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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Plan Tucson 2045 and the Environmental Footprint of 5G

Mar 31, 2023 09:00AM ● By Lisa Smith, PhD, EMRS
Tucson’s 5G cell tower deployment is well underway, with nearly 500 towers installed as of March 2023. These towers emit microwave radiation 24/7 several blocks out and are placed in the public right-of-way, close to homes, schools and workplaces in order to connect with a burgeoning list of “smart” devices within.
   
Far beyond cell phones, the devices range from transmitting refrigerators and CPAP machines to infant diaper monitors, all part of the Internet of Things (IOT) and Internet of Bodies (IOB). The telecommunications industry says we need 5G cell towers to meet increasing demand for connectivity—while at the same time they create that demand, in an upward spiral fueling continuing profits.
   
Tucson’s 5G cell tower deployment is not nearly complete. The towers are now concentrated in Western areas of the city (SafeTechTucson.com/cell-tower-info), and most neighborhoods still have towers from only one company, Verizon or AT&T. If nothing is done, we can expect thousands more to be installed, possibly one or more per block.

Plan Tucson 2045: Roadmap for Tucson’s Future
Plan Tucson 2045 lays out a vision for Tucson’s future over the next 20 years to guide the City’s decisions about investments, programs and policies. It is intended to reflect our community’s “common goals and diverse aspirations”. Once accepted by the Mayor and City Council, it goes on the ballot for voter approval in the November 2025 election.
   
An important building block is the “Climate Action Plan” approved by the City Council in March 2023. This plan calls for the decarbonization of all city-owned and private buildings and for carbon neutrality by 2045. It proposes using more sustainable building materials, promotion of electric vehicles, a walk and bike-friendly transportation system, and a dramatic increase in solar power use.
   
Tucson needs strong climate policies that ensure technology is used to combat climate change or at least not make it worse. However, the Climate Action Plan currently has no mention of the 5G cell towers that are the newest source of energy-consuming physical infrastructure and environmental pollution in Tucson.

The Environmental Footprint of 5G
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempted to eliminate 5G cell towers from environmental review, saying that their deployment will “leave little to no environmental footprint”. However, this declaration was struck down in United Keetoowah v. FCC, a court case brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Indian tribes.

The potential environmental impacts of the stealth deployment of 5G cell towers include:
• Increased carbon-based electricity use. Each 5G cell tower uses electricity from carbon-based sources 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Part of this electricity is for antenna cooling, especially relevant in our hot summer climate.
• Damage to tree canopies. Trees’ absorption of carbon dioxide reduces global warming. Trees cool neighborhoods, reducing energy needs. Yet over time, microwave radiation chips away at these functions, altering tree growth, thinning leaf cell walls and causing adverse biochemical changes.
• Harm to Sonoran Desert animals and plants. Microwave radiation emitted by cell tower antennas (and linked smart electric meters) affects all living beings at the cellular level, including animals and plants. It is a leading cause of disappearing pollinators.
• Alteration of surface features. Alterations of floodplains, watersheds and forests (including Saguaro forests) following installation of cell towers damage habitats. Horizontal structures on the land surface destroy valued natural viewsheds.

What Can Be Done by the City of Tucson?
We are fortunate to have many environmental warriors among Tucson’s Mayor and City Council. What can they do to prevent negative impacts on plants and animals and ensure 5G cell tower installations don’t undermine progress toward carbon neutrality?
   
The ultimate solution is to replace them with a “Fiber to the Premises” (FTTP) system based on radiation-free, wired connections using fiber optic cable. Traditional macro towers placed far from homes and schools can provide wireless connections needed for mobile devices like cell phones. There are many options for the City to work toward such a system to protect the environment, public safety, privacy and property (SafeTechTucson.com/notices-and-affidavits).

Meanwhile, key actions for the Plan Tucson 2045 agenda are:
(1)  Conduct an environmental audit of the 5G cell tower deployment, including potential impacts on animals and plants and a full carbon audit taking into account energy needs for production and use of all equipment as well as “smart surveillance city” devices. We need an accurate and comprehensive information base of all sources of energy use in Tucson, especially infrastructure on public land, to make sound decisions for Tucson’s future.

(2)  Monitor and post Environmental Assessments (EAs) of 5G cell towers. Cell tower EAs are required by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Unlike most federal agencies, the FCC interprets NEPA rules narrowly and in favor of companies rather than the environment. Some special circumstances it deems require an EA include tower installations that:
• May affect threatened or endangered species or their habitats
• Are installed in a floodplain (if equipment is not raised)
• Are in wilderness areas or wildlife refuges
• May affect Indian cultural sites or historic resources
• Entail significant changes to surface features

Combined, these circumstances apply to large areas of Tucson. The FCC allows voluntary compliance with little enforcement. Before approving a 5G cell tower permit, the City can determine which of the above circumstances apply, whether an EA has been completed and, if not, inform companies of their obligation. If they have complied, then publicly post the EAs. If not, then publicly post this failure so Tucsonans are duly informed. All of these actions are fully within the power of the City of Tucson.

What Can You Do?
Let Mayor Romero and our City Council know you consider the environmental impact of 5G cell towers an important issue to address in Plan Tucson 2045. You can fill out an online survey at tinyurl.com/PlanTucsonPhase1Survey or attend the many planned virtual and in-person workshops by visiting

Lisa Smith, PhD, EMRS is a Certified Building Biology Electromagnetic  Radiation Specialist at EMF Wellness Tucson. Connect at 520-248-0461 or [email protected].

Sources:
  • Levitt, B. Blake, Henry C. Lai and Albert M. Manville. 2021.  Effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields on flora and fauna, part 1. Rising ambient EMF levels in the environment.  Review of Environmental Health 37(1):81-122.
  • Environmental Health Trust. 2019. Climate Change and 5G.  ehtrust.org/climate-change-and-5g.
  • Rosenberg, Erica.  2022.  Environmental procedures at the FCC:  A case study in corporate capture. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 64:5-6, 17-27.
  • Code of Federal Regulations, Title 47: Telecommunications.  Actions that may have a significant environmental effect, for which Environmental Assessments (EAs) must be prepared [CFR Title 47 Section 1.1307 (a)].
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