The health impacts of cell towers


How are cell towers similar to DDT, an insecticide infamous for its environmental impacts? It’s a good question. On Dec. 8, about 90 local residents asked this question and many more at an event to explore the health and environmental impacts of wireless technology. As new cell towers are being proposed in the area, interest was high, with standing-room only in the Point Reyes Community Presbyterian Church. 

The event was sponsored by the West Marin Alliance for Human and Environmental Health, the Point Reyes Coalition for SafeTech and the Ecological Options Network. I spoke alongside Dr. Madga Havas from Canada and Ellie Marks of the California Brain Tumor Association.

I am a physician who has studied and developed policies for environmental toxins for over 25 years. When I learned of a proposal to place a cell tower on my daughter’s school 10 years ago, I dove into the research. What I learned is that wireless technology and infrastructure is a broad environmental and human toxin. We use and are increasingly surrounded by these devices: cell phones, laptops, “smart” watches, “smart” meters and internet routers. Unfortunately, we are told these devices are safe, that we do not really know if there is harm or that the research is inconclusive. Myself and over 250 expert scientists who have looked at this issue conclude the opposite. 

To start with, the standard set by the Federal Communications Commission is based only on a single impact: heating of the tissues. This is like a cooking standard, and it ignores other biological effects. Nature and human biology are much more complex than technology. Humans evolved over millions of years in an environment with extremely low electromagnetic radiation. Our bodies use very tiny electrical signals that communicate within a labyrinth of molecules which are critical to the proper development of a fetus and to the healthy functioning of an adult. 

In medical school, I learned about only a fraction of the thousands of dizzying interactions within and between cells that regulate reproduction, energy metabolism, the immune system, the gut, the brain and the nervous system. I learned that biology is both intricate and fragile, like a symphonic orchestra in which every instrument must be played perfectly. In studying toxic exposures, I learned that there can be different mechanisms at work that cause harm to our cells and biology. 

One of these mechanisms is oxidation, which, like rust, causes aging and the breakdown of DNA, proteins, lipids and other critical molecules. The insecticide DDT causes oxidation, and antioxidants we consume counter this effect. The effect of oxidation on cells has been well studied; scientific literature connects oxidative cellular harm to inflammation and human disease. This mechanism does not involve heat injury.

When non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation is emitted from wireless devices, it passes through us and is variably absorbed in our bodies. The radiation is absorbed by water and blocked by metal. Of 100 peer-reviewed articles on radio frequency radiation and oxidation, 93 studies found a positive result, or resulting damage to DNA, lipids and proteins. This is not a thermal effect; it is a biological effect. 

Dozens of studies have linked wireless radiation to sperm, ovarian and embryo harm, and to miscarriage. Neurologic injury is also a worry because studies show damage to nerve cells, the alteration of neurotransmitter levels, the opening of the blood-brain barrier (with large epidemiologic studies indicating memory impairment), behavioral changes and an increase in brain cancer. 

Addiction to and the overuse of wireless devices is especially problematic for children. Six studies have demonstrated brain shrinkage—in white and grey matter—in those addicted to electronic devices. A new article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics showed evidence of microstructural brain changes and brain shrinkage in children age 3 to 5 years who use an electronic device more than one hour a day. 

Studies on cell towers show an increase in cancer in those living within 1,500 feet of towers; other studies show an alteration in stress hormones and blood abnormalities. A significant percentage of people also report non-specific or vague health symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and insomnia when living close to cell towers. Electro-sensitivity is a real disease and more people—from 3 to 18 percent—are reporting vague symptoms when they use wireless devices. 

Wireless radiation can also affect the health, behavior and migration of animals. Bees appear particularly sensitive, and plants and trees are also adversely affected. Precaution on all fronts is needed with the placement of cell towers, as the radiation they emit is constant. Once a large cell tower is in place, 5G small cells will follow. Cell towers become a permanent Trojan horse. 


Cindy Russell, a plastic surgeon practicing in Mountain View, is the executive director of Physicians for Safe Technology. For more information, visit