HILDA LABRADA GORE: Our guest today is Theodora Scarato who is the executive director of the Environmental Health Trust (EHT). EHT is one of the leading environmental health organizations working on 5G, small cells and cell phone radiation. Theodora lectures widely and coordinates international scientific programs with scientists and research institutions on the issue of 5G, cell phones and health. We have many questions about this critical topic and will see how much we can cover in this episode. Theodora, what exactly is 5G? Who’s promoting it? Is it really going to give us faster Internet? Is that what we want? What is its impact on the environment and our health? How do we best protect ourselves from the radiation emitted from these small cell towers? How do we slow the unfettered rollout of 5G where we live? Is it true that there is going to be a big rollout in major cities in the U.S.?
THEODORA SCARATO: Yes it is. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Internet companies are trying to roll out 5G. They already have test cities in place. It’s going to mean millions of new mini cell towers in neighborhoods.
HG: How did you get passionate about and so involved in this topic?
TS: When I first heard about 5G, I wondered what it was. I learned it is the fifth-generation technology. What it would mean for me, as a mother and homeowner, is there would be a tower, a new pole built in front of my house or added to the utility pole out front. It would have cellular antennas at the top; at the bottom would be a utility meter, a smart meter, which would have radiation coming out of it, as well as an up-to-twenty-cubic-feet electronics box near the sidewalk. What concerned me most, as a parent having kids who would climb trees and play in the front yard, is that there would be a cell tower, a shorter tower with antennas. I began to think about that and have been researching for many years and determined it is not just that it is unsafe, it is more than that. There are so many studies showing negative effects. I knew I had to get involved.
HG: We are going to put links in our show notes to the studies you mention because we want people to know specifically what they say. Let’s go back for a second before we talk about the risks and the harm involved in 5G. Will you be more specific about what these little cell towers are? Why do they need so many? What’s the strategy with 5G?
TS: This is an intensification, meaning more and more towers in our neighborhoods, not just in the commercial areas where we shop or where the industrial buildings are. 5G is about connecting your cell phone to your washing machine and to all the wireless things that are in your house. They are all going to be connected. Then there are self-driving cars, which will have a lot of sensors and be connecting in real time. There are many machine-to-machine connections and phone-to-the-Cloud connections that companies are wanting in order to sell us more stuff. To make that work, the strategy is that there have to be mini cell towers in neighborhoods up to every two to ten houses. That’s what companies are saying, even though they also say that they have a 5G technology that can travel much further. Some of what we are hearing doesn’t make sense.
HG: So, it sounds like they are saying we need these little cell towers very close together and then they are also saying that maybe we don’t? I guess there is confusion, too, because you are saying these companies want to push it on us, but I’ve heard that the push comes from consumer demand for faster Internet and better connections.
TS: Yes, they are saying all of that. Some of this doesn’t add up. Within your home, you have your own connections that you can set up through your modem. What’s not being said is that wired service is faster, safer and more secure, especially related to hacking. Hacking is a whole other issue related to 5G that could be its own podcast topic. But you can get super-fast service in your home with wires. We recommend using the safer and more secure wired communications as much as possible.
HG: And this is because wired is faster, more secure and offers less exposure to radiation. Is that the crux of the problem with 5G, that we’re getting exposed to more radiation?
TS: I think the radiation is the number one issue for many people, certainly for myself. But there are many problems. There are issues of environmental impacts from all of the energy use that this explosion of interconnected technology is going to use. Plus there are the privacy issues. If everything is connected with everything else, you can easily hack into it. All of your information is being utilized by companies who are creating a picture of you as a consumer.
HG: These companies are pushing for it. But shouldn’t the health and environmental implications be carefully thought through before we proceed with the installation of 5G?
TS: Senators have been calling on the FCC for proof of safety because a couple months ago it was stated that there was proof of safety, when we know there is not. In fact, what’s happened in our government is that there isn’t a health and safety agency whose job it is to systematically review the science to determine the radiation and effects and what will it mean for human health. There hasn’t been any systematic review. I had assumed there had been. Our kids are being handed cell phones, and we’re using devices more and more. Surely, I assumed, they did a study and are doing ongoing research to determine whether this is safe, and they must know what a safe level is. In fact, this was never done. In the United States, we never determined safety standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was defunded from doing that in 1996. Here we are, two decades later, and now we are adding 5G, which is going to be using all the current frequencies and technologies and adding in higher frequencies—millimeter waves—especially in the cities. This is what the companies are saying that they are going to be using. Millimeter waves are used as a crowd control weapon because at very high levels they make your skin feel like it is burning. They are uniquely absorbed into the skin.
HG: Many scientists are now saying that there needs to be a moratorium on 5G. Over two hundred and fifty scientists are calling for a moratorium on this rollout because of the concern about cancer and because we don’t have adequate safety limits.
HG: It is hard to believe. I’m thinking about a scene in the movie Generation Zapped, which is even before 5G. It is about children in schools that are too close to cell towers and the effect it has on their concentration, focus and health. They showed how it really is affecting them on a cellular level.
TS: Our cells are being affected by these frequencies. There is a study that just came out from Switzerland. They looked at teenagers who used cell phones for one year. They found—after one year—damage to the memory of those teens who held it to one side of their head. There are numerous studies on impacts to the brain. They have looked at brain cells and various parts of development. What will the impact be with a lifetime of exposure? And to our children whose brains are still developing?
HG: It is alarming! What is the likelihood that the industry or our government officials will listen to the two hundred and fifty scientists you mentioned who are trying to wave a flag of warning for us all?
TS: I think this is a case of “many hands make light work.” I don’t believe that these scientists are going to be listened to without people talking to their public officials at every level of government saying “you need to look at this.” And the issue is urgent. It cannot wait. We had the National Toxicology Program (NTP) study results released earlier this year. This was a two-decade study, first initiated in 1999. The FDA nominated this study in 1999 because it said, “We don’t know what the long-term effect of this radiation exposure will be. Animal studies need to be done to understand this. Of course, you wouldn’t want to test humans. You can’t expose humans in research studies to this.” But that is what we’re doing! We’re doing a huge human experiment and know what the outcome may be on several levels. You can read online what they found with this thirty-million-dollar NTP study with Dr. Ronald Melnick. He said it was designed to look at the assumptions that underlie our current radiation limits—the FCC limits for radiofrequency radiation limits in the U.S. It failed the test because the conclusion was clear evidence of cancer in the schwannomas of the heart in rats. There was also damage to the ventricle of the heart in both male and female animals. There was some evidence of glioma of the brain and DNA damage. If this radiation were safe, that simply shouldn’t have happened because the exposure was so carefully kept to the proper limits. That has capped off the research in the sense that it gives us strong animal evidence as a final result.
HG: What should we do to protect ourselves?
TS: I’m in Montgomery County, Maryland, where they were about to put forward a zoning ordinance which would have opened the floodgates to putting up these small cell antennas in our front yards. When people organized and advocated by talking to their elected officials, attending meetings, testifying and really looking at this issue, the zoning change did not pass. In Takoma Park, Maryland, where they were going to pass an ordinance related to putting these up, the community members got together and said that we need to look at this, and we should see what other cities are doing, like Burlington, Massachusetts and Petaluma, California. We have a web page where we list all of the ordinances that are far more protective; some are banning wireless facilities in neighborhoods, ensuring that there is public notice or asking for radiation measurements and permit requirements that can help. All of these things were used to control this deployment and some to halt it. Cities can use their authority to make changes, but the people need to get organized and educated in order to educate city officials. This is happening nationwide.
HG: Can you tell us about the exemption the firefighters in California got on their firehouse?
TS: At every level, the FCC and companies are trying to put up these small cells as easily as possible without people stopping them by saying they don’t want one in their neighborhood. One of the things that is happening is state streamlining bills—about twenty-one have passed. The state passed a bill that takes away a lot of the city’s authority to regulate. A city could say that they want them to be a couple hundred feet from homes, but the streamlining bills remove that so companies don’t have to deal with a city that doesn’t want a small cell right in people’s front yards. There was a bill in California, SB-649, that was moving forward, but the firefighters have long fought to keep these from being placed on their stations because of research that was done years ago showing neurological effects to firefighters. You can go online and watch them testify on this. They lobbied hard not to have these on their stations and were able to get themselves carved out of SB-649.
HG: Did they cite health reasons as the basis for the exemption?
TS: They’ve been talking about health for a long time in California. Health is a concern that they’ve raised. There is a CBS piece that shows interviews with firefighters and the researcher who found the neurological effects. There is one testimony where a firefighter compares this issue to cigarettes. He says, “This is not safe for us and remember when we thought cigarettes were safe?”
HG: Please tell us more about what we can do to protect ourselves. We can use landlines for our phones and wired Internet for our computers. What else can we do personally, and where do we go to get our voices heard?
TS: There is a lot you can do. Using wires is safe, so as much as you can, use wired technology. If you have long phone calls to make, make them on a wired phone. If you don’t have a copper line, you can get voice over IP (VoIP) or a phone through your Internet provider. Hopefully you can do this at work and in your house. It is a good idea to decrease exposure to your cell phone by keeping it away from your head and using the speaker. We have a list of ways to reduce exposure on ehtrust.org. Thinking about wired accessories at home is for more than just your computer, which can be wired with an Ethernet, but also your mouse, keyboard and speakers.
In terms of 5G, be an advocate first on your very local level. Educate and talk to your neighbors. We had a teach-in at Takoma Park where six people presented on the health issues, policy issues, what the city can do and what’s happening in other cities. Have meetings educating the community and start meeting with your local officials about an ordinance that they can pass to control the unfettered rollout. Then there needs to be action at the state level to halt streamlining bills, which strip away local authority. At the federal level, there are bills moving forward that will be nationwide, pulling out a lot of the authority of local governments to protect their communities. Regulations are moving forward with the FCC and in Congress to strip the rights of state and local governments to have authority as to where these small cells are to be placed. It is really important to contact your federal elected officials and ask them to address this immediately by not supporting bills that are going to allow this rollout, sending them the International Appeal to Stop 5G on Earth and in Space (5gspaceappeal.org/the-appeal/) and asking that they address this issue.
The second piece is that at the federal level, our health and safety agencies are not doing their job. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be asking the EPA to do a systematic review of the science and develop adequate safety limits. Our elected officials should be asking the EPA and the FCC to ensure that our regulations are adequate to protect human health by doing a scientific review of the literature.
HG: Isn’t there some kind of act that limits our referring to health concerns when we’re talking about this new technology?
TS: Yes. I couldn’t believe when I was told, when working to keep cell towers away from schools, that you aren’t allowed to make a decision about cell tower placement based on health. As I started to look into that, I found that the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which was the most heavily lobbied bill if you look at the money, says in section 104 that as long as the radiation output doesn’t exceed FCC limits, you cannot object based on environmental concerns. This has been interpreted to prevent referring to health concerns, and many would say that it is an overreach of the statute. Your officials are going to be told that they can’t talk about health because it would violate that Act. How is it that we have a law that is being interpreted to mean that we can’t be advocates for our family’s health, when we’re talking about a cell tower in front of our home? There are numerous studies that have shown harmful effects.
HG: That is absurd and unthinkable.
TS: Yes. And cities can be sued if the policymakers talk about doing this because of health concerns. Many legal experts are saying that this is an overreach of the statute. I know that in our meetings, the officials will say, “You know we can’t talk about health concerns because of the Telecom Act.” The people can testify and talk about it but the officials feel like their hands are tied.
HG: It may be an overreach in understanding of that particular provision, but that shouldn’t silence our voices. What is happening in other countries regarding 5G and wireless cell towers?
TS: It is really interesting. First, in the U.S. we have among the highest allowable radiation limits for cell tower radiation. We allow a lot more than several other countries like Italy, China, Russia, Switzerland and Poland. What is happening is that in those countries that have more protective rules around cell tower radiation and cellular antenna radiation, the industry is stating that they can’t roll out 5G because they need to change the governmental limits in order to fully deploy 5G. They are putting millions of dollars into advertising and lobbying to get these countries to change their laws. Many people are organizing in other countries. I just read a letter from Greece where they are active against it. I know in Poland and in Switzerland that doctors are stating that they don’t think this is a good idea because of what they know about the science. Certainly, they are saying there is absolutely no proof of safety for this radiation. Knowing what we know about current wireless technology, it is not safe. Scientists are saying that it is a human carcinogen. There are many other effects, like increasing inflammation in the body, everything from headaches to affecting the reproductive system. Knowing that, we should not be moving forward with a new technology that is going to exponentially increase the radiation, so much so that you have to change other country’s limits. That does not make sense.
HG: Even if we understand this intellectually, we might find resistance within ourselves to act on what we’ve heard. There is an emotional component here. Can you address that?
TS: Yes. I loved my cell phone. When I first learned about this issue, I had Wi-Fi in my house. I loved texting and sending pictures. It was hard for me to believe. When I talk to other people, we love this technology, and we’ve become so dependent on it and use it at work, for entertainment and socially. We don’t want to believe that it could be harmful or that we may have exposed our children to something that could harm them. Although it was unknowing, I know I used to let my young children use the cell phone. I think that it is really hard to swallow sometimes, all the time, that we personally need to change.
HG: It is hard. I’ve heard this phrase, “Know better, do better.” In other words, we didn’t know better at first, but now that we are aware, we can make better choices. It is hard to imagine a complete overhaul where your computer gets Ethernet in your home, and you only use a landline. If you can’t do it all, just make some small adjustments. That’s how I would proceed. Otherwise, it can be quite overwhelming.
TS: I made a series of small steps that made sense for me. Each time I took a step, I saw that it was doable. First, it was changing my relationship with my cell phone. It was the hardest thing because it used to be that if I couldn’t find my phone, I would be stressed out and my whole life ended. What would I do because I had no phone? Now my phone is generally off. That took time. Even plugging in the computer wasn’t that difficult as I just had to get an adapter. I sit at the same desk all the time so it wasn’t that hard. I think that with the small changes that take time but are doable, you can address a significant amount of personal exposure from devices that are close to your body.
We are seeing what is happening in communities where people really can make a difference in getting their cities to take a more protective stance. I’ve seen it time and time again. Here in Takoma Park, there was a turnaround with the city council within two weeks. Once they had the information and saw what other cities were doing, they looked at what information they needed to be able to have the authority to decide what they wanted in their neighborhood. This is about people and communities being able to say what they want in their street and how they want to use technology. It just makes sense that we should be a part of the process, rather than companies telling us what to do and how to do it.
HG: Rather than being a passive guinea pig in a huge, worldwide experiment.
TS: It’s involuntary exposure. People really don’t know. Once people start to understand that there is going to be a pole in their front yard or that the street light will be turned into one, they don’t want or need it. They already have the Internet in their home to serve their needs. Why would it be needed in a neighborhood? Once people start to connect the dots, they ask to review the information and do what makes sense and is safe for their children and their future. It doesn’t make sense to roll something out if you wonder whether it is safe. People think since they aren’t scientists and don’t understand the science, they cannot speak up. But we all know enough to know that if there has been chicken salad in your fridge for several days, you shouldn’t feed it to your kids. We often take the precautionary approach, which many people agree with. In this case, we have so much science and so many studies that have found harmful effects. I think the situation is urgent.
HG: As we wrap up, what have we seen in terms of the effects of these waves on nature?
TS: There is a substantial body of research about this. For example, research shows that with wireless frequencies, there are biochemical changes in bees that are harmful and stressful. In terms of birds, there are effects to their navigation and reproduction. Trees are of concern. If you have a small cell in front of your house, the antennas could be near your trees. There is a lot of research showing damage to plants and trees. On the EHT website, we have a number of these types of studies and reviews.
HG: If it is hurting birds, bees and trees, then it is very likely hurting us as well. I think this is a powerful note to end on. Hopefully we’ll all take to heart your advice on how to act on this information on a personal, local and global level.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2019