Winnipeg Free Press – PRINT EDITION

  •  Edna Pettipas is suing telecommunications giant Bell Aliant for harm and suffering she claims is due to a cell tower near her Nova Scotia home. That harm and suffering includes breast cancer and a myriad of symptoms experienced by her husband. Someone with modest financial means does not do this on a whim. Win or lose, this case has once again catapulted the issue of risk of harm from radiation emitted by cell antennas back into the public eye.

Winnipeggers are gradually waking up to this odourless and invisible threat to our health. City Coun. Russ Wyatt connected the dots at the standing committee on property and development meeting on April 14 when he questioned planning department staff who had just presented the supposedly improved Winnipeg antenna systems policy. Wyatt summed up the process as “draconian,” as indeed it is.

Industry Canada has supreme say on where cell towers can be located and says all is fine health wise if antenna emissions are kept below Safety Code 6 guidelines. However, their website statement “there is no scientific or medical evidence that a person will experience adverse health effects” if Safety Code 6 is followed, is misleading. While not having a “slam dunk” study showing cause and effects, there are plenty of studies with evidence of potential harm.

Safety Code 6 is Canada’s guideline for “safe” exposure to radiation of the kind that is emitted by antennas installed on towers and high buildings and, if the proposed policy is passed, could appear unannounced on a lamp post outside your front door.

Health Canada sets Safety Code 6 and it has been highly secretive about which scientific evidence it uses to assess safety. Appeals to the minister of Health, and access to information requests have failed to uncover this information. Now, finally, the House of Commons standing committee on health (HESA) hearings are shining a light on the inner workings of Health Canada. It is not reassuring.

Dr. James McNamee, lead author of Safety Code 6, upon heavy pressure at the hearing on March 24, finally relented and produced a list of 36 studies that would be acceptable for assessing risk. A close look reveals 26 show evidence of harm at below Safety Code 6 levels, including brain and breast cancer, sperm abnormalities and DNA damage. One showed an association with behavioural effects in children whose mothers used cell phones while pregnant.

In addition, the committee learned Dr. Lennart Hardell, a Swedish brain cancer epidemiologist, is calling for an upgrade to the 2011 World Health Organization classification of wireless radiation from a possible to a known carcinogen. On top of that, a new replicated animal study by Dr. Alexander Lerchl of Jacobs University in Germany has shown this type of radiation, below accepted limits, could “obviously enhance the growth of tumours.”

Winnipeg council’s proposed policy states in a footnote: “The city does not assess any submission… with respect to health and radiofrequency exposures.”

It does not have to be that way.

Safety Code 6 is a guideline — it has no force in law or legislation. For example, Toronto has 100 times safer limits than Safety Code 6. In a precedent-setting case, the Supreme Court of Quebec ruled in favour of the City of Chateauguay, which opposed the site where Rogers wanted to put an antenna tower. The judge stated Chateauguay acted “to protect the well-being of its citizens, which is a municipal purpose.” The mayor of Chateauguay was quoted as saying “The Court of Appeal is clear: the cities can decide what type of development that it wishes to have on its territory. It is also a beautiful victory for the citizens whose opinion was a determining factor in this decision.”

Mayor Brian Bowman and most city councillors came in with a platform of improving public consultation for Winnipeggers. Here is a perfect opportunity to show they meant it.

Let’s make the best of a bad situation. Insist that the mayor and council bring in the best policy they can. The property and development committee needs to ask the planning department staff to go back to the drawing board. The new policy should provide improved notification: posting of any proposed antenna on the city of Winnipeg website is one example, and providing people with a genuine chance to voice their concerns — not just by letter, as is now proposed.

And most importantly, the city planning department must conduct public consultations with all stakeholders, including the most important ones, the residents of Winnipeg who must live with the long term consequences of the radiation emitted from these structures.

Don’t Winnipeggers deserve the same chance to be heard as the citizens of Chateauguay?

Marg Friesen is a former federal research biologist.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2015 A9