Design Con 2015

FCC ignoring danger?

-April 12, 2013

A significant number of rooftop antenna sites owned primarily by wireless carriers exceed FCC public and occupational exposure limits, make it impossible for workers to avoid standing in front of antennas, and are inadequately posted with warnings and barriers. The people who measure RF radiation levels at broadcast and wireless sites have known this for years. Now a lot more people are getting the message, and it’s put the FCC (already smarting from the LightSquared debacle) in the position of trying to explain why it isn’t enforcing its own rules in the case of wireless carriers, all the while regularly nicking broadcasters for trivial infractions like not announcing their call sign at the top of the hour. Not a single fine has been levied by FCC against a wireless carrier for exceeding the limits.

The issue came to light last month when a group called the EM Radiation Policy Group
sent out a press release announcing the results of work it had conducted to “unimpeachably” show that these problems exist, that the FCC ignores them, and that perhaps, just perhaps, it was because wireless carriers are good customers. That is, wireless carriers have added tens of billions of dollars to federal government coffers by buying the one thing the FCC has to offer: spectrum.

To provide proof of their accusations, the group paid a veteran RF radiation measurement specialist to test rooftop sites in 23 states, quickly finding more than 100 that were exceeding the limits (among other things) by up to 600%. It has posted videos on YouTube and its own Web site of rooftop installations, screen shots of instruments showing RF levels up to 600% above the standard, voice conversations with the FCC and wireless carriers, and the results of the group’s efforts to address the more than 100 complaints it has filed concerning specific sites (none of which, according to the group, the FCC has ever responded to). Some of the conversations would actually be funny if the issue wasn’t about safety.

The issue of whether or not non-ionizing radiation causes brain tumors, cancer, changes genetic structures, and a host other maladies has been around for decades and remains as contentious, politically charged, and odious as ever. The answer to the issue is that there is no answer, as “proof” would take long-term studies in man. The only undisputed fact is that microwave energy causes tissue heating, as anyone who owns a microwave oven can attest.

But that’s not the real issue here, which is that the FCC has rules and it doesn’t enforce them or enforces them selectively. These rules are designed to ensure that workers and the public are not exposed to high levels of RF radiation. The public and workers must be warned of and restricted from access to sites at which RF radiation levels are present. Every entity whose transmission equipment or industrial environment in which RF energy is present must ensure RF safety is maintained. The rules are extremely detailed largely agree with those of national and international standards bodies.

"Coincidentally", the FCC on March 29 published a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Notice of Inquiry stating its intention to review its rules covering exposure limits to RF emissions from radio transmitters. The review is an effort to ensure FCC rules comply with the agency’s “environmental responsibilities and requirements,” and ensure that the public is protected from adverse effects of RF exposure. One goal is to reevaluate test methods and another is to essentially determine whether the cost of complying with the rules is commensurate with the perceived danger. However, even if the commission overhauls some of its rules, it won’t make any difference if it cannot or will not enforce them.

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About the Author
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., which he founded in 1987 as a technical media relations agency. Since then the company worked with more than 90 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, semiconductor, general electronics, lightwave, and automotive markets. Manz Communications creates articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. Barry Manz is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.

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