Opinion: Children Deserve Safety Assurances When It Comes to Cellphone Radiation

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If new zoning proposals before Montgomery County Council pass, our children and the rest of us may be exposed to levels of radiation that remain untested for their impact on our health and that of the environment.

For 5G and small cell towers, many localities have large setbacks for the new networks. Petaluma, California, has a 500-foot setback. Los Altos, Calif., requires a 500-foot setback from schools.

While the National Toxicology Program shows clear evidence that this radiation can cause cancer and DNA damage, Montgomery County stands poised to allow cell towers closer to homes and schools with minimal restrictions.

Cellphones have become a rite of passage for our children. Most parents believe that cellphones were safety-tested before they came on the market.

We assume that our federal health and environmental agencies regularly review the latest research and ensure that these incredible devices are safe. They do not.

The reality is that U.S. safety regulations for cellphone radiation were last set 25 years ago based on science that is now outdated. Federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Cancer Institute, and the Food and Drug Administration have not carried out up-to-date full scientific review of this growing technology.

Just like the thousands of chemicals in our environment today, wireless radiation has not had appropriate oversight. It has slipped through the cracks.

Cell tower radiation levels are generally tested by companies hired by the cell tower companies, and municipalities do not require ongoing monitoring. In apartment buildings where cell towers may be erected in front of bedroom windows, or on school grounds, children may be exposed to much higher levels than those on the ground. There are no laws requiring spot-checking to ensure radiation levels are compliant with the outdated limits we have in place.

Pediatricians have long called for an update to this outdated cellphone radiation test method because research finds children can absorb up to 10 or more times higher radiation than adults into their brain, eyes and bone marrow.

Children are not little adults. As we sadly learned with early childhood lead exposures leaving long-lasting impairments, the developing brain is particularly susceptible.

Unlike my generation, today’s youth will be exposed for years and years.

The U.S. does not have federally developed safety limits for cellphone radiation. No federal health agency has investigated if U.S. cellphone radiation and cell tower safety limits and testing procedures ensure adequate protection for children or for pregnant women.

The FDA and Centers for Disease Control have not reviewed the growing body of current research on how cellphone radiation might impact brain development. No U.S. agency ever has.

It is therefore inappropriate and unsafe for Montgomery County to allow the installation of a 5G and new wireless networks so close to homes throughout the county.


The writer is professor emeritus of pediatrics, and environmental and occupational health at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.