Physics prof debunks concerns about harmful effects of communications towers

Photo taken by Brian Williams.

SAN LUIS VALLEY — In response to repeated concerns in multiple settings being voiced by local resident Marianna King related to the health and safety of communication towers situated throughout the San Luis Valley, Dr. Eric Swanson made a brief presentation to the SLV Board of County Commissioners on Monday.

Swanson, who was requested by CGIA – “a telecom industry group” – to speak to the commissioners, is a professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh, and he made the presentation via zoom using visual aids he regularly uses in the classes he teaches at the university. In addition to numerous credentials, Swanson also stated that he is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

In a brief yet thorough, science-based review, Swanson refuted the most common objections expressed by those in opposition to, as he termed it, cell phone radiation, adding that the information he was going to present was the consensus scientific view of the health effects of electromagnetic radiation.

After delineating the difference between nuclear radiation (“very dangerous”) to electromagnetic radiation, Swanson discussed the electromagnetic spectrum – which includes the higher range on the spectrum, where x-rays would register, to lower levels, such as ultra-violet rays and “visible light” to common household appliances like microwaves, radios and televisions. 

Swanson did not deny the potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation on the high end of the spectrum. He readily agreed that electromagnetic radiation at that level of intensity could cause injury to people and animals due to “ionizing” – the presence of energy sufficient to strip the ions from an atom. “If that happens to happen in a skin cell and it happens to happen in the DNA in that skin cell and it happens to do just the wrong thing, it could disrupt the biological mechanisms in that cell enough that it could cause cancer. And, of course, we’re the most familiar with this in skin cancer where, if you expose yourself to enough UV radiation, your skin tans, which is a defense mechanism. And if you do it too much, you might develop skin cancer.”

However, lower down the spectrum the energy is not strong enough to cause ionizing, a discovery which Swanson was sure to credit to Einstein, not only to provide credibility but to also emphasize this is old science that has been proven over and over.

There is a threshold between ionizing and non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, with Swanson’s main point being that electromagnetic radiation below that threshold is simply incapable of producing the potentially harmful effects that occur on the other side of the threshold – aka the higher end of the spectrum. There just isn’t enough energy present.

“It’s like a boy scout trying to throw a rock across a river but he doesn’t have the strength to make it. He could be trying to throw three rocks across the river or he could be trying to throw a rock for a year. It’s still not going to make it because the energy just isn’t there. That same analogy holds true with 4 and 5G technology.

“Microwave radiation in 5G, 4G radiowaves – all of these are tens of thousands up to millions of times below that magical threshold. Of course, the radiation does something. Your microwave heats up things, so obviously it does something. But the FCC isn’t concerned about heating.”

Swanson said that regulations keeping radiation below the threshold are strictly monitored by the FCC, with a limit set of 50 times below what is remotely detectable.

Swanson referenced a “myth” that the FCC is not up to date on recent developments, stating it simply was not accurate.

Swanson went on to cite specifics regulations and studies. The 5G located on a light scanner is one-tenth of the electromagnetic radiation that the light pole is, itself.  A long-term study of cancer rates have shown that cancer-related to electromagnetic radiation has remained flat since cellphones came online.

Marianna King, who was listed on the agenda, was not present at the commissioners meeting to ask any questions or challenge any statements Swanson made.


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