Cell towers in Salem come complete with signs, such as the one below, that suggest radiation danger.  Meanwhile, Salem city council has been considering petitions to install the towers taller than city code previously allowed – and closer to homes and businesses.

Should Salem citizens be concerned?

Cell towers enable people to make cell calls by communicating between the user’s mobile phone and other towers through the medium of radiofrequency (RF) waves.  These RF waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which means they have things in common with both x-rays, which can be dangerous to people, and FM radio waves – which are not.

In May 2011, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” – but it said that the evidence about cell towers themselves was still “inadequate” to draw conclusions.  This meant that the studies available “were of insufficient quality, consistency or statistical power” to permit the WHO to reach a conclusion.

Safety standards for U.S. cell phone towers are set by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and are based on information developed by national and international organizations, particularly the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE.)  Although few studies have been conducted on the relationship between cell phone towers and the risk for disease, the IEEE does not at this time see a statistically realistic danger.

The American Cancer Society agrees.  It says that RF waves are unlike strong types of radiation such as x-rays and ultraviolet light, types that can break down the bonds of DNA and result in cancer.  Instead, the Society says, the RF waves from cell towers are like visible light and FM radio waves; they are a form of “non-ionizing radiation” which cannot cause cancer.

“In other words,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says, the energy from cell phones and cell towers “is not strong enough to affect the structure of the atoms it contacts.”

As a matter of fact, according to the American Cancer Society, the area around the bases of cell towers has RF energy that “is thousands of times less than the limits for safe exposure set by the FCC and other regulatory agencies.”

In 2009, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, (ICNIRP) which is an independent, non-governmental scientific organization created to give guidance “on the health hazards of non-ionizing radiation exposure” filed a massive report on possible connections between cell phones/towers and human health.  It reviewed numerous international studies that had been conducted on regular populations, laboratory animals and human volunteers, looking for links to conditions like cancer, brain tumors, leukemia and heart disease.

The ICNIRP found that all studies to date give “no consistent or convincing evidence of a causal relationship between RF exposure and any adverse health effect.”

But “on the other hand,” it added, “these studies have too many deficiencies to rule out an association.”