Impacts of Wireless Facilities

  • Posted on: 27 May 2009
  • By: Amanda Fritz

Hi, friends, remember me? We used to talk here every day. I've been... busy. It was nice to have three days off this past weekend, to remember other important things -- such as telling Portlanders about interesting items on the City Council Agenda.

Last week, the Portland City Council passed a Resolution calling for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take another look at whether there are health impacts related to wireless emissions. It passed 3-0, with Commissioners Fish and Leonard absent. Today, my colleagues on the City Council allowed me to suspend the rules to vote again on the Resolution. This passed 5-0:

677 Request the federal government to update studies on potential health effects of radio frequency wireless emissions in light of proliferation of wireless use (Resolution introduced by Commissioner Fritz)

For many years, nationwide regulations have prohibited consideration of potential health concerns when siting wireless facilities. As far as we know, the Portland City Council is the first local jurisdiction in the nation to ask the FCC to consider further evaluation of this policy. We ask the FCC to seek advice from other federal agencies charged with assessing health and safety issues, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Note, the City Council's resolution does not say there ARE health impacts from wireless facilities, rather it asks the FCC to take another look at the issue. I believe it is a responsible request in light of ongoing studies and citizen concerns.

This Resolution is in response to input from Portlanders. I heard health concerns when defining new regulations for cellular facilities on lots, back during my service on the Portland Planning Commission. In January, I was assigned the Office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management in my City Commissioner portfolio, and again I heard from citizens worrying about potential health effects.

One of the first issues my team and I set about tackling was new regulations for siting wireless facilities in the public right-of-way. There was a contentious hearing on the previous proposal last December, covered here and here on this blog (in the days when I thought I was busy with the campaign and its aftermath - HA!). Although staff had intended to direct siting of new wireless facilities in residential areas "only as a last resort", many citizens testified at the hearing in December that this goal was not met. From January through last week, I worked hard with staff in my office and in Cable, and with expert advice from the City Attorney's office and from noise and zoning experts in the Bureau of Development Services, to revise the proposed contracts.

The City is not allowed to prohibit (or make it so difficult or expensive it has the effect of prohibiting) any carrier from providing wireless service anywhere the company wants to operate. The revised regulations direct new and replacement antennae on utility poles to locate first choice on highways and in industrial areas, last choice in residential areas. The maps are hard to read on line because of the scale covering the entire city. We're changing the colors to make it slightly easier, and citizens can call the Cable office (use the all-purpose 503-823-4000 information line) with questions.

If a company wants to locate an antenna on a utility pole in one of the 80% of streets classified as neighborhood streets, they must pay an additional $2,000 application processing fee, show the existing coverage in the area, meet with the Neighborhood and Business Associations, and report on the application what they heard and whether their siting was modified in response. This doesn't give neighbors as much power to affect applications as in land use reviews.... but siting wireless facilities in the right-of-way can't be land use reviews under our current system. I believe the proposed language goes as far as possible in encouraging siting of wireless facilities away from residences, while remaining legal. Both industry representatives and neighbors provided valuable suggestions that were incorporated into the proposal. Special thanks to Kathy Fuerstenau of the Cully Association of Neighbors, and Chris Duffy of Arbor Lodge Neighborhood Association, who are among many citizens providing tremendous grassroots leadership on this issue.

Over the course of several months refining the proposal, with meetings with neighbors and industry representatives as well as many incoming emails, I heard over and over that neighbors are concerned about potential health impacts. So at the same time as we held hearings on new regulations for siting the facilies, with increased fees ($90,000 per year in additional revenue to the General Fund, for the existing 60 poles carrying antennae, up from $3,500 to $5,000 per pole annually), I proposed the following Resolution:


Request the federal government to update studies on potential health effects of Radio Frequency wireless emissions in light of proliferation of wireless use.

WHEREAS, state and local governments, including the City of Portland, are preempted by federal law from considering health concerns in the regulation and placement of wireless facilities, so long as such facilities otherwise comply with applicable federal law; and

WHEREAS, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has jurisdiction over non-federal wireless facilities, authorizing and licensing all non-federal devices, transmitters and facilities that generate Radio Frequency (RF) radiation; and

WHEREAS, the FCC has historically relied on federal agencies with health and safety expertise, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) who each have assigned roles in monitoring and investigating issues related to RF exposure; and

WHEREAS, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) in 2001 prepared a report of its investigation into safety concerns related to mobile phones, and concluded that further research into wireless technology is needed, recommending the FDA take the lead in monitoring research results; and

WHEREAS, the FCC in 2003 last updated guidelines for human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields from wireless facilities, based primarily on recommendations of other federal agencies after reviews of prior scientific literature related to RF biological effects, primarily from the 1990s; and

WHEREAS, a survey released in May 2009 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that for the first time the number of households in the U.S. who only have cell phones exceeds the number of households who only have landlines;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Portland City Council requests the FCC to work in cooperation with the FDA and other relevant federal agencies to revisit and update studies on potential health concerns arising from RF wireless emissions in light of the national proliferation of wireless use; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council Clerk shall cause a copy of this Resolution to be sent to all members of the FCC, to the FDA Commissioner, and to all members of the Oregon Congressional Delegation.

I was concentrating on working with neighbors and industry representatives to reach near-consensus on the local regulations and fees, so I didn't publicize the health concerns resolution as much. Two citizens came last Wednesday evening to testify in favor, and the Resolution passed unanimously. The regulations and fee increases passed to Second Reading, passed unanimously today.

NOTE: This Resolution empowers citizens to lobby Portland's congressional delegation.
It is not sufficient by itself. If you care about this issue, please write or call your U.S. Representatives and Senators.

Senator Ron Wyden: 1220 SW 3rd Avenue, Suite 585, Portland, OR 97204
503-326-7525 email

Senator Jeff Merkley (how I still delight in saying that): One World Trade Center, Suite 1400, 121 SW Salmon Street, Portland, OR 97204
503-326-3386 email

Representative Earl Blumenauer: 729 N.E. Oregon Street, Suite 115
Portland, OR 97232
503-231-2300 email

Representative David Wu: 620 S.W. Main, Suite 606, Portland, OR 97205-3037
1-800-422-4003 email

Representative Kurt Schrader: 494 State Street, Suite 210, Salem, OR 97302
1-503-588-9100 email

Our Congressmen need to hear from you if you are concerned about this issue.