“5 by” Reception on the Fringes

I attended the public meeting last night regarding wireless Internet in Santa Fe and received the handouts (ref d, below). I admit my skeptical bias regarding the detrimental health claims by opponents of wi-fi, and I admit that based on what I have read I had already filed “Arthur Firstenberg” under “Kooky Frivolous Lawsuits.”  (Apart from his electromagnetic radiation sensitivity, he’s also apparently a contrarian forestry expert – see “Controlled burns to thin forests will destroy them.”)

However, I attended the meeting because I was under the impression (mistaken, it turns out) that this “public meeting” would include persons representing a cross-section of the community. Instead, the only people who spoke were clearly in support of the various confused, conflated, and contradictory “anti-” agendas.

IMPORTANT NOTE (ref a, 4/9/10):  “A second public meeting is planned for 7 p.m. April 22 at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, 3221 Rodeo Road. The City Council has the proposed ordinance on its agenda May 12.”

Trying to unravel this big ball of well-intentioned but misguided knots is analogous to untangling a big ball of knotted string, so rather than try to figure it all out in advance I’ll just pick a loose end, tug, and see what happens.

1.  It’s always fun to attend an event and then read the local newspaper’s account of the same event the next day. Julie Ann Grimm’s account of the meeting in this morning’s SFNM (ref a, 4/9/10) quoted some of the comments offered by the public and members of the Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health and Safety. However, the story doesn’t mention the primary front-row speakers for the event: Arthur Firstenberg and Bill Bruno (ref just about all of a, b, and c). This seems to me a curious omission.

2.  I also found it curious that Mr. Firstenberg, the plaintiff in a lawsuit claiming damages caused by the electromagnetic radiation from his next-door neighbor’s cell phone (and/or wireless router), should be so involved with a city councilor (and vice-versa) regarding the drafting of a city ordinance (or is it “ordnance” … I can’t remember which one is dangerous) that would regulate the activity that’s the basis for his pending civil lawsuit. It might be completely kosher and copacetic, but I couldn’t get the word “propriety?” out of my head throughout the meeting. (ref a 4/5/10, b)

3.  To the citizen(s) who quickly jumped onboard the “I don’t know about you, but I sure felt better 10-15 years ago before all these cell towers and wi-fi antennas popped up” bandwagon … Dude, you’re 65 years old. OF COURSE you felt better when you were 50! (Oh, and is that YOUR cell phone ringing?)

4.  Just to mention a few of the many different issues raised which, in my opinion, most of the attendees and the city councilor had trouble discriminating under their “it’s all bad” attitudinal umbrella :

  • The Telecommunications Act of 1996. Some attendees believe that: a) it was passed by the FCC, which apparently is this group’s designated whipping boy … I don’t recall hearing “Congress” ever mentioned) ; b) it’s unconstitutional because they heard somebody say it was;  c) it makes talking about health and safety illegal; and d) Santa Fe should lead the nation in challenging this law all the way to the Supreme Court.
  • The re-write of the Santa Fe ordnance (ordinance? I couldn’t read the flip chart …) regulating: franchise agreements, wireless vs. broadband (?), wireless vs. fiber optics, above/below ground utilities, utility easements, rights-of-way, cable TV, telephone, broadband, number and placement of cell towers (Mr. Firstenberg claimed in his prepared written statement that as currently proposed by the city, any wireless company could put up a transmission tower in any homeowner’s front and/or back yard), number and placement of wi-fi antennas … and I think I heard something about a minor league baseball franchise, but my mind could’ve been wandering by that time.
  • Upon hearing a city staffer state that the city requires new utility connections for new developments to be underground, Mr. Bruno asked, “If that’s the case then shouldn’t wi-fi antennas all be underground?” I’m pretty sure I heard that right.
  • A woman said she had used antennasearch.com to discover there are 200 antennas and 11 cell towers around her home. (I just tried it for my address in 87501 … and, as the saying goes, my result varied.)
  • A student argued against wi-fi for security reasons. She said she’s taken six computer classes in high school and there is no wireless encryption method that is secure and unbreakable.
  • Someone said they read somewhere that having a cell tower in your neighborhood can result in property values decreasing by 20%.
  • A woman urged the group to remember that the city council will not listen to arguments about health issues related to electromagnetic radiation, so they need to come up with other arguments. “Let’s not be nuts,” she said. For example, one argument would be the economic benefits of more tourists who are looking for clean air and (presumably) low electromagnetic radiation levels. (She later clarified that she was just talking about the message to elected officials … in talking about the issues to friends, especially friends with small children, by all means, tell them how dangerous it is for their children to be around wi-fi. After all …  Let’s not be nuts.)
  • A lady referred to recent articles in GQ and Popular Science (“reputable articles, not just on the Internet”) about the dangers associated with cell tower transmissions. Or wi-fi. Or both, plus a lot of other dangerous electronic signals, I don’t recall the specifics. But then, neither did she.
  • Somebody reported they had talked with somebody who had heard that a study in Sweden reported that sick leave doubled all across that country within five years after the erection of cell towers. And since it was all over the country, the only possible explanation was the cell towers. And that all over Europe there are now concerns about wireless technology.
  • A woman commented that there is now “an arms race” in Santa Fe in wi-fi competition.
  • ASIDE: I don’t know if this means anything, but I noted about half of the speakers seemed to have an aversion to holding and speaking into the microphone.
  • A woman explained that the FCC is a mouthpiece for industry, not humanity.
  • A woman referred to something she had recently heard on the Diane Rehm show about the FCC and Comcast court decision that surely affected Santa Fe, so we should wait until everybody understands the impact of that court decision. (I believe you can google “FCC net neutrality” for information about the decision … or listen to the archives of the Diane Rehm show.)
  • Someone argued that, until we know the long-term health effects of this wireless technology, there should be an indefinite moratorium in Santa Fe. Why just a six-month moratorium? Why not two years?
  • Someone else suggested that Santa Fe let some other city be the guinea pig to find out whether or not wireless technology is safe or not. (ASIDE: I’m not sure the other attendees would accept any “it’s okay” verdict, no matter who the guinea pigs are.)

Look, of course it’s admirable for concerned community citizens to participate in their local government. And this type of forum to hear individual citizens express their opinions reflects democracy in action … especially with respect to the establishment of specific ordnances (ordinances?), laws, regulations, etc. So I don’t mean to frivolously disparage and dismiss the sincerity of what I observed last night; I object to the uncritical and confused conflation of legitimate governing issues with irrational, conspiratorially-inspired lemming-ism.

Personal anecdote: I moved to Santa Fe 14 months ago. Last fall, I began noticing a discernible ringing in my left ear. As it grew progressively more pronounced, to the degree that it affected my sleeping, I researched it online and found that it’s a condition known as tinnitus.  I finally got in to see an audiologist at the VA hospital in ABQ this past week. She explained that it’s not an uncommon condition, especially for ex-military exposed to high noise levels like on the flight line, but its cause is unknown and there is no treatment, other than to learn to deal with it. It’s similar to phantom limb syndrome in that the ringing is really ‘heard’ by the patient, but the source of the sound is the patient’s own brain. (Recalling the Eagles, perhaps “the sound of my own wheels” is driving me crazy.)

My point is, it would be very easy for me to presume that my tinnitus could be explained by exposure to wireless radiation – especially if I believed what I heard last night. (Not to mention that tinnitus is listed as one of the effects of “low-kilohertz frequency RF electrical wiring,” according to ref d below, taken from www.healthandenvironment.org.)  It would be very easy, and perhaps understandable, for me to latch on to this simple explanatory cause. And then everything I would read, hear, or watch concerning tinnitus and wireless radiation would be judged in terms of whether or not it supported my contention that my tinnitus is caused by wireless radiation. I could be a victim, and I could take it up as a cause. But personally, I’d rather accept the unknown and uncertain, based on available medical and scientific information regarding cause, effect, risk, and probability.

To channel the admonition of Sgt. Esterhaus (Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there”), I close with these words directed to the Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health and Safety: Let’s not be nuts out there.

(Some, not all) References:

a. Santa Fe New Mexican articles and commentaries:  (4/9/10)  “Residents: City should re-think wireless rules“;  (4/5/10) “Judge: Wi-Fi OK until neighbor’s suit goes to trial“; (3/16/10) “Judge tosses iPhone complaint“; (3/9/10) “Santa Fe has long been a target for wireless foes“;  (6/8/08) “Librarians: Keep public library Wi-Fi free

b. Santa Fe Reporter article: (3/24/10) “Also: Bridge for Sale

c. Santa Fe Review articles:    (3/10/10) “Santa Fe’s New Telecom Law“;  (3/9/10) “Electromania, Part 3“; (2/12/10) “Electromania, Part 2”; (2/7/10) “Electromania“; (3/4/07) “What Science Really Knows about Wi-Fi

d. Handouts from Santa Fe Alliance for Public Health and Safety at public meeting hosted by Santa Fe City Councilor Miguel Chavez (4/8/10)

All DiscernThis! posts regarding Santa Fe wireless ordinance and Arthur Firstenberg.