Preliminary RF Exposure Tests

A brief overview of radiofrequency (RF) exposure tests taken in Bellingham at two locations.

A brief overview of radiofrequency (RF) exposure tests taken in Bellingham at two locations.

• Topics: Bellingham, Technology,

Before I start this article, it is important for us to define what the maximum safe exposure limits are for radio frequency (RF) energy, not just in the United States (which is way too high), but in other countries that have, and are perusing, similar technology.

The frequency of an electromagnetic wave is defined as the number of waves created per second. As the waves propagate away from the source, the frequency also represents the number of waves that will pass a point per second. Watts per kilogram (W/kg) is a measure of the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed by the body.

Canada, Russia, and China RF Limits

In Canada the limit is 0.4 W/kg (That limit is 1.2 W/kg lower than the U.S. standard).

Note: I wrote in my previous article about wireless safety concerns about my dislike for using Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), but at least it gives us a direct comparison to the current United States (Aji Pai/Verizon) FCC standard which is also in SAR.

In Russia the limits are lower than the US as well, “at a frequency range of 300 MHz to 300 GHz was set as 5 μW/cm².” (μW/cm² means one millionth of a Watt per squared centimeter.)

Note: I prefer this μW/cm² scale to SAR because SAR relies on absorption by individuals, and that is very hard to gauge and is very individual. It also means that smaller people, like children, are more affected than adults. The FCC SAR standard is set up using a 6-foot, 220-pound male who is fit.

In China the limit is 0.4 W/m(squared)

United States RF Limits

In the United States, going all the way back to the Clinton administration, children were generally treated the same as adults in reference to exposure frequency (EF). Our limit is:

In the SAR scale: The FCC limit for public exposure from cellular telephones is a SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram (1.6 W/kg)

In the W/cm(squared) scale: The FCC skirts defining why they did not use this standard, and instead backs up their use of SAR.

Until recently the EPA defined the standard in W/kg but now uses SAR and is referring most people to the FCC site. This is a recent
change. Still, their standard is significantly lower than the FCC at 1 W/kg (.6 lower than the FCC) before biological damage occurs.

Note: Don’t be surprised if you see these articles change and the old data erased. I’ve seen it happen to FCC articles that stated in 2016 that they “were unsure of the effects of wireless on children” to articles today that state: “The grand majority of scientific evidence suggests they are safe….”

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) lists the most recent U.S. standard in watts/meter(squared) as 6.7. That is a full 6.3 above China. Japan is listed as 5, so we’re a full 1.7 above the standard of the tech-loving Japanese population.

There is one final way to measure EMF/RF effects, and that is in milli-gauss. The safe average being .5 to 2.5 milligauss.

Here is the IEEE article for more comparisons.

U.S. Limits are Too High

So, in short, the U.S. standards are obscenely high. Much higher than most other developed countries, and higher than all of our competitors. What this means is that we can make lots of dangerous equipment that technically meets the FCC “safety standard.” Again, a good example lies in the development of the automobile. Federal emissions standards mean that cars today are more powerful and burn less fuel. Essentially, regulations can be used to make better, safer, technology. Technology can meet the demands of a growing world and be much safer than what we’re seeing with 5G, Smart Meters, and lots of other technology that are being rushed to market before they are really ready.

It should also be noted that some say that we are bombarded by radiation all of the time, so don’t worry about it. Ok, here’s the truth on that. The natural amount of radiation that you would receive of this type is less than 0.000001 percent. So no, you were probably not really exposed to this in nature at anywhere close to this level unless you were really trying. This is an artificially created problem and humans have not yet evolved to deal with it. The process of evolution usually takes a lot of time.

A Visit to the Lettered Streets and Cornwall Park Neighborhood

So, onto the investigative journalism part of this article. I went to the lettered streets neighborhood to take some electromagnetic frequency (EMF) measurements recently with my GQ-EMF380 meter. The gentleman I met with had a meter of his own, too, and has health issues related to exposure to RF field exposure during his decades of engineering work. Before I go on, let me say that I understand that we’ll need to take many more measurements around town and correlate the data, but there are some concerning data already.

What were we measuring? Well today, the active devices seemed to be mostly smart meters, but as 5G small cells, and other wireless devices are added, there will be a cumulative effect. Say anywhere from 3 to 10 times what we measured today. The devices also look awful and are not nearly as “camouflaged” and “low-impact” as the big companies told us they would be.

The readings we took varied when the meter was transmitting and when it was not, but peaked at about 7% of the US safety standard. “No problem,” you say, “that’ well within the limits.” I would urge you too keep in mind though that power reading used be taken manually every few weeks, and how often smart meters transmit is totally up to the company. The nationwide average seems to be about every hour, which seems too frequent to have to take a power reading. PSE did not list their time of transmission in their Smart Meter Upgrade document. In fact, the site returns a 404 error the last time I tried to check it. Which is irresponsible to say the least.
The RF equipment was installed at about second-story level on the pole outside and on the first floor on the house. So the idea that RF equipment will be installed in a way to minimize impact, and exposure, to residents is a joke. Many bedrooms, apartments, office buildings, and other structures will be in the direct line of sight of these devices so people will be exposed very often to RF signals. Much more often than the Verizon rep., brought in by our Public Works Director to on behalf of the city at the July council meeting, stated. If your child sleeps on the 2nd floor, their exposure will be much higher than expected. Just look around your own neighborhoods at the installs.

So what does this all mean? Well, it means that this one device exceeds all safety standards when at peak operation. Why? Because SAR is a cumulative effect, so if you’re exposed multiple times a day you’ll reach the limit quickly, especially if you’re a child.
Since it isn’t on all of the time though, you might argue that this is an acceptable trade. For what, I’d ask? So the power company can employee one less person to read your meters. So they can avoid installing inexpensive, perfectly safe fiber and hooking that up to the meters instead? So they can avoid backing a public fiber initiative, leasing public fiber at a fraction of the rate of private fiber for the meters, and God forbid, giving a little back to the citizens for a change?

Since RF exposure falls off sharply with distance, it means that Wireless Smart Meters shouldn’t be hooked up to the side of your house! These same meters could also be hooked up to fiber, which is perfectly safe, and has no problems. With a fiber network, the power company can have their cake and eat it too, without exposing you to EMF just to take some readings and write up your bill.

However, we walked to another neighborhood on Illinois street by Cornwall Park. Similar equipment was installed there, but the output was about half of what it was on H street. The neighborhood was also, well let’s say it had nicer houses on it and probably better connected people. There is a good chance that PSE just totally screwed up the H street installation, and just cranked up the gain to compensate for it. Causing an unnecessary additional amount of EMF on H street than on Illinois street. More care seems to have been taken on Illinois Street around the park than on H street for sure. Who is going to hold PSE accountable, well certainly not Pinky Vargas who works for them or most of the “business first, regardless of the harm to the community,” members of your current city council..

With competing companies wanting to install multiple small cells you could easily end up with 10 times this amount of radiation per pole with constant transmissions.

Think about it for a second. PSE wants one smart meter, then the CNG decides it’s a good idea too, then Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all want to install competing small cells. Perhaps another cellular company thinks that one of the big 3 telecoms I mentioned has too much coverage so, thanks to the FCC lack of regulation on small cells and equipment, decides to install one at an even lower level on a street light too. By the way, the city is ready to lease them public fiber to do this. That’s right, the same fiber you paid for, they refuse you access to, that they keep telling you isn’t useful, they are ready to lease to big telecoms no problem. They already lease it to AT&T, in a total corporate welfare deal, as I wrote about previously. There you have it, at least 6 RF devices where there were virtually none just 2 years ago.

Still, we need to stop and think about what is happening here as millions of wireless devices are rolled out nationwide to be added to your streets right alongside of your Smart Meters. Each device will add at least as much radiation to the environment as these smart meters. Yes, at different wavelengths, but that isn’t better. You see, one person who might be fine with a lower frequency headache may not tolerate higher frequency ones as well, and vice-versa. With competing companies wanting to install multiple small cells you could easily end up with 10 times this amount of radiation per pole with constant transmissions. Meaning an constant bombardment with RF radiation that exceeds any health standard.

Your council, mayor, and top staff members have all of this information. Still, they lack the courage to follow in the footsteps of San Rafel, and other California, communities.

Ted Carlson, your Public Works Director, got up and left before listening to any public commentary on the issue. You see, the decision had already been made behind closed doors; no need to waste any time listening to the pesky public. I’ve mentioned this before, but it is worth saying again. There was no real dialogue between the citizens and the government on this issue and your government did not bother to seek out a wide range of professionals before making a decision. They do this even as more and more legitimate data comes out questioning the safety of 5G devices and radiation exposure in general. Like this bombshell dropped at the Michigan 5G Small Cell Hearings stating that 5G is definitely unsafe.

How about the NIH study that has been out for years now that they just totally blew off. The NIH study talks about how the effects of 5G on health are even less studied than the already understudied effects of other wireless technologies. On the whole, they won’t even talk to pros in their own community and they certainly won’t have an open council discussion with them or a formal meeting.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds of articles now from legitimate groups. I covered many of them in my last 5G article, and sent even more to our officials. Michael Lilliquist was the only one to have a dialogue with me about it, but ultimately he hid behind the FCC.

So what do we need? Our government will tell you there is nothing they can do. It’s a federal regulation, and blah, blah, blah. Well, since it concerns our health they need to do something. Ultimately, this is a technology we don’t even need, especailly if we have a good public fiber network. You know, the material all of this 5G stuff needs to be hooked up to anyway.

We’ve suggested the following reasonable actions:

1. The city halts the installation, and activation of all small cells until an independent wireless safety study carried out by a group the citizens choose can be conducted. This study should be commissioned by the city and should involve WWU.

2. The city opens up access to the existing public fiber network, so more citizens can get robust connections. Right how their argument for 5G largely includes coverage and safety. All small cells need to be backed up by fiber which is perfectly safe. Fiber would give us real choice. Those who wanted to hook up wireless devices in their own homes could, but not everyone would have to be subjected to wireless if they didn’t want to. Fiber is less expensive and more reliable, in the long run, anyway. Keep in mind that the big telecoms made this safety argument everytime a new wireless standard rolled out and never really delivered on their promises.

3. The city establishes a Dig Once policy based on the document we sent them which is based on successful Dig Once policies from several other U.S. cities including Mount Vernon (Technically Mount Vernon’s is called a Conduit Ordinance). All of them install conduit and fiber for less money than the COB is stating they need to spend for the same task.

4. Telecoms installing equipment by residences need to pay to shield those residences from EMF radiation. We do this with many other companies when their activity causes safety concerns — why not telecoms?

In the end, the real choice comes down to who has access to the fiber backing everything up. Right now, for or against 5G, communities have no real choice and no real compromises. In relation to this, I think of the example of smoking and its effects on our culture. There is no doubt that smoking causes death in many ways. So, we regulated it. People who didn’t want to be exposed to smoke could physically get away from it, in most cases. It’s not going to be like that with small cells. You will be bombarded all of the time with RF radiation. Are you so sure it’s safe that you are willing to take that risk? Based on the word of the most corrupt FCC in American history?! When their standards are way higher than other countries? If so, then why push that onto others when you could hook something up to your own fiber in the privacy of your own home if public fiber were available? That way, everyone gets to have choice.

If you could really limit your exposure, this would be a totally different ballgame, but with small cells you simply can’t — especially if you live in a city, in an old house, in a poor or middle class neighborhood.

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]

Comments by Readers

David Camp

Dec 11, 2018

Here’s an edifying tale from a community in Oregon: 

SOme years ago the Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort, which is run communally, had a vote on whether to install wifi around the place for residents and guests. The debate was intense and the YEs to Wifi side won. But the opposition to wifi was very committed and continued to oppose wifi - they were very concerned about bathing their bodies in wifi radiation - one of the reasons they lived in a place off the grid was to avoid it. They, a sizeable minority (IIRC the vote was about 60-40 in favor of wifi) continued to agitate, continued to make the wifi issue job number one to the point that the entire community conversation was dominated by wifi. 

They were successful in getting everybody else to agree to have no wifi - but rather to install Cat 5 cabling to those who wanted it attached to a wired (actually, fibre-optic) internet source.  Just to make peace with a committed and zealous minority. 

So, Jon - please keep it up. A committed and zealous minority can get things done even if the majority are opposed in a lukewarm way and a compromise can be found. In this case, the compromise was a fibre-optic network. We can do the same thing here in Bellingham in the face of monopoly capital’s trying to impose 5G with its yet unknown health effects. All for their profits which they would not get if we installed a fibre network as Mount Vernon has. 

Just say no to 5G small cell radiation and monopoly profits and say yes to citizen-owned fibre. WHo are our “representatives” working for, anyway?


Michael Riordan

Dec 17, 2018

It seems to me that the most affected will be those who use their cell phones frequently, especially those who make and receive phone calls on them and thus put the devices close to their heads. Especially children, who brain cells are growing and dividing much more rapidly than adults. Cell phones all have a semiconductor oscillator that emits RF at microwave frequencies, typically 3 gigahertz.

Another at-risk population are those who live near cell towers, which typically have many emitters on them from the various companies providing cell service.

John, what’s the RF frequency at which 5G systems will operate? I hear its upwards of 10 gigahertz, which indeed hasnot been well studied for biological impacts.


Jon Humphrey

Dec 17, 2018

Thanks guys. David, again the most frustrating thing about all of this is that you need fiber-optic cabling to back everything up with. There is no way around needing it, so why do our city and county (with exception of the Port see this annuoncement) refuse to establish a real Dig Once Policy and have public use infrastructure that insures real competiton and everything else I’ve talked about? We literally provided them with one to use based on many successful cities and their DIg Once Policies/Conduit Ordinances.

In a early draft of the city’s Dig Once Proposal, they have ignored all of the advice they’ve received from Public Fiber Pros around the country and started drrafting a ludicrious policy instead. One of the sad highlights in the COBs, we’re too arrogant to listen to anyone else, policy is that, instead of allowing any licensed entity like a non-profit, co-op, or local provider to lease the resources in an Open Access Structure (as we suggested), they are saying that if they do it at all they are going to name the companies who can lease the public resources. To get on the list you will need to know the mayor and Ted Carlson. Right now the list has Comcast, CenturyLink, WAVE, PogoZone, CSS, Noel and Blackrock on it. Quite a short list for a resource that HamsterNet ISP CO-OP, licensed building owners, any of the 10 providers from Skagit/Mount Vernon, etc. should be able to buy dark fiber leases on too.

Michael, each country has a slightly different take on the ranges for 5G. While 5G will mostly operate in existing bands up to 6GHZ but can also use millimeterwaves in the 24 GHz - 86 Ghz and up spectrum. They also would like to use “unlicense” spectrum. When you hear unlicensed think, untested. Of course, the waves get shorter, more directed, and less reliable as you go up in frequency and even more small cells are required. The bottom line is that 24GHZ and up WAVEs are actually awful in an anvironment like Bellingham with trees, heavy rain, etc. Also, wireless is a shared bandwidth scenario and therefore only as good as your distance to it, how many users are connected, and how much fiber is hooked up to it. Remember, the big telecoms promised us better coverage everytime they launched a new standard, and the big telecoms always fall short. Especailly in emergency situations. The same situations they use to scare councils and people into letting them do whatever they want. The truth is that we’ll never be safe if we keep trusting the big telecoms, who have only ever proved that their only real area of expertise  is in lying to us.  They will never do it right. They hever have.

Also, yes living near a tower is a huge health risk. Now we will all be living near to  so many small cells that we will have micro-towers outside of every home. What’s truly sad is that we really don’t need 5G. As discussed in the book “The 5G Myth” by William Webb, the problem really isn’t a need for new spectrum. It is in poorly built 4G systems, the way we license spectrum, a lack of fiber hooked up to towers for backhaul…. the list goes on. For exammple, how about using wi-fi calling to make calls via your overpriced broadband connection, instead of an even more overpriced 5G network? In fact, 5G is so expsive it will widen the Digital Divide. In short, we should stick with more reliable 4G LTE networks, and really beef them up.  Almost everything they say you need 5G for you can do with 4G LTE the big telecoms didn’t half-ass every part of its construction. More than a new standard for wireless communications, we need a new standard in service providers.

The NIH, along with many other groups, have expressed concern with 5G as much higher yield version of millimeter wave devices (aka 5G devices) were origianlly tested in sonic crowd control weapons because of their effect specifically on the human nervious system.  (I have a personal source for this from my college days too. Let’s just say that my university Acoustics Department may have been contacted by a 4-letter gun company to do such research.)

None of this seems to both the mayor or any of the council members at all. In fact, most of them say they can’t be bothered with learning about it.

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