A bill pending in the N.H. House Science, Technology and Energy Committee would make it more difficult to build the infrastructure needed for communities to use the fifth generation of wireless technology, or 5G.

House Bill 1644, whose backers say they are worried about the health effects of the evolving technology, would require new telecommunication antennas to be kept 1,640 feet, or about one-third of a mile, from residentially zoned areas, parks, playgrounds, hospitals, nursing homes, day-care centers and schools.

Many new antennas would be needed on cellphone towers, utility poles, streetlights and elsewhere to build out 5G service, which will bring quicker downloads, more reliability and more general capacity.

Opponents of the legislation say scientific evidence simply doesn’t support the health concerns.

The practical difficulties of implementing the bill can be seen in Charlestown, a community of about 5,000 people.

Liz Emerson, Charlestown’s planning and zoning administrator, said the area needs economic development. Planners have expressed a willingness in the town’s master plan to be a test site for 5G communications.

The plan makes specific reference to allowing 5G testing once needed optical fiber has been installed.

But under HB 1644, it would be difficult to find a place to put the required antennas that wouldn’t be within 1,640 feet of an area zoned for residences. Homes are now allowed in most of the town, and small areas set aside solely for commercial or industrial development are close to residential areas.

“That would put a damper on putting antennas pretty much anywhere in town,” Emerson said. “And that would kind of ring true for most towns, I would assume.”

Speaking in favor of the bill in a committee hearing last week, its prime sponsor, Rep. Patrick Abrami, R-Stratham, said a study commission formed by the state, which he chaired, concluded in a report that not enough attention is being paid to the potential dangers of radiofrequency radiation associated with cellular technology, particularly 5G.

“With this bill, cellphones will live on, but hopefully in a safer manner,” he said at the hearing.

Abrami said the state commission reached out to the Federal Communications Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but didn’t get direct answers to health-safety questions about telecommunication antennas.

“So basically there really is no one at the federal government that is dealing with this issue on the health level,” he said. “Our conclusion is that one needs to ensure the safety of citizens from overexposure to radiofrequency radiation and the state of New Hampshire needs to control its own destiny.”

Also testifying in favor of the bill was Sen. Denise Ricciardi, R-Bedford, whose district includes several local communities, including Peterborough.

Ricciardi said she educated herself about cell towers when she fought a battle a few years ago against an attempt to put one near her home and near an elementary school.

“While information is presented by companies that make it seem like cell tower radiation is safe, in fact, there are no safety assurances when it comes to this radiation,” she said.

“While wireless companies put forward federal agency statements as supporting their stance, a deeper look reveals these agencies haven’t looked at all the science nor have they concluded safety is assured.”

Bethanne Cooley, assistant vice president of state legislative affairs at CTIA, an association representing the U.S. wireless communications industry, testified at the hearing that the bill is unwarranted and would be illegal.

She said the commission that Abrami chaired didn’t look at the issue of radiofrequency radiation in a balanced fashion.

“This legislation is based on the unsupported premise that the Federal Communications Commission’s regulated telecommunications equipment presents a quote ‘significant public risk’,” she said.

In fact, she said the U.S. and the international scientific community, including the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society, have said there are no known adverse health risks from the levels of radiofrequency radiation emitted by cellphones and transmission facilities.

The World Health Organization said in an online question-and-answer document that no harmful health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.

“Health-related conclusions are drawn from studies performed across the entire radio spectrum but, so far, only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 5G,” the statement said.

The American Cancer Society said in a statement there’s no strong evidence that exposure to radiofrequency waves from cellphone towers causes any noticeable health effects.

“However, this does not mean that the RF waves from cell phone towers have been proven to be absolutely safe,” the statement said. “Most expert organizations agree that more research is needed to help clarify this, especially for any possible long-term effects.”

Cooley also said a string of court decisions indicate federal law preempts state and local regulations based on radiofrequency safety.

House Bill 1644 would also establish a registry maintained by the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services for residents experiencing symptoms from wireless radiation exposure. Owners of wireless antennas would pay for the registry.

Michele Roberge, administrator of the bureau of public health protection for the department, told the committee it would cost $750,000 to set up such a registry and $50,000 a year to maintain it. Also, the department would have to hire two new staff members.

She said the department also has concerns about validating information in a registry in which participants would self-report their symptoms. Another concern would be the ongoing cost of running the registry if the antenna owners did not cover the expense.

The N.H. House Science, Technology and Energy Committee will decide whether to recommend the bill’s passage to the full House.

Rick Green can be reached at rgreen@keenesentinel.com or 603-355-8567.

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