Arlington and Virginia need to act after 5G approvals for current rooftops and towers

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The Arlington County Board on July 16, 2019 voted to allow wireless providers to attach small cell facilities necessary for 5G technology to County-owned streetlight poles. This controversial decision was arrived at in contradiction to and despite ample public protest from local citizens and NGOs in the Arlington County who were concerned about possible health effects of this technology. 

At present time across the globe there is lack of credible independent scientific evidence that would either debunk or prove various theories.  Lawmakers across the world are hitting the breaks on 5G by either postponing decisions until more scientific evidence appears or completely banning 5G roll-out.  For example, cities of Brussels and Geneva halted their 5G plans and decided to monitor independent scientific studies to determine the harmful effects of 5G.  Arlington County Board hastily accelerated its decision, perhaps under pressure from FCC and telecommunications industry. 

County already approved ordinance (July 2019) to allow Small Wireless Facilities (SWF) on third-party infrastructure in public right of way.  As of March 2019, the County has already issued:

  • 11+ permits in right of way
  • 75+ zoning permits on private property

Considering the claimed 5G benefits of 10x more connections, 10x more throughput, 100x capacity, 3x spectrum and 10x speed, it is evident that installation of 5G on poles will inevitably cause more RF-EMF emissions from antennas on existing towers and rooftops where there may have been already exceedances of FCC’s Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) Limits and other non-compliances with both federal and state requirements

The FCC has different MPE limits for two different tiers of exposure groups.  The first tier is the “General Population/Uncontrolled Exposure Limits.” These exposure limits apply to the public and individuals exposed because of their employment, but who may not have been made fully aware of the potential for exposure or cannot exercise control over their exposure.  Per FCC, when telecommunications equipment is mounted on rooftops, RF-EMF emissions could exceed higher than desirable guideline levels on the rooftop itself and such levels might become an issue for maintenance or other personnel working on the rooftop.  However, concrete does not shield from RF-EMF radiation so they forget about residents living in those buildings.

The second tier under MPE Limit is “Occupational/Controlled Exposure Limits.” FCC defines this group as persons exposed because of their employment, and who may have been made fully aware of the potential for exposure, and can exercise control over their exposure.  Telecommunications industry workers would fall into this category.  The telecommunications industry conveniently chooses to apply less stricter limits even for antennas on residential rooftops.

Both federal and state authorities need to improve on enforcement of their own regulations and monitoring compliance with even existing MPE requirements.  They blame lack of their agency resources that does not allow them to inspect every site but the truth is that even after many citizen complaints they sometimes try to do nothing until there is wider-scale public outcry.  For new tower and rooftop installations whose number is expected to rise exponentially after roadblocks to 5G are removed, FCC, Commonwealth of Virginia and Arlington County neither have rigorous health study requirements based on RF-EMF emissions measurements nor proper process for permit review and revocation based on non-compliances.  Some feel that authorities rubber stamp permits without proper scrutiny and control which endangers unaware public living 24/7/365 in buildings that have rooftop antennas.

Section 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act of 1934 preempts local decisions premised directly or indirectly on the environmental effects of radio frequency (RF) emissions, assuming that the provider is in compliance with the Commission’s RF rules.

We understand that at this time it is difficult if not impossible to overrule the above July 16, 2019 County Board decision.  However, we recommend that County Board starts listening to valid claims by the public that 5G and any of such developments need to be in a more controlled fashion

Therefore, we hereby petition that Commonwealth of Virginia and Arlington County specifically:

1.      In every of their decision, process or document, whether past or new, to introduce a provision that monitoring for independent scientific studies to determine the harmful effects of 5G is required which may necessitate rescission of any decisions made or permits issued.

2.      To change permitting process for new installation to include mandatory health impact study review and public engagement.

3.      In the Master License Agreement (MLA) for Small Wireless Facilities to introduce requirement that SWF Vendors MUST comply with all FCC safety requirements not only at a specific pole but compliance must be proven at the adjacent line of sight cell tower(s) and rooftop(s) based on proper emissions study and review at those locations.

4.      To amend Commonwealth of Virginia RF Radiation Exposure Compliance Plan so that FCC’s stricter MPEs for General Population/Uncontrolled Exposure Limits are applied to residential rooftops.

5.      For antennas on residential rooftops, to introduce annual requirement for an independent emissions study that must include actual measurements done on the rooftop as well as inside the units on the floor adjacent to the rooftop.

6.      For all permits already issued, to initiate a compliance review based on citizen complaints.

7.      For non-compliant residential rooftop sites, to require proper abatement and, where it is impossible to bring the site back to compliance, to initiate permit revocation.