. This is a traditional free-standing tower-site. The towers are typically 80 to 300 feet in height. This means that persons on the ground, near the tower, are quite a distance from the base station antennas. I am including this note because in other locations around the world, cell phone base stations are sometimes mounted on the top of buildings. They may be mounted there on fairly short towers or masts. This could pose a radiation hazard for people working on the roof of the building or even people working or living on the upper floors of the building, because these people are so close to the antennas.