Last month, a Superior Court judge in Montreal, Quebec, ordered three Canadian tobacco companies to pay over $15 billion in damages to Quebec smokers. The judgment was the largest in Canadian legal history. In its decision, the court held that, “By choosing not to inform either public health authorities or the public directly of what they knew, the tobacco companies chose profits over the health of their customers.”
Given the certainty of appeal, it is unlikely that many of the estimated one million affected smokers will receive their $30,000-$80,000 windfall from Big Tobacco anytime soon. What is certain is that this judgment is reflective of the trend in both Canadian and American jurisprudence to hold corporations liable for the production, sale and distribution of hazardous products, even those that are completely legal and on whom governments rely for tax revenue. The judgment also represented a disregard for the time-honored legal defense of “assumption of risk.” Evolving science and technology continue to play an increasing role in court decisions and monetary damage awards that would have been unheard of just a decade ago.
I’ll make my own decisions on whether or not to smoke. And if I do, I won’t expect a payday from the tobacco companies if I develop health problems. Smoking is a risk that I can choose to assume, which was the main argument from the Canadian tobacco companies in the Quebec case. Apparently not a persuasive one, given the $15 billion judgment against them.
However, I do expect my government to take reasonable steps to protect my health and safety from the acts of others that I cannot avoid. Electromagnetic radiation from the proposed Point Roberts radio towers is a case in point.
For over two years, the citizens of Point Roberts and neighboring Tsawwassen, British Columbia, have been waging a protracted and expensive legal battle to prevent the construction of five 150 foot radio towers on the Point Roberts peninsula. The towers would broadcast at 50,000 watts, 24 hours a day. The matter is now before the Superior Court in Skagit County, with a decision to allow or prohibit construction expected this fall.
If the towers are permitted and become operational, the citizens of Point Roberts and Tsawwassen will be exposed to high levels of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) on a continuous basis. In terms of risk to human health, EMR from radio towers may be the most insidious as they greatly exceed the power levels from cellular towers, FM radio and television. AM radio waves from towers travel horizontally through the air and along the ground, penetrating trees, walls of homes, human tissue and anything else in their path. If you live near a tower, there is no way of avoiding this risk, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for as long as you occupy your home.
EMR has been linked to increased risks of leukemia in children, even in those living over one mile away. In Point Roberts and Tsawwassen, there are over 3300 school-age children within range of the EMR these towers will produce. For a detailed account of the health effects from radio towers, see the articles posted here.
Unfortunately, neither the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nor Industry Canada have addressed growing citizen concerns over the effects of electromagnetic radiation. The primary function of these bureaucracies is permitting. Research into the effect of prolonged exposure to radio waves on human health is not a high priority. It should be. For recent scientific opinion, see the articles posted here.
Like tobacco 50 years ago, radio waves are considered relatively harmless by government regulators. If the FCC was really doing its job, they would be reviewing the growing body of research on EMR and the adverse effects on public health. Sadly, their advocacy is weak and their standards of measurement outdated. If these radio towers are built, the residents of Point Roberts and Tsawwassen will be unwilling test subjects for the near and long term effects of electromagnetic radiation.
Unlike the activist judiciary in Quebec, the regulatory bureaucracies in the United States and Canada have largely ignored the threat to public health that is part of their government mandate. They are not looking out for us. And unlike tobacco, electromagnetic radiation is a risk that we, and our children, cannot avoid.
For additional information and updates on the continuing radio tower fight in Point Roberts, see our facebook page: No RadioTowers Tsawwassen, or visit our website at: www.notowers.webs.com