Cell Towers and Cell Antennae

Cell Towers and Cell Antennae mounted on buildings have radio frequency emissions. The closer you are to the antennae, the more radiofrequency radiation you are exposed to. Cell tower radiation exposure is different than cell phone exposure in that a cell phone to the head focuses an extremely high amount of radiation to a specific brain region. Cell tower emissions are at lower levels than cell phones. However, with cell tower exposure, the exposure is non- stop day and night and full body exposure.

People living or working in close vicinity to a cell tower will get the highest exposures. People sleeping in homes with windows facing antennas will have more nighttime exposure. A phone can be turned off but a cell tower cannot be. Many governments and local juristictions have halted the placement of cell towers and cell antennae near schools and residences because of the higher density of radiation in the close vicinity to cell antennas.

Isa cell tower proposed at your child’s school? Go to this page with details and resources. 

Read a PDF compilation of Doctors letters on cell towers near schools.

Please learn about more worker safety issues at EHT’s webpage on cell tower industry health and safety issues.

Dr. Litovitz to the US Congressional in 2001 on EMF
Cell Tower Microwave Radiation Presentation by Magda Havas
Harmful Levels of RF That Exceed FCC levels Found on Cell Tower Sites
Dr. Martin Pall & Dr. Paul Dart, M.D. Oregon House of Rep. Health Committee
Blake Levitt 2007 U.S. Congressional Staff Briefing
Full Signal – The Hidden Cost of Cell Phones

In addition to radiation concerns, cell towers also present a myriad of additional safety issues such as inadequate regulations for workers, fire risk and the placement of hazardous materials (diesel fuel and lead acid batteries) in the cell tower compound. Safety issues related prompted the the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to write the FCC in 2013 that “ensuring compliance with existing FCC RF human exposure limits by the FCC licensee is not effective and cannot/is not being enforced.” Concerned about the health of their workers the IBEW states “When there is a hazard, the hazard creator has a duty to warn others against the hazard.

The body of research on humans is complicated by the inability to fully assess exposure because of all the variables related to exposure assessment. Please note that decades ago the lead industry argued that leaded gasoline in cars did not pose a risk to humans because it was “so low” and what they called an “environmental exposure”. However, history has shown these “low levels” added up and that leaded gas was a huge policy misstep. Current research shows that by far “the largest contributor to global environmental lead contamination has been the use of lead in petrol”. In a similar fashion, the wireless industry argues that cell tower emissions are “low” and “environmental” exposures.

Juli Chawla, former Miss India and Bollywood Actress became a voice for wireless safety after she found she was living across from cell base stations. In 2015 she received the Indira Gandhi Memorial Award for social awareness about the health hazards caused due to cell towers and cell antennae radiation. Watch her excellent speech in the video here.
WANT TO SEE THE PUBLISHED PEER REVIWED SCIENCE? Click Here For a List of Scientific Publications on Cell Tower Radiation

Report of final results regarding brain and heart tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats exposed from prenatal life until natural death to mobile phone radiofrequency field representative of a 1.8 GHz base station environmental emission” by L. Falcioni, L. Bua, E.Tibaldi, M. Lauriola, L. De Angelis, F. Gnudi, D. Mandrioli, M. Manservigi, F. Manservisi, I. Manzoli, I. Menghetti, R. Montella, S. Panzacchi, D. Sgargi, V. Strollo, A.Vornoli, F. Belpoggi .  It appears in Environmental Research published by Elsevier.

  • Researchers with the renowned Ramazzini Institute (RI) in Italy performed a large-scale lifetime study of lab animals exposed to environmental levels of cell tower radiation and the rats developed increased cancers- schwannomas of the heart in thimble rats. This study confirms the $25 million study of much higher levels of cell phone radiofrequency (RF) radiation, from the US National Toxicology Program  ) that also reported finding the same unusual cancer called Schwannoma of the heart in male rats treated at the highest dose. In addition, the RI study of cell tower radiation also found increases in malignant brain (glial) tumors in female rats and precancerous conditions including Schwann cells hyperplasia in both male and female rats.
  • “Our findings of cancerous tumors in rats exposed to environmental levels of RF are consistent with and reinforce the results of the US NTP studies on cell phone radiation, as both reported increases in the same types of tumors of the brain and heart in Sprague-Dawley rats. Together, these studies provide sufficient evidence to call for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to re-evaluate and re-classify their conclusions regarding the carcinogenic potential of RFR in humans,” said Fiorella Belpoggi PhD, study author and RI Director of Research.
  • The Ramazzini study exposed 2448 Sprague-Dawley rats from prenatal life until their natural death to “environmental” cell tower radiation for 19 hours per day (1.8 GHz GSM radiofrequency radiation (RFR) of 5, 25 and 50 V/m). RI exposures mimicked base station emissions like those from cell tower antennas, and exposure levels were far less than those used in the NTP studies of cell phone radiation.


Zothansiama, et al. “Impact of radiofrequency radiation on DNA damage and antioxidants in peripheral blood lymphocytes of humans residing in the vicinity of mobile phone base stations.” Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine 36.3 (2017): 295-305.

  • “The present study was envisaged to evaluate the effect of RFR on the DNA damage and antioxidant status in cultured human peripheral blood lymphocytes (HPBLs) of individuals residing in the vicinity of mobile phone base stations and comparing it with healthy controls.
  • The analyses of data from the exposed group (n = 40), residing within a perimeter of 80 m of mobile base stations, showed significantly (p < 0.0001) higher frequency of micronuclei when compared to the control group, residing 300 m away from the mobile base station/s. The analysis of various antioxidants in the plasma of exposed individuals revealed a significant attrition in glutathione (GSH) concentration (p < 0.01), activities of catalase (CAT) (p < 0.001) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) (p < 0.001) and rise in lipid peroxidation (LOO) when compared to controls. Multiple linear regression analyses revealed a significant association among reduced GSH concentration (p < 0.05), CAT (p < 0.001) and SOD (p< 0.001) activities and elevated MN frequency (p < 0.001) and LOO (p < 0.001) with increasing RF power density.”

Mobile phone infrastructure regulation in Europe: Scientific challenges and human rights protection Claudia Roda, Susan Perry, Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 37, March 2014, Pages 204-214.

  • This article was published in Environmental Science & Policy by human rights experts. It argues that cell tower placement is a human rights issue for children.
  • “We argue that (1) because protection of children is a high threshold norm in Human Right  law and (2) the binding language of the Convention on the Rights of the Child obliges States Parties to provide a higher standard of protection for children than adults, any widespread or systematic form of environmental pollution that poses a long-term threat to a child’s rights to life, development or health may constitute an international human rights violation.
  • In particular we have explained how the dearth of legislation to regulate the installation of base stations  (cell towers) in close proximity to children’s facilities and schools clearly constitutes a human rights concern according to the language of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that has been ratified by all European States.


  • This research looked at the radiation that cell towers emit and states a safety zone is needed around the towers to ensure safe sleeping areas. The authors state that “respective authorities should ensure that people reside far from the tower by 120m or more depending on the power transmitted to avoid severe health effect.”

Neurobehavioral effects among inhabitants around mobile phone base stations (Egypt) Abdel-Rassoul et al, Neurotoxicology, 2007

  • Egyptian study confirmed concerns that living nearby mobile phone base stations (cell towers) increased the risk for neuropsychiatric problems (Headaches, Memory problems, Dizziness, Tremors, Depression, Sleep problems and some changes in the performance of neurobehavioral functions. Exposed inhabitants exhibited a significantly lower performance than controls in one of the tests of attention and short-term auditory memory [Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT)]. Also, the inhabitants opposite the station exhibited a lower performance in the problem-solving test (block design) than those under the station.
  • “Conclusions and recommendations: Inhabitants living nearby mobile phone base stations are at risk for developing neuropsychiatric problems and some changes in the performance of neurobehavioral functions either by facilitation or inhibition.So, revision of standard guidelines for public exposure to RER from mobile phone base station antennas and using of NBTB for regular assessment and early detection of biological

Long-term exposure to microwave radiation provokes cancer growth: evidences from radars and mobile communication systems. Yakymenko , 2011

  • We conclude that recent data strongly point to the need for re-elaboration of the current safety limits for non-ionizing radiation using recently obtained knowledge. We also emphasize that the everyday exposure of both occupational and general public to MW radiation should be regulated based on a precautionary principles which imply maximum restriction of excessive exposure.

A cross-sectional case control study on genetic damage in individuals residing in the vicinity of a mobile phone base station. Ghandi et al, 2014 (India):

  • This cross-sectional case control study on genetic damage in individuals living near cell towers found genetic damage parameters of DNA were significantly elevated. The authors state,” The genetic damage evident in the participants of this study needs to be addressed against future disease-risk, which in addition to neurodegenerative disorders, may lead to cancer.”

Mortality by neoplasia and cellular telephone base stations. Dode et al. (Brazil), Science of the Total Environment, Volume 409, Issue 19, 1 September 2011, Pages 3649–3665

  • A clearly elevated relative risk of cancer mortality at residential distances of 500 meters or less from cell phone transmission towers.
  • This 10 year study on cell phone antennas was released by the Municipal Health Department in Belo Horizonte and several universities in Brazil. Shortly after this study was published, the city prosecutor sued several cell phone companies and requested that almost half of the cities antennae be removed. Many were.

Human disease resulting from exposure to electromagnetic fields, Carpenter, D. O. Reviews on Environmental Health, Volume 28, Issue 4, Pages 159172.

  • This review summarizes the evidence stating that excessive exposure to magnetic fields from power lines and other sources of electric current increases the risk of development of some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, and that excessive exposure to RF radiation increases risk of cancer, male infertility, and neurobehavioral abnormalities.

Signifikanter Rückgang klinischer Symptome nach Senderabbau – eine Interventionsstudie. (English-Significant Decrease of Clinical Symptoms after Mobile Phone Base Station Removal – An Intervention Study) Tetsuharu Shinjyo and Akemi Shinjyo, 2014 Umwelt-Medizin-Gesellschaft, 27(4), S. 294-301.

  • Japanese study Showed Statistically Significant Adverse Health Effects from electromagnetic radiation from mobile phone base stations. Residents of a condominium building that had cell tower antennas on the rooftop were examined before and after cell tower antennas were removed. In 1998, 800MHz cell antennas were installed, then later in 2008 a second set of antennas (2GHz) were installed.  Medical exams and interviews were conducted before and after the antennas were removed in 2009 on 107 residents of the building who had no prior knowledge about possible. These results lead researchers to question the construction of mobile phone base stations on top of buildings such as condominiums or houses.

Epidemiological Evidence for a Health Risk from Mobile Phone Base Stations Khurana, Hardell et al., Int. J Occup. Envir Health, Vol 16(3):263-267, 2010

  • 10 epidemiological studies that assessed for negative health effects of mobile phone base stations (4 studies were from Germany, and 1 each from Austria, Egypt, France, Israel, Poland, Spain) Seven of these studies showed altered neurobehavioral effects near cell tower and three showed increased cancer incidence. We found that eight of the 10 studies reported increased prevalence of adverse neurobehavioral symptoms or cancer in populations living at distances < 500 meters from base stations. Lower cognitive performance in individuals living ≤ 10 meters from base stations
  • None of the studies reported exposure above accepted international guidelines, suggesting that current guidelines may be inadequate in protecting the health of human populations. We believe that comprehensive epidemiological studies of long-term mobile phone base station exposure are urgently required to more definitively understand its health impact.

Biological Effects from Exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation Emitted by Cell Tower Base Stations and Other Antenna Arrays, Levitt & Lai, Environmental Reviews, 2010

  • Over 100 citations, approximately 80% of which showed biological effects near towers. “Both anecdotal reports and some epidemiology studies have found headaches, skin rashes, sleep disturbances, depression, decreased libido, increased rates of suicide, concentration problems, dizziness, memory changes, increased risk of cancer, tremors, and other neurophysiological effects in populations near base stations. Built case for ‘setbacks’ and need for new exposure guidelines reflecting multiple and cumulative exposures

Association of Exposure to Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Field Radiation (RF-EMFR) Generated by Mobile Phone Base Stations with Glycated Hemoglobin (HbA1c) and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus , Sultan Ayoub Meo et al (Saudi Arabia), International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2015

  • Saudi Arabian study – higher HbA1c in students exposed to higher levels of cell tower radiation. In school-1, RF-EMFR was 9.601 nW/cm2 at frequency of 925 MHz. In school-2, RF-EMFR was 1.909 nW/cm2 at frequency of 925 MHz The mean HbA1c for the students who were exposed to high RF-EMFR was significantly higher (5.44 ± 0.22) than the mean HbA1c for the students who were exposed to low RF-EMFR (5.32 ± 0.34) (p = 0.007). Moreover, students who were exposed to high RF-EMFR generated by MPBS had a significantly higher risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (p = 0.016) relative to their counterparts who were exposed to low RF-EMFR. It is concluded that exposure to high RF-EMFR generated by MPBS is associated with elevated levels of HbA1c and risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Maternal Exposure to Magnetic Fields During Pregnancy in Relation to the Risk of Asthma in Offspring , Li, De-Kun et al, Pediatrics Adolescent Medicine, 2011

  • Higher in utero exposure to magnetic fields such as those emitted by power lines and cell phone towers may place children at an increased risk of asthma. A statistically significant linear dose-response relationship was observed between increasing maternal median daily MF exposure level in pregnancy and an increased risk of asthma in offspring: Increasing exposure to magnetic fields during pregnancy was associated in a linear, dose-response fashion with greater asthma risk (P<0.001) Every 1-milligauss (mG) increase in a pregnant woman’s magnetic field exposure was associated with a 15% greater risk of her child developing asthma (HR 1.15, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.27).  Using the categorical MF level, the results showed a similar dose-response relationship: compared with the children whose mothers had a low MF level (median 24-hour MF level, ≤0.3 mG) during pregnancy, children whose mothers had a high MF level (>2.0 mG) had more than a 3.5-fold increased rate of asthma (aHR, 3.52; 95% CI, 1.68-7.35), while children whose mothers had a medium MF level (>0.3-2.0 mG) had a 74% increased rate of asthma (aHR, 1.74; 95% CI, 0.93-3.25).

Health effects of living near mobile phone base transceiver station (BTS) antennae: a report from Isfahan, Iran.  Shahbazi-Gahrouei D et al, Electromagnetic Biology Medicine, 2013.

  • A cross-sectional study on 250 randomly selected inhabitants (133 women and 117 men) was performed in October 2012 till November 2012. The results showed that most of the symptoms such as nausea, headache, dizziness, irritability, discomfort, nervousness, depression, sleep disturbance, memory loss and lowering of libido were statistically significant in the inhabitants living near the BTS antenna (<300 m distances) compared to those living far from the BTS antenna (>300 m)  CONCLUSION OF THE STUDY IS THAT that cellular phone BTS antenna should not be sited closer than 300 m to populations to minimize exposure of neighbors

Effect of GSTM1 and GSTT1 Polymorphisms on Genetic Damage in Humans Populations Exposed to Radiation From Mobile Towers. Gulati S, Yadav A, Kumar N, Kanupriya, Aggarwal NK, Kumar R, Gupta R., Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2015 Aug 5. [Epub ahead of print]

  • In our study, 116 persons exposed to radiation from mobile towers and 106 control subjects were genotyped for polymorphisms in the GSTM1 and GSTT1 genes by multiplex polymerase chain reaction method. DNA damage in peripheral blood lymphocytes was determined using alkaline comet assay in terms of tail moment (TM) value and micronucleus assay in buccal cells (BMN). Our results indicated that TM value and BMN frequency were higher in an exposed population compared with a control group and the difference is significant. In our study, we found that different health symptoms, such as depression, memory status, insomnia, and hair loss, were significantly associated with exposure to EMR. Damaging effects of nonionizing radiation result from the generation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and subsequent radical formation and from direct damage to cellular macromolecules including DNA.

Subjective symptoms, sleeping problems, and cognitive performance in subjects living near mobile phone base stations, Hutter HP et al, (May 2006), Occup Environ Med. 2006 May;63(5):307‐13

  • Found a significant relationship between some cognitive symptoms and measured power density in 365 subjects; highest for headaches. Perceptual speed increased, while accuracy decreased insignificantly with increasing exposure levels.

How does long term exposure to base stations and mobile phones affect human hormone profiles? Eskander EF et al, (November 2011), Clin Biochem. 2011 Nov 27.

  • Showed significant decrease in volunteers’ ACTH, cortisol, thyroid hormones, prolactin for young females, and testosterone levels from RF exposures from both mobiles and cell towers.

Investigation on the health of people living near mobile telephone relay stations: Incidence according to distance and sex Santini et al, 2002 (France)

  • 530 people living near mobile phone masts reported more symptoms of headache, sleep disturbance, discomfort, irritability, depression, memory loss and concentration problems the closer they lived to the mast. This first study on symptoms experienced by people living in vicinity of base stations shows that, in view of radioprotection, minimal distance of people from cellular phone base stations should not be < 300 m

Navarro EA, Segura J, Portoles M, Gomez-Perretta C, The Microwave Syndrome: A preliminary Study. 2003 (Spain) Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine, Volume 22, Issue 2, (2003): 161 – 169

  • Statistically significant positive exposure-response associations between field intensity and fatigue, irritability, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, sleeping disorder, depressive tendency, feeling of discomfort, difficulty in concentration, loss of memory, visual disorder, dizziness and cardiovascular problems. Two different exposure groups also showed an increase of the declared severity in the group with the higher exposure.
  1. Oberfeld, A.E. Navarro, M. Portoles, C. Maestu, C. Gomez-Perretta, The microwave syndrome: further aspects of a Spanish study,
  • A health survey was carried out in La Ñora, Murcia, Spain, in the vicinity of two GSM 900/1800 MHz cellular phone base stations. The E-field (~ 400 MHz – 3 GHz) measured in the bedroom was divided in tertiles (0.02 – 0.04 / 0.05 – 0.22 / 0.25 – 1.29 V/m). Spectrum analysis revealed the main contribution and variation for the Efield from the GSM base station. The adjusted (sex, age, distance) logistic regression model showed statistically significant positive exposure-response associations between the E-field and the following variables: fatigue, irritability, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, sleeping disorder, depressive tendency, feeling of discomfort, difficulty in concentration, loss of memory, visual disorder, dizziness and cardiovascular problems. The inclusion of the distance, which might be a proxy for the sometimes raised “concerns explanation”, did not alter the model substantially. These results support the first statistical analysis based on two groups (arithmetic mean 0,65 V/m versus 0,2 V/m) as well as the correlation coefficients between the E-field and the symptoms (Navarro et al, “The Microwave Syndrome: A preliminary Study in Spain”, Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine, Volume 22, Issue 2, (2003): 161 – 169). Based on the data of this study the advice would be to strive for levels not higher than 0.02 V/m for the sum total, which is equal to a power density of 0.0001 µW/cm² or 1 µW/m², which is the indoor exposure value for GSM base stations proposed on empirical evidence by the Public Health Office of the Government of Salzburg in 2002.

Bortkiewicz et al, 2004 (Poland), Subjective symptoms reported by people living in the vicinity of cellular phone base stations: review,Med Pr. 2004;55(4):345-51.

  • Residents close to mobile phone masts reported: more incidences of circulatory problems, sleep disturbances, irritability, depression, blurred vision and concentration difficulties the nearer they lived to the mast.
  • The performed studies showed the relationship between the incidence of individual symptoms, the level of exposure, and the distance between a residential area and a base station.

Wolf R and Wolf D, Increased Incidence of Cancer Near a Cell-phone Transmitter Station, International Journal of Cancer Prevention, (Israel) VOLUME 1, NUMBER 2, APRIL 2004

  • A significant higher rate of cancer (300% increase) among all residents living within 300m radius of a mobile phone mast for between three and seven years was detected.
  • 900% cancer increase among women alone
  • In the area of exposure (area A) eight cases of different kinds of cancer were diagnosed in a period of only one year. This rate of cancers was compared both with the rate of 31 cases per 10,000 per year in the general population and the 2/1222 rate recorded in the nearby clinic (area B). The study indicates an association between increased incidence of cancer and living in proximity to a cell-phone transmitter station.

Changes of Neurochemically Important Transmitters under the influence of modulated RF fields – A Long Term Study under Real Life Conditions (Germany), Bucher and Eger, 2011

  • German study showing elevated levels of stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline), and lowered dopamine and PEA levels in urine in area residents during 1st 6 months of cell tower installation. Even after 1.5 years, the levels did not return to normal.

The Influence of Being Physically Near to a Cell Phone Transmission Mast on the Incidence of Cancer (Umwelt·Medizin·Gesellschaft 17,4 2004) Eger et al, 2004 (Germany)

200% increase in the incidence of malignant tumors was found after five years’ exposure in people living within 400m radius of a mobile phone mast. The proportion of newly developing cancer cases is significantly higher among patients who live within 400 meters of a cell phone transmitter. Early age of cancer diagnosis.

Microwave electromagnetic fields act by activating voltage-gated calcium channels: why the current international safety standards do not predict biological hazard. Martin L. Pall. Recent Res. Devel. Mol. Cell Biol. 7(2014).

  • “It can be seen from the above that 10 different well-documented microwave EMF effects can be easily explained as being a consequence of EMF VGCC activation: oxidative stress, elevated single and double strand breaks in DNA, therapeutic responses to such EMFs, breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, cancer, melatonin loss, sleep dysfunction, male infertility and female infertility.”

Pall ML. 2015. Microwave frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression. J. Chem. Neuroanat. 2015 Aug 20.

  • Non-thermal microwave/lower frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) act via voltage-gated calcium channel (VGCC) activation.
  • Two U.S. government reports from the 1970s to 1980s provide evidence for many neuropsychiatric effects of non-thermal microwave EMFs, based on occupational exposure studies. 18 more recent epidemiological studies, provide substantial evidence that microwave EMFs from cell/mobile phone base stations, excessive cell/mobile phone usage and from wireless smart meters can each produce similar patterns of neuropsychiatric effects, with several of these studies showing clear dose–response relationships.
  • Lesser evidence from 6 additional studies suggests that short wave, radio station, occupational and digital TV antenna exposures may produce similar neuropsychiatric effects. Among the more commonly reported changes are sleep disturbance/insomnia, headache, depression/depressive symptoms, fatigue/tiredness, dysesthesia, concentration/attention dysfunction, memory changes, dizziness, irritability, loss of appetite/body weight, restlessness/anxiety, nausea, skin burning/tingling/dermographism and EEG changes. In summary, then, the mechanism of action of microwave EMFs, the role of the VGCCs in the brain, the impact of non-thermal EMFs on the brain, extensive epidemiological studies performed over the past 50 years, and five criteria testing for causality, all collectively show that various non-thermal microwave EMF exposures produce diverse neuropsychiatric effects. 
What health and safety issues do cell towers pose?

Cell towers and cell antennae are not adequately regulated for safety resulting in significant safety issues. Please note the following:

  • An October 2014 Wall Street Journal article reported that “One in 10 (cell antennae or tower) sites violates the rules, according to six engineers who examined more than 5,000 sites during safety audits for carriers and local municipalities, underscoring a safety lapse in the network.”
  • According to the US Labor Department, the  rate of cell tower worker accidents has sharply risen over the last few years as towers are being built at a rapid pace with minimal regulations and worker safeguards in place. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is currently investigating the “alarming increase in preventable injuries and fatalities at communication tower work sites.”
  • In 2013 the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers wrote the FCC in 2013 that “ensuring compliance with existing FCC RF human exposure limits by the FCC licensee is not effective and cannot/is not being enforced.” Concerned about the health of their workers and consistent reports of injuries from the lack of enforcement, they state, “When there is a hazard, the hazard creator has a duty to warn others against the hazard.” (Electrical workers are suffering internal injuries from the radiation as they are doing unrelated work  but are unaware of a poorly marked antennae closeby. If you stand in front of these radiation beams you will be injured.)
  • The EM Radiation Policy Institute wrote the FCC in 2013 with documentation of Failure to Regulate Antennas and the Lack of FCC Monitoring of Compliance with FCC RF Safety Policies stating that “the FCC does not monitor compliance and does not take any effective enforcement action against violators.”
What is the 1996 Telecommunications Act and how does it affect cell tower placement in the USA?
A: In 1996, President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act (the Telecom Act) into law. The Wireless Industry helped craft this Act. Section 704 of the TCA states that no health or environmental concern can interfere with the placement of telecom equipment such as cell towers and antenna. This means that if a corporation believes that your city officials took health into account when denying them a permit, then your city can be sued. If your city  takes too much time to process a telecom corporation’s application to install equipment, then the city can be sued. According to the Act,  your town can only refuse to permit installation of wireless equipment for how ugly it looks. 
Please read this briefing about the 1996 Telecom Act and other Regulations Affecting Cell Tower Sitings

The Telecommunications Act governing the placement of cell towers was passed in 1996 by Congress. In summary, it forbids local governments from considering health effects in the siting of cell towers as long as the radiofrequency (RF) emissions levels are below the FCC’s maximum permissible exposure (MPE) limits, which are thermal limits, but it does preserve local governments rights regarding their placement, construction, and modification. See Section 704 of the Act (See also FCC Limits Q&A) The only valid reasons for rejection of a permit by the local government is aesthetics and lack of a “significant gap”.  The 1996 TCA only allows wireless providers exemption from local zoning codes if they can prove a need, i.e. a “significant gap.”

Cell Towers and Cell Antennae

In addition, there is section 6409a of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, which prohibits local governments from denying any requests for colocation on an existing site, as long as the colocation does not extend the height of the existing tower by 10% or 20 feet, whichever is greater.

Cell Towers and Cell Antennae

In California, there is AB 57 which went into effect January 1, 2016, which deems that new cell tower applications would be automatically approved within 150 days if the application is not processed within that time, and colocations would be automatically approved within 90 days if the application is not processed within that time.

The Mobile Now Act was originally introduced to Congress in November 2015. The original version included provisions amending section 332(c)(B) of the Communications Act that would have adversely affected local governments authority and control over the  deployment of wireless facilities in the public rights of way.  One of the provisions included the prohibition of local governments from requiring the provider to perform a drive test to prove that a new site is needed – i.e. cities will have to accept the wireless provider’s claim that they need a new facility without any proof. This would have left residents and the local government powerless to object to a cell tower siting.  Another provision prohibited cities from placing a 10-year limit on CUPs for cell tower facilities, i.e. once a CUP is approved for a cell tower, it would be approved forever in perpetuity, and it will run with the land.  Another provision prohibited cities from requiring that abandoned cell antenna equipment and facilities be removed. Fortunately it was not approved in its original version, and these provisions amending 332(c)(B) of the Communications Act were removed and a revised Mobile Now Act was resubmitted for approval and passed in March 2016.  The telecom industry will likely lobby for these amendments again in the near future at the next opportunity.

Q: I just found out that a cell tower is planned at a business/church/park across the street from my house.  Is there anything I can do to stop this?

A: Yes, there is. Organize a group of residents in the area.  In order for your city or county to reject the permit, you need to prove:

  1. aesthetically that it does not fit in with the area
  2. there is no “significant gap” and therefore it is not needed.  If there is no significant gap then the local government does NOT have to grant exemption from the local zoning codes to the wireless provider (For example, the local zoning code says that in the area of the proposed cell tower the maximum building height is only 35 ft, but the proposed wireless facility will be 50 ft tall.  Burden of proof is on the wireless company to prove that there is a “significant gap” if they want to build a 50 ft structure – if they can’t prove “significant gap,” then they will be limited to only 35 ft.)

In  AT&T vs. City Council of Virginia Beach, US Court of Appeals for the 4th District ruled that placing a cell tower is a commercial endeavor, and that the city has a right to reject it on a church property within a residential zoned area, and that it has ultimate authority over esthetics which is subjective. Read full court decision here.

The TCA does NOT force a local government or a business to put a wireless facility on its property if it chooses not to.  For example, a city can decide they do not want to lease their park to a cell tower company.  A business owner can decide that they do not want to lease their facility to a cell tower company.  Choosing not to lease property to a cell tower company does NOT violate the TCA in any way.

It will NOT help to bring up health issues to your local government at the public hearing, because the 1996 TCA forbids consideration of health issues as long as the RF emissions are below FCC’s limits.  Prior to the hearing the wireless provider will already have submitted a third party certification that says that RF emissions from the cell tower will be much lower than FCC limits.  A typical report will read that the “RF emissions levels from the proposed wireless facility will be less than 1/1,000 of the FCC’s maximum permissible exposures,” which is true, however the low level relative to the FCC limit is NOT a measure of safety (see FCC Limits Q&A).  It is unlikely that a person would be exposed to higher than FCC limits unless they are a few feet from the antennas.  The scenarios where someone would be exposed to higher than FCC limits from a wireless facility would be for rooftop facilities where people can walk onto a roof and come really close to the antennas or persons occupying a building directly facing antennas a few feet away.

Q: I just found out that a cell tower is planned at my child’s school. Is there anything I can do to stop this?

A: Yes, there is. Organize a group of parents.  The 1996 TCA only forbids local governments from considering health effects in making siting decisions.  You can talk to your school board about health effects if they will listen.  If you cannot convince them, you can still attend the city hearing for approval of the cell tower facility and then follow the same steps given above for fighting a proposed cell tower on a business/church/park.

Q: What is “significant gap” and how do I challenge that one does not exist?

A: A “gap” means no signal or no coverage in an area.  “Significant” means over a large area affecting a lot of people.  So “significant gap” means no signal over a large area.  The carrier has burden of proof to show that a “significant” gap exists.  Please read the very important following court cases below that have set precedents for the definition of “significant gap.”  (“Significant gap” was not defined by the 1996 TCA, so it was defined after its passing by various court rulings) By reading them you will understand what “significant gap” is and how to challenge that a “significant gap” does not exist.  Read through the applicant’s submitted materials, paying particular attention to the coverage maps to find inconsistencies and errors.

1) The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in APT v. Penn Township. found (skip to p. 18):  http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/983519.txt

First, the provider must show that its facility will fill an existing significant gap in the ability of remote users to access the national telephone network.  The relevant gap, if any, is a gap in the service available to remote users. Not all gaps in a particular provider’s service will involve a gap in the service available to remote users.  Second, the applicant must also show that the manner in which it proposes to fill the significant gap in service is the least intrusive on the values that the denial sought to serve. This will require a showing that a good faith effort has been made to identify and evaluate less intrusive alternatives, e.g., that the provider has considered less sensitive sites, alternative system designs, alternative tower designs, placement of antennas on existing structures, etc.

This definition of a significant gap still stands.  Omnipoint v. Newtown (Pennsylvania), was appealed by Omnipoint to the U.S. Supreme Court.  The key objection by Omnipoint was the Third Circuit’s definition of “significant gap.” The Supreme Court refused to hear that appeal, thereby letting the Third Circuit’s decision stand.

2) The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found Sprint’s projected coverage maps unclear in Sprint vs. Palos Verdes in defining “significant gap”. “In any event, that there was a “gap,” is certainly not sufficient to show there was a “significant gap” in coverage”…In addition, the Court noted how Sprint already had existing cell towers throughout the city. It also acknowledged that public remarks and residents’ drive test results contained in the staff report “further illustrate that Sprint’s existing network was, at the very least, functional.” (Sprint vs. PV also allowed cities to regulate cell towers based on esthetics so long as there is no prohibition of providing wireless services to fill “significant gap”.)  Skip to page labeled 14552 to read about “significant gap” 

3) Ninth Circuit Ct of Appeals found that in Metro PCS vs. San Francisco, 2005, found that “[t]he TCA does not assure every wireless carrier a right to seamless coverage in every area it serves,” and that the inability to cover a “a few blocks in a large city” is, as a matter of law, not a “significant gap.” The TCA does not guarantee wireless service providers coverage free of small “dead spots.”  The existing case law amply demonstrates that “significant gap” determinations are extremely fact-specific inquiries that defy any bright-line legal rule. http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2005/03/07/0316759.pdf
If you do succeed in obtaining a rejection of the proposed wireless facility by your local government, there are some very important procedures that your local government must follow in issuing the rejection to make it stick. In the Supreme Court Case of T-Mobile vs. Roswell in January 2015, T-Mobile was rejected, but they sued the city council because they didn’t provide a denial letter that included the reasons for rejection at the same time. The city issued the denial letter first, then it waited for the minutes of the hearing to be written and approved and thus then the reasons over 3 weeks later.  Once a denial is issued, the telecom company has 30 days to appeal.  If the city doesn’t provide the reasons at the same time as the denial, then the court they appeal to won’t be able to see the reasons, which they need, which takes away their ability to appeal within the 30 day time limit.  Once the denial letter is issued  the 30­ day  commencement ­of ­shot clock  begins.  This case does NOT mean that the denial letter and reasons for rejection have to be issued within 30 days of the hearing – that can be done after 30 days.  The important point is to issue the denial letter and reasons at the SAME time.  You can read more on this here

I keep reading that FCC’s limits for RF radiation are “thermal” limits. What does this mean?

A: The only negative health effect from RF (radiofrequency aka microwave) radiation that the FCC acknowledges is the heating of body tissues, which occurs when the power density of the RF radiation is high enough to cause tissue heating.  For example,  high levels of microwave radiation cook foods in your microwave oven. RF waves from cell towers, Wi-Fi, cell phones, cordless phones, baby monitors, laptops, tablets, and smart meters are also in the microwave frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum, and they also can cause heating effects just like the microwave oven if the power density is high enough.

Our government’s limits are set to protect the public from heating levels of microwaves. For portable wireless devices that are held close to the body such as cell phones, laptops and tablets, the FCC has set a SAR limit (Specific Absorption Rate) which equals 1.6W/kg measured over a 1 gram mass of tissue.  SAR is the amount of RF radiation absorbed by the body from the portable device.  For things like cell towers which affect your living environment, that thermal limit is 1000 uW/cm2 (=1mW/cm2) averaged over 30 minutes for frequencies 1.5-100GHz, first set in 1986 based on recommendations by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP). Exposures above the thermal limit could cause your body tissues to heat. You can read more here in Title 47 CFR Section 1.1310 

I have been told that the RF radiation levels from a proposed cell tower (or from our school’s Wi-Fi system) is well below FCC’s maximum permissible exposure levels (i.e. FCC compliant) and therefore I should not be concerned. Is there a health risk even at FCC compliant levels?

A:  Compliance to FCC limits means falling below FCC’s thermal limit, which is explained above. However there is a lot of peer-reviewed research that demonstrate negative health effects at levels far below the FCC thermal limits. For example, as the 2012 Bioinitiative Report details, peer reviewed published research studies have found negative health effects begin as low as 0.001uW/cm2. Please see the Charts showing these studies here. 0.001uW/cm2  is orders of magnitude below FCC’s thermal limit of 1000uW/cm2 for 30 minutes.  It is common for the power density to be around a cell tower or school Wi-Fi access point to be in the range 0.1-1.0 uW/cm2, which is well below the FCC (thermal) limit.  Reports from RF measuring companies will often report the RF levels as a fraction of the FCC limit, and it is common for the report to say that the RF levels in a school environment with Wi-Fi or around a cell tower to be 1/10,000th of the FCC limit.  While this sounds low and “safe,” you should know that background levels (i.e. areas that are not near a cell tower or do not have Wi-Fi on) can be as low as 0.0003uW/cm2, which is less than 1/1,000,000 of the FCC limit. However this does not mean safe at all.

In summary, FCC compliance means only that there is not enough microwave radiation from the cell tower or device to cook you if you are at a safe distance from it, and FCC limits only protect you from microwave heating effects.

In 2014 a parent in Texas wrote the EPA about chronic exposure and got the following response;

“The standards ….are not intended to address low-intensity (non-thermal), long-term (chronic) exposures. Investigation as to whether there may be effects from exposures too low to cause heating is continuing.” and “telecommunication service providers and device manufacturers having little more to tell people except “don’t worry.” Read the Letter from George P. Brozowski | Regional Health Physicist | US EPA HERE.

Are the RF limits in all countries thermal like the US? If not, why not?

A: Not all countries have thermal limits as lenient as the US. The reason they have more protective standards is that either they have demonstrated harmful bioeffects at non-thermal levels through their own research or they have chosen to adopt the precautionary principle because of the growing body of peer-reviewed research that has shown negative health effects at levels far below thermal limits. Here’s a chart showing RF limits of several countries:

Cell Towers and Cell Antennae - Outdoor Pulsed RF Radiation Exposure Limits

How do I find out about how many cell towers or cell antennae are near my home?

Please go to antennasearch.com and there you can plug in your address and find out how many cell towers or antennae are nearby.

You also can go to opensignal.com to find out what areas have wireless coverage.


Cell Tower Radiation Awareness ProgramThe Center for Construction Research and Training Radiofrequency Cell Tower Radiation Awareness Program for the Construction Industry



EPA letter that clarifies that existing RF standards do not protect us from long term low level exposure

Department of Interior Letter on Cell Towers and how FCC limits are out of date.

US Department of Labor letter on the “alarming increase in cell tower worker deaths” dated  2014

Letter from LA firefighters to chair of the public safety committee September 20, 2014

LA Firefighter Union Asks that they “cease and desist” from constructing towers.

Letter from Connecticut Atty. Gen. and Lieut. Gov. on cell towers

Letter from Connecticut Governor on how cell towers are ugly

Congressman James Himes Letter against cell towers Jan 28, 2010

Rebuttal to T-Mobile Appeal Conditional Use Permit No. PL2014-518 June 2, 2015 Prepared by Residents of Diamond Bar, CA

For Diamond Bar City Council, Diamond Bar, CA

Read the resolution from the city council rejecting the T-Mobile tower in Maple Hill Park. 


One in ten cell phone antenna sites violate FCC rules designed to protect workers from excessive radio frequency radiation. Read Lawmakers push FCC to Limit RF radiation exposure from cellular antennas

Senator Blumenthal, Representative Eshoo Urge FCC to Enforce Exposure Limits for Those Who Work Near Wireless Towers

2013: Supreme Court of India upheld the High Court of the State of Rajasthan decision to remove all cell towers from the vicinity of schools, hospitals and playgrounds because of radiation “hazardous to life.”

India: Zilla Parishad orders removal of all cellphone towers near schools citing exposure to “harmful radiation”. 


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