HDTV vs. Lookout Mountain: Cancer

There has been a giant debate over a new broadcast TV tower on Lookout Mountain. The two forces at odds are the Lake Cedar Group (aka CBS 4, Denver’s 7, 9 News and UPN 20) and C.A.R.E. (aka Canyon Area Residents for the Environment). Technically, Jefferson County and the City of Golden is the side opposing the Lake Cedar Group, but C.A.R.E. appears to be the public face.

I was recently invited to a Facebook group called “Say no to the Cedar Group” whose group description reads as follows:

From mines.facebook.com:

The Cedar Group is planning on installing a new 600ft Antenna Tower on Lookout Mountain, already the EMF radiation emitted by the antennae on the mountain are at 125% what is allowed by Federal Law and already the interference produced by the radiation is causing EM devices to function inappropriately within a few miles of the tower. With the addition of the new tower we, as a school, could face devastating consequences: inability to conduct EM or any micro/nano-scale research, loss of wireless capabilities in the Golden region, not to mention the negative health effects. All of this so the Cedar Group can rake in millions a year. Our school, The Colorado School of Mines is refusing to take an official position on this extremely important matter. The purpose of this group is to raise awareness among the student population at Mines so that we can let our administration know how we feel. Check out the website on this page and if you agree with me, that this is a big deal and that our voices must be heard please invite all other friends you have at Mines. If we could get the membership up at least we could show Bill Scoggins that we care about this and maybe he’ll decide to care as well!

Well, that was it. I really hate groups who have it all wrong. I also hate groups that feel the need to drag me into things they know nothing about. But the deed has been done and here I am. Now, before I begin this rant, I’m going to preface it by saying that I am only a Junior and still have many things to learn. However, I feel I have learned enough in my last 20 years or so to accurately comment on this issue.

The Lake Cedar Group and C.A.R.E. have both posted “facts” about the issue. The interesting thing is, many of these facts claims something that is mutually exclusive. For example, C.A.R.E. claims that “people who live closest to the towers have higher rates of brain and central nervous system tumors.” (http://www.c-a-r-e.org/myths.htm)
While the LCG claims that “Lookout Mountain cancer rates shows the incidence of disease is within the range that would be expected even if there were no towers.” (http://www.hdtvcolorado.com/)

This causes confusion for many people. It also frustrates me. So let’s get to it.

What C.A.R.E. claims:

From www.c-a-r-e.org:

Myth: Studies show no higher incidence of disease on Lookout Mountain than any other location.

Fact: The Colorado Department of Health and Colorado State University have both conducted studies specifically on Lookout Mountain residents, specifically to determine what types of adverse health conditions exist and what has caused them. The sad reality is that people who live closest to the towers have higher rates of brain and central nervous system tumors. Numerous physicians and cancer experts have testified under oath giving clear and demonstrative caution to Jefferson County officials that long-term exposure to the towers’ radiation is harmful to people – they also state that they wouldn’t have their families live near the towers with the risks they pose. You don’t see any television executives living near them either.

What the Lake Cedar Group claims:

From www.hdtvcolorado.com:

#2 Myth: Studies have shown the TV towers on Lookout Mountain cause cancer.

Fact: Another fabrication by opponents. The most recent study on Lookout Mountain cancer rates shows the incidence of disease is within the range that would be expected even if there were no towers. Further, the Jefferson County Health Department told the County Commissioners that there is “no conclusive proof that low level RF is a causal agent for cancer or for other adverse health effects.” Additionally, the Health Department told the commissioners that the World Health Organization has also looked at the current scientific literature and feels there is no convincing evidence that exposure to RF shortens human life span or causes cancer.

First of all, neither side has provided any sources for their claims. This pisses me off. Always, always, always! Always provide sources. If you don’t, you look like, and in fact are, a complete idiot. Minus five points each for C.A.R.E.and the Lake Cedar Group.

Fortunately, I was able to find some articles in the Rocky Mountain News to shed some light on this issue. Let’s start picking it apart.

C.A.R.E.: “people who live closest to the towers have higher rates of brain and central nervous system tumors.” True with a “but”.
From www.rockymountainnews.com:

Previous studies by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment found increases in tumors among residents of two areas on Lookout Mountain, but found no conclusive link between the cancers and the broadcast towers.

(emphasis added).

So what? Yes, there is a measured increase in tumors among the residents in question. However, the increase in tumors is not linked to the radio towers. Minus one point for C.A.R.E.

But what about the “Numerous physicians and cancer experts [that] have testified under oath giving clear and demonstrative caution to Jefferson County officials that long-term exposure to the towers’ radiation is harmful to people”? Good for them. The fact of the matter is that no one really knows what long-term exposure will do. I’ve seen many reports saying cell phones cause cancer. I’ve also seen the same amount of reports saying that cell phones don’t cause cancer. Don’t believe me? Go Google “effects of RF emission” or some variation thereof. No points awarded or taken aware from C.A.R.E.

C.A.R.E.: “You don’t see any television executives living near them either.” Okay, this is my favorite type of argument. Mostly because it’s so easy to tear apart. The statement assumes a cause and effect relationship when there is none:
Because the area is dangerous, the executives refuse to live there.
Cause and effect.
Of course, TV executive may also choose not to live there because there are no nice homes there, or perhaps the 30 minute commute to Denver (without traffic) is too long. Maybe they already have a home (from before they were a TV executive) and don’t want to move. Minus two points for C.A.R.E. One for the invalid argument, and another for using such a foolish argument.

At the end of the first round:
C.A.R.E.: -8 points
The Lake Cedar Group: -5 points

Okay. On to the Lake Cedar Group’s statement.

Lake Cedar Group: “The most recent study on Lookout Mountain cancer rates shows the incidence of disease is within the range that would be expected even if there were no towers.”

This is true

From www.rockymountainnews.com:

The study, conducted by Burch and other researchers at Colorado State University and the University of Washington in Seattle, measured the production of “markers” believed to play significant roles in the human immune system.

The study indicates changes in immune system markers such as white blood cells, lymphocytes and T-cells could be related to increased RF levels because the markers “were all significantly increased among persons” in the highest areas of exposure as compared with those in the areas of lowest RF exposure.

The new study found the closer people live to the towers the higher their exposure to radio frequency emissions.

The level of the increased markers found by the study is within the normal range of variance from person to person, [Dr. Mark] Johnson [of the Jefferson County Department of Health and Environment] said.

(emphasis added)

Let’s talk a little about statistical significance (think “Q-Test” if you took chemistry at CSM):

From en.wikipedia.org

In statistics, a result is significant if it is unlikely to have occurred by chance, if in reality the independent variable (the test condition being examined) has no effect, that is, if a presumed null hypothesis is true.

So what? The group near the RF emissions did have increased markers levels. However, the levels were not above that of chance. Plus one point for the Lake Cedar Group.

The Lake Cedar Group: “the World Health Organization has also looked at the current scientific literature and feels there is no convincing evidence that exposure to RF shortens human life span or causes cancer.”

This is true as well:

From www.who.int:

Despite many studies, the evidence for any effect remains highly controversial. However, it is clear that if electromagnetic fields do have an effect on cancer, then any increase in risk will be extremely small. The results to date contain many inconsistencies, but no large increases in risk have been found for any cancer in children or adults.

A number of epidemiological studies suggest small increases in risk of childhood leukemia with exposure to low frequency magnetic fields in the home. However, scientists have not generally concluded that these results indicate a cause-effect relation between exposure to the fields and disease (as opposed to artifacts in the study or effects unrelated to field exposure). In part, this conclusion has been reached because animal and laboratory studies fail to demonstrate any reproducible effects that are consistent with the hypothesis that fields cause or promote cancer. Large-scale studies are currently underway in several countries and may help resolve these issues.

There you have it. Straight from the lion’s mouth. Plus one point for the Lake Cedar Group.

At the end of round two:
C.A.R.E.: -8 points
The Lake Cedar Group: -3 points

If you care to do any more reading, here are some links you might find interesting:

Frequently asked questions about the safety of radiofrequency (RF) and microwave emissions from transmitters and facilities regulated by the FCC.

World Health Organization’s comprehensive information on what electromagnetic fields are, their impact on health, as well as the current exposure standards and recommended precautions.

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt

[tags]lake cedar group, hdtv, lookout mountain, Canyon Area Residents for the Environment, denver, golden, jefferson county, colorado, CBS 4, Denver’s 7, 9 News, UPN 20, radio frequency, rf, cancer, health, electromagnetic, emf[/tags]

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