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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/21/15

"Aiming to First Do No Harm: The Education of Electronics Users"

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By 1988, the EPA had 36 full-time employees dedicated to studying the effects of EMR exposure on the public health and our environment. Under President Reagan, Congress began to cut this division's funding. While the EPA is still authorized to research EMR's effects on our health and environment, since 1995, Congress has allotted it zero funding to do so.

In the late 1970s, Roy Olhoeft bought a VHS player to watch movies on his television set. The number 12 o'clock flashed on it perpetually--because this mechanic could not figure out how to set a digital clock.

In the 1980s, I taught writing at South Boston High, the school that became famous around court-ordered desegregation of the Boston public schools. My students had the lowest literacy rate in Massachussetts--and the best stories I'd ever heard. One day, I made an appointment with a student who wanted to write her story. But Lillian never showed up.

The next day, I asked where she'd been at a quarter to three. Lillian shrugged. "I don't know that time," she said. "I only know digital."

This was 1986. How on Earth, I wondered, would this girl survive?

As it turned out, the cluelessness was mine.

Generation Three regarding tech education and regulation starts in 1996, the year after Congress took away the EPA's funding to study EMR's effects on health and the environment. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act. Section 704 mandates that the FCC will "prohibit state and local governments from restricting or influencing the siting of wireless antennas and towers based on environmental grounds."

Stated plainly, no health or environmental concern may interfere with the placement of a cell tower.

Call this federal Act a great win for the telecom industry, a complete disregard of the precautionary principle to First, do no harm--and a great loss for public health and our environment.

Also in 1996, the FCC established Specific Absorption Rates--SARs. A SAR is the measure of radiofrequency radiation absorbed by the body. If a manufacturer complies with these exposure limits, then its devices are presumed safe to market.

For the head and trunk, the FCC allows a SAR of 1.6 w/kg averaged over any one gram of tissue for six minutes.

The body's extremities, such as the hands and feet, have a SAR limit of 4 w/kg averaged over any ten grams of tissue. Pregnant women, infants, children and people with medical implants have the same SAR limits as healthy adults.

Gary popped a quiz: Which is greater: the intensity of radiation that a microwave oven is allowed to leak, or the intensity of radiation that a cell phone is allowed to emit?

Yes. A cell phone is allowed to emit more radiation than a microwave oven is allowed to leak.

When did we begin to dismiss questions about how a new technology affects our health or the flora and fauna with whom we share this Earth?

When did we begin to focus only on technology's benefits: a way to clear mosquitoes; a way to wash grease off of hands. A way to reach someone stuck in traffic about the kind of dinner we want. What could balance technology's developments with its harmful consequences?

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Katie Singer works on public policy with the Electromagnetic Radiation Policy Institute. A medical journalist, her books include The Garden of Fertility; Honoring Our Cycles, and An Electronic Silent Spring: Facing the Dangers and Creating Safe Limits. 

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