Frightening online information fueling cell phone tower fears

Telus prepares to move forward with installing a cell phone tower in Campbell River

Opposition to a cell phone tower in Willow Point is likely fueled by online scare tactics, a Telus representative said.

As Telus prepares to move forward with installing a cell phone tower in Willow Point Park, some residents are voicing strong opposition.

Shawn Hall, spokesperson for Telus, said an Internet search can reveal some frightening misinformation about radiation levels emitted from cell phone towers and its harmful effects.

“If you Google it, some pretty scary stuff comes up, put out there by people trying to scare people for their own interest,” Hall said. “Residents don’t have anything to worry about.”

But Nan Latchford, who lives about two kilometres away from the proposed tower site near the bocce ball court in Willow Point Park, feels differently.

And she has a petition with 120 signatures backing her up.

“People’s biggest concern is they don’t want to see their children in a park that is shadowed by a cell tower, they do not want to go to recreational facilities and have a cell tower right there,” said Latchford, who is concerned about radiation exposure and its health affects, such as cancer,  autism and deformities in unborn children exposed to radiation while in the womb.

Hall, however, said people are more vulnerable to radiation exposure in their own homes than they are from being in the vicinity of a cell tower.

“Cell towers put out hundreds or thousands of times below what’s allowed (by Health Canada),” Hall said. “You absorb more radiation by watching TV or using a microwave in your home than you would from our site. The radio signals coming off the tower are so low, it’s barely measurable.”

Telus, which is proposing to install the 30-metre tower in response to complaints about spotty coverage in the area, said Willow Point Park was chosen as the best location to provide coverage where there is a gap in cell phone service. He said the tower needs to be able to reach the areas where service goes in and out. Hall said Telus is following Industry Canada standards for acceptable radiation levels which are laid out in Health Canada’s Safety Code 6, which sets limits on radio frequency exposure.

But Latchford said Safety Code 6 has not been updated in at least three years and it’s now under review.

Hall said scientists are routinely reviewing the code as new science becomes available and the review is simply a process that happens every few years.

Still, Latchford said there has been a lack of communication with the public and though Telus is following Industry Canada requirements, it’s doing the bare minimum – including not holding a public open house.

“People have their concerns and feel there has been no transparency in this process,” Latchford said. “People don’t know how many antennas and what the affects are, we just had this tiny little ad in the paper.”

Telus, as per Industry Canada requirements, advertised its public feedback period in an ad that ran in both local newspapers. But Latchford believes that’s not enough.

“If you think about the fact that if you’re a property owner and you want a property re-zoning you have to put those big signs up telling residents, but Telus can put a huge tower up, 30 metres, yet there’s just this tiny ad, no road signs, no public meeting,” Latchford said.

She’s urging council to establish its own cell tower protocol to avoid a similar situation in the future.

“If the city had its own cell tower protocol it could identify areas that should be protected from radio frequencies, information requirements to the public could be improved, and public meetings could also be made a requirement,” Latchford said. “With the city’s own protocol, that situation can be improved because there will be more towers, I bet you.”

Hall said Telus would hold a public meeting if needed but in this case, he said Telus is “hearing far more interest in letting (the tower) proceed than hearing any opposition.”

After Telus advertised its tower proposal in early March, the public had 30 days to respond. Telus replied back over a three week period and the public had another 20 days after that to reply back. The consultation period ended last month and on Tuesday Telus presented all of the feedback it has collected at the Tuesday council meeting which starts after the Mirror goes to press. If council votes in favour of having the tower proceed, Telus will pay the city an annual licence fee of $15,000 over five years with three consecutive automatic five-year extensions.