Friday, July 12, 2024

My Tongue Hurts From All of the Biting

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Residents of Meaford are concerned about the potential health effects posed by a proposed cell tower to be located somewhere within the urban area of the Municipality of Meaford.

I fully respect the rights of citizens to express concern, to protest, and to lobby government. I am well read, and well-travelled enough to be able to acknowledge that history is filled with examples of foods, products, and technology that we thought were safe at one time, even confirmed safe by the science of the day, that instead turned out to be terribly bad for us.

For that reason alone, I always, by default, support a precautionary principle when considering things like cell towers, or incinerators coming to any community.

That said, I have also had a life and career prior to moving to Meaford, and prior to the establishment of The Meaford Independent nearly five years ago. Parts of that career have become unexpectedly useful in my role as a reporter in this town.

When the waste-to-energy incinerator, sorry, gasification unit, was proposed for this town, I had some technical background that caused me to be concerned. For nearly 20 years I worked for a company that manufactures environmental and specialty technical fabrics. Most of the products manufactured by that company were used for industrial filtration, and some of our customers were waste-to-energy facilities such as the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) waste incinerator.

When I expressed concern in editorials at the time, my concerns were based on my personal experience in that specific industry.

The current cell tower issue has also caused me to draw upon my experience in my former career, as I studied radiation safety at Carleton University in Ottawa. For five of the 20 years I was with my former employer, I was, in addition to my other duties, the designated Radiation Safety Officer for the company – because of my training.

In many manufacturing facilities, radioactive devices are common. For our specific process, we had some measurement tools which transmitted a radioactive beam through synthetic fibres in order to gauge and control the volume being sent through a fibre carding system. We also had some other devices – mostly for measurement purposes that utilized radioactive material.

Each of those devices had to be licensed through the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, and I had the responsibility for all of the nuclear devices used at our company, which included an annual compliance audit, and I was also tasked with providing radiation safety training to all of our employees.

So it is through that lens of training and experience that I have approached the cell tower issue in Meaford.

As a result, I have written that residents have a right to be concerned, they have a right to voice their opinion, and they have a right to lobby council for what they believe.

I support those tactics, and I don’t disagree with those exercising those tactics. Why? Because I know that even with my training and experience, even with whatever research I do, and even if scientists today are comfortable in saying there is no cause for concern, that could change in a decade or two.

That said, from everything I have researched, and drawing from my own training (yes, I hauled my textbooks and binders out of the attic), from a personal perspective, Rogers or any other cell company could put a tower in my backyard and I would have zero concern.

I’m more concerned about the cell phones themselves, as some of the basic concepts of radiation protection are formed around time of exposure, distance of the source of exposure, and shielding.

The phones themselves, from the research I’ve done, pose more of a potential health hazard than any cell towers would or could.

Might I be wrong? Certainly. I don’t proclaim to be an expert in this area, I have simply had some training, some hands-on experience, and I’ve been through a few CNSC audits.

To the cell tower companies I would say that they should respect the wishes of the communities in which they want to erect towers, and they should be vigilant in their quest to find the safest, lowest risk technology possible.

To residents I would say that concern is not a bad thing, but it has to be measured against reality. There are some 27 million cell phones in this country alone, and we have had common cell phone use for about 20 years. In those years cell towers have been erected in urban areas, including major cities like Toronto. The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone has more than 2,400 cell towers – many of them affixed to apartment and office buildings.

Unless I’ve missed something, I haven’t seen reports about thousands of Canadians hospitalized as a result of exposure to cell tower emissions.

Does that mean anything?

It means about as much as the notion that cell towers are evil, harmful structures that will kill our children and devastate society.

It means that we don’t yet know for certain. It means that we should likely be cautious in our approach. But it also means there is no provable imminent danger should a flagpole be erected at the harbour that doubles as a cell tower. It means that we should probably not put a tower beside a school just to be safe.

But I would ask this: how often have you personally sought out cell tower locations before buying a house, or going to stay at a hotel, or to attend a public event?

I thought so.

Are you okay?

I thought so.

I will let my tongue heal now.


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