While the telecom industry deploys cell sites for 5G (fifth generation of mobile access networks) on public rights-of-way like utility poles, let’s recognize that every cellular antenna site has potential hazards:

  • cell tower climbers can fall, be shocked or electrocuted while conducting routine maintenance;
  • wildlife and people are exposed to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emitted 24/7 by the antennas;
  • a cell site can catch fire;
  • it can collapse.

Do we have sufficient regulations to protect workers, the public and wildlife from these hazards? In the U.S., after too many fatal accidents (from falls and electrocution), regulations were instituted to help protect tower climbers.

However, the U.S. (and most countries) prohibits municipalities (faced with permitting a cell site) from considering the site’s EMR emissions’ effects on health or the environment (see Section 704 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.)

Telecom corporations are not required to post signs that an antenna (which may be disguised or in a chimney) is nearby. Rooftop workers (electricians, tree pruners, roofers, heating and air conditioning installers) therefore have no warning about the antenna’s EMR emissions—and no chance of protecting themselves. Because of the Telecom Act’s Section 704, telecom corporations are not required to warn or protect children who live or play or attend school near a cell tower about the tower’s EMR emissions. This holds true for 5G cell sites, as well, which will be installed about every three to ten houses. (Anyone who thinks of a sane response to these situations is hereby obliged to share them with the whole world.)

Our society tends to prioritize engineering needs and corporate interests over health, wildlife and safety.

Telecom corporations’ deployment of 5G cell sites in residential areas will increase risk of cell tower fires and collapses and other hazards. How/can we decrease these risks?

In the U.S., before any infrastructure gets designed or deployed, most municipalities require professional engineers (PEs) to evaluate the project and certify its safety. (I assume that municipalities in other countries have similar statutes.) For example, before anyone drives a car over a bridge, an independent PE must evaluate and certify its safety. The same holds true for water treatment plants, power lines, “smart” meters and telecommunications access networks.

Before deploying new cell sites, let’s ask our city managers and land use departments:

  • Did an independent, professional engineer prepare this project’s engineering documents? Did another, independent PE review the project, evaluate and certify its safety? (If not, why not?)
  • Has an independent biologist conducted an environmental impact assessment to ensure that the site will not endanger wildlife or any wildlife habitats? (If not, why not?)
  • Will the cell site include signage (in letters large enough to read from a distance) that warns roofers, electricians and tree pruners (for example) to keep a safe distance from the antennas? Will the sign provide the number of an agency that can quickly turn the antennas off so that workers can work safely, without dangerous exposure to electromagnetic radiation? (If not, why not?)
  • In the event of any damage caused by the cell site, does the landowner, the telecom corporation and/or the municipality carry liability insurance? (If not, why not?)

Examples of cell sites that have caught fire or collapsed in the U.S. during routine maintenance, high winds and other common situations are available at Cell tower fires & collapses. May they serve to protect future installations from causing harm.