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Something in the Air

Lookout Mountain is a hot spot in the battle over broadcast emissions.

Thus far, Jefferson County has not acted in this case, and Channel 9 representatives didn't return calls seeking comment. But Carney is blunt about what ruling CARE feels is appropriate: "We want them to take the tower down -- and not to put any new ones up."


Supporters of the proposed new HDTV spire aren't fond of the term "supertower," and try to avoid using it; for instance, consultant Tell refers to it as a "master tower," and notes that it would be about the size of several towers already on Lookout Mountain. But there's plenty about the structure that seems super: Plans call for it to be 854 feet tall, with a support building boasting 27,000 square feet of usable space. Furthermore, it would not only consolidate a minimum of five digital antennas, but provide room for numerous TV analog antennas and FM sticks as well.

"I think supertower is a good name for it," Carney says.

Carney has been living on Lookout Mountain since 1984, moving to her present home seven years ago. Like most of her neighbors, she didn't see the antennas as a health risk at first, and to this day she hasn't suffered any major illnesses she can connect with them. But during the second half of the '90s, when she became part of CARE's tower committee, she started reading articles and studies that gave her pause -- and her worries shot to the stratosphere after an address to the community about nonionizing radiation by Dr. Neil Cherry, a professor at Lincoln University in New Zealand, a country that's considered to be at the forefront of research into the potential dangers of such emissions.

Reached in Canterbury, New Zealand, the home of Lincoln University, Cherry doesn't cushion any blows when sharing his opinions about electromagnetic radiation (EMR), citing a blizzard of biological studies, including over a dozen on leukemia alone, to support the argument that such emissions can be very bad things whether they heat flesh or not.

"There are significant dose relationships for adult and childhood cancers, especially leukemia and brain tumors and miscarriage," he says. "This is scientifically sensible because our brains are electromagnetically active and sensitive to interference. They react very quickly. For cancer and miscarriage, DNA damage and chromosome aberrations are all shown to occur with EMR exposure, and it leads to cell damage. Repair mechanisms correct most damage, and most uncorrected surviving cells are eliminated by programmed cell death. However, a small proportion do survive, and over time cause miscarriage and cancer.

"People living on Lookout Mountain are under severe health threat right now, according to extensive scientific evidence from epidemiological studies," he goes on. "And they will be at far greater risk if digital transmitters are installed."

Echoing this counsel in a somewhat less strident fashion is Dr. Henry Lai, a professor of bioengineering for the University of Washington, who's also been in contact with CARE. Lai has been researching electromagnetic fields since 1980, including extensive tests on rats, and he'd be doing more if not for funding shortfalls: "Actually, there is little independent research in the area being done in the U.S. right now," he says.

His work on the potential health impacts of EMFs from electrical appliances and power lines and RF from cell phones -- emissions that have similarities to RF from radio and TV signals, but are not identical to them -- argues that they may have biological consequences. But thus far, Lai concedes, the evidence is inconclusive. "There is not enough research data to indicate that radio frequency radiation from cell phones and transmission towers can cause health effects in humans," he says.

Other inquiries have been equally ambiguous. A landmark 1992 study linking health problems and power lines took a major hit last year when its lead researcher, Dr. Robert Liburdy, was forced to resign his post at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory after investigators determined that he had fabricated and falsified data (Liburdy continues to stand by his findings). And a huge investigation undertaken by Cambridge University's Nick Day and released in December found no connection between childhood cancers and power lines. Yet the World Health Organization declared that the results couldn't be called "definitive."

In the face of such uncertainty, Lai advises prudence. "Lookout Mountain has probably the highest concentration of radio towers in the country, and the power output from some of the towers is very high," he says. "And there is a suggestion that digital radiation is more potent than analog signals, although there is little scientific proof for that. But no matter what, the precautionary principle should be used: The population should be exposed to as little radiation as possible."

Such warnings set off alarms on Lookout Mountain, especially since the Lake Cedar Group is proposing that eighty acres of property in the area be rezoned in order to erect the digital tower. CARE requested that the state health department conduct a survey to determine if brain-tumor rates were elevated near the tower -- and when the resulting study, issued in May 1998 and based largely on census information and data from the Colorado Central Cancer Registry, showed rates in a large tract that included Lookout Mountain and other communities were actually a bit lower than might be expected, the organization convinced the health department to do another study focusing more precisely on their home. The new figures, released in February 1999, were what report author Hoffman describes as "statistically significantly higher than would be expected" in two general locations. Three tumors were found among females in block group two, west of the corner of Highway 6 and Lookout Mountain Road (1990 population: 488), while four were documented among males in block group three, encircled by Highway 6, Lookout Mountain Road, Heritage Road and I-70 (1990 population: 1,803).

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