IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers), other related unions, and utility companies should raise the alarm over Senate Bill 649. This California bill radically changes the working environment for electrical utility workers, creating significant hazards. SB 649 allows utility poles, light poles, traffic lights and other infrastructure to be converted into so-called “small cell” towers and eliminates local government regulation. Now, instead of just working on utility poles and electrical lines, electrical workers would, under this bill, work on or near cell towers all the time. What’s worse, they would work within the envelope of highest microwave exposure routinely, in or near the beam of antennas, in many cases exceeding FCC limits for occupational exposure. And wireless carriers don’t turn off the power to their transmitters when workers are present. And cell antennas also routinely exceed FCC limits by 600% or more. Workers’ exposure will be for hours every day, not the single exposure for 30 minutes on which FCC occupational guidelines are based.
No one is policing this.
“Small cell” antennas are often no different from the antennas mounted on macro cell towers — the size and power output can be the same, and exceed FCC limits at a distance from the antennas. Studies have found cancer clusters up to ¼ mile away from cell towers.
Under SB 649, these “small cell” towers will be everywhere in communities and next to homes (every 10-20 houses or less) and schools, throughout downtown areas, in parks, etc. There will be no down time for electrical workers because their homes will now be within yards of cell towers.
It gets worse. Hidden in SB 649 is AT&T’s experiment for broadband over powerline – BPL (also known as powerline communication – PLC). AirGig is the name of an AT&T project. SB 649’s previous version explicitly stated:
(4) Notwithstanding any other provision of this section, a city or county shall not impose permitting requirements or fees on the installation, placement, maintenance, or replacement of micro wireless facilities that are suspended, whether embedded or attached, on cables or lines that are strung between existing utility poles in compliance with state safety codes.
In the latest bill version, that explicit reference has been removed, but micro wireless antennas installed in or on electrical wiring is still a new permitted use under this bill.
Section 65964.2 is added to the Government Code, to read:
(a) A small cell shall be a permitted use subject only to a permitting process adopted by a city or county pursuant to subdivision (b) if it satisfies the following requirements:
(1) The small cell is located in the public rights-of-way in any zone or in any zone that includes a commercial or industrial use.
(2) The small cell complies with all applicable federal, state, and local health and safety regulations, including the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. Sec. 12101 et seq.).
(3) The small cell is not located on a fire department facility.
(g) For purposes of this section, the following terms have the following meanings:
(1) “Micro wireless facility” means a small cell that is no larger than 24 inches long, 15 inches in width, 12 inches in height, and that has an exterior antenna, if any, no longer than 11 inches.
(2) (A) “Small cell” means a wireless telecommunications facility, as defined in paragraph (2) of subdivision (d) of Section 65850.6, or a wireless facility that uses licensed or unlicensed spectrum and that meets the following qualifications:
(B) “Small cell” includes a micro wireless facility.
If micro wireless antennas are installed and/or embedded on electrical lines, all electrical lines become de facto cell towers. Utility workers and all electricians will be handling wires not just with electromagnetic radiation emissions, but now with microwave electromagnetic radiation emissions which have known health hazards and were found to be carcinogenic last year by the NIH National Toxicology Program.
But there’s more. There is no down time for electrical workers on this exposure. Their heavy exposure will not stop at work. Microwave radiation on electrical lines cannot be shielded. It follows the lines into homes and buildings on the electrical wiring. People and all life will be exposed to these emissions constantly, especially when they’re indoors. The Austrian Medical Association opposed PLC/BPL in 2012 because of the enormous health hazards and constant exposure. The European Academy of Environmental Medicine issued guidelines for treating EMF-related diseases. The international literature is substantial on exposure impacts.
Disabling electromagnetic sensitivities was recognized by the U.S. Federal Access Board in 2002 which published a report in 2005 about accommodating people with this disability. EMS is on the rise worldwide. This is an environmentally-caused functional impairment. Reduced exposure is the only reliable solution. Electrical workers are at much increased risk for becoming disabled and unable to work due to their new high-level microwave exposure as a result of SB 649 and measures being pushed by the FCC.
Sensitivity and related health problems – neurological, cardiopulmonary, immunological, genetic, fertility, vision, dermatological — increase with exposure. Some people with EMS can no longer tolerate ordinary household current. Homelessness is already experienced by those with EMS who have not had the intense exposure of electrical workers. SB 649 may cause a new wave of homelessness, especially to former electrical utility workers.
Incidentally, fire fighters got an exemption in this bill because of the health hazard of cell towers.
The immense costs to California from growing disability, unemployment, and insufficient experienced electrical utility workers and electricians to maintain and repair the electric grid cannot be quantified. California’s economy would grind to a halt, and its society would fall into third world conditions. Utility companies should be adamantly opposed to this bill.
Communications Workers of America (CWA) leadership also misses the boat on this bill. AT&T and other companies have been pushing to eliminate copperline landline telephone service nationwide. They attempted this in California last year with AB 2395 and failed. AirGig and similar proposals means that telecommunications companies can appeal for relief from “carrier of last resort” rules by claiming that everyone now has access to telephone service through BPL/PLC. Not only would reliable and essential copperline landline service be eliminated, but all CWA legacy telephone workers would be eliminated as well.
So why isn’t union leadership loudly opposing SB 649 and “small cells”? Workers would do well to ask them. California union leadership has been contacted by the public. Labor leadership is no longer ignorant. What is the explanation for the silence in the face of extreme costs and health damage to workers and the public from this bill?
SB 649 has already passed the California Senate and has one final hearing before the Assembly Appropriations Committee on August 23 before it goes to a full Assembly vote.
For current information on SB 649, “small cells”, and 5G (the purported goal of small cell deployment),
Senate Bill 649
European Academy of Environmental Medicine, EUROPAEM EMF: Guideline 2016 for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of EMF-related health problems and illnesses (based on a 2012 report from the Austrian Medical Association)
Austrian Chamber of Physicians (equiv to AMA), letter to Austrian Federal Ministry for Economics, Family and Youth, 2012
Dr. Yvonne Gilli, MP, Physicians for the Environment, Radiation risk and smart grids, submitted to the Swiss Federal Assembly, 3/14/12
Biological and Health Effects of Microwave Radio Frequency Transmissions: A Review of the Research Literature, Paul Dart MD (lead author), June 3, 2013
Access Board Indoor Environmental Quality report, 2005
International Association of Firefighters Resolution
Palo Alto small cell tower radiation measurements