This West Is OUR West

Bay Area city halts 5G development over health concerns

Author Jason Plautz

September 11, 2018

Dive Brief:

  • The city council of Mill Valley, CA, a wealthy city north of San Francisco, voted unanimously to effectively halt installation of new small cell towers to accommodate 5G technology over health concerns. The “urgency ordinance” will bar applications for 5G towers while the city drafts a more permanent rule. 
  • The city council had received 145 pieces of mail concerned about negative health impacts, reports TechCrunch, compared to just five letters in support of small cells. The concern is over the impacts of exposure to electromagnetic fields, although the small cell antennas for 5G emit less radiation than those used for 4G.
  • With the vote, Mill Valley became the third community in Marin County to pass a similar ordinance, following San Anselmo and Ross.

Dive Insight:

The health concerns about 5G are exacerbated because the service will require more small cells placed throughout cities, closer to residents than have been necessary for other wireless technologies. Critics have said that the radiation could cause increased risk of cancer, fatigue, headaches and other effects, although research has been inconclusive (that has not stopped the California Department of Public Health from issuing controversial warnings about the health effects of personal cell phones). The National Cancer Institute summed up the field by saying a “limited number of studies” showed evidence of a “statistical association of cell phone use and brain tumor risks,” but added that “most studies have found no association.”

Wireless communications trade association CTIA echoed the lack of evidence in an emailed statement to Smart Cities Dive: "We follow the guidance of the experts when it comes to antennas and health effects. Following numerous scientific studies conducted over several decades, the FCC, the FDA, the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and numerous other international and U.S. organizations and health experts continue to say that the scientific evidence shows no known health risk to humans due to the RF energy emitted by antennas or cell phones. The evidence includes analysis of official federal brain tumor statistics showing that since the introduction of cell phones in the mid-1980s, the rate of brain tumors in the United States has decreased.”

The fact that multiple cities around the Bay Area — the heart of tech research — are citing fear to pass emergency measures, however, could mark a setback for 5G development (CBS News reported on a similar effort in Maryland). Tech companies are pushing 5G to select cities by the end of the year and plan rapid expansions to deliver faster download speeds to consumers and get other applications online.

However, local ordinances that block construction of towers or small cell installation could halt that rush. Permitting remains a barrier to installation, and companies have advocated to lift some local and state restrictions. The FCC is working on rules to speed up installation, passing an ordinance lifting some regulations on citing and is set to vote on another set of rules streamlining technology approval. As part of that rule — set for a vote later this month — localities would be given deadlines to respond to 5G applications and there would be “modest guardrails” on some local rules that could slow down construction.

Recommended Reading:

Marin Independent Journal

Mill Valley joins effort to constrain 5G proliferation 


Bay Area city blocks 5G deployments over cancer concerns