Follow the series “EMFs: The Invisible Hazard” here.
In this series, we explore the invisible yet omnipresent electromagnetic fields that saturate our world, from common home electronics to 5G, and their potential effects on human health.Andrew Molnar never thought he would be one to get involved in local political activism.
But he and his wife, Marie Molnar, are now leading the action to ensure that both the town and the city of Ithaca, New York, can control where wireless facilities are placed in the municipalities.
It all started four years ago. Mr. and Mrs. Molnar were hiking at the Cornell Plantations, a park at Cornell University, when the couple started experiencing headaches.
“We looked around, and there was this huge new cell tower about 100 yards from us,” Mr. Molnar, a Cornell graduate, told The Epoch Times. “We got out of the area, and within about 10 minutes, we both felt totally better again.”
5G and the Rise of Small CellsWireless facilities, especially small cells, have started popping up like mushrooms after rain in both residential and commercial areas.
There are two types of wireless facilities. Cell towers, or macro cells, can reach 300 feet in height, may have more than 20 antennae, and maintain coverage for miles of radius. Small cells, on the other hand, are much more compact, and they relay signals and maintain coverage between a few hundred yards up to about 2 miles.
Small cells are the backbones of the 5G network.
Although their frequencies overlap with 4G, 5G signals generally have a higher upper frequency, making them less penetrative; therefore, they need antennae at closer proximities to maintain connections.
Small cells were rapidly installed during the 5G rollout. People have discovered them outside their homes, on lamp posts, and on utility poles along the sidewalk.
Dr. Hardell found that after the new base station was installed, the strength of the radiofrequency signals increased.
"Due to the severity of symptoms, the couple left their dwelling and moved to a small office room [with lower radiation strength]. Within a couple of days, most of their symptoms alleviated or disappeared completely," Dr. Hardell wrote.
Preventing Redundant Cell TowersIn 2020, telecommunications giant Verizon applied for a master license with the city of Ithaca. If approved, it could apply for permits to install new cell facilities in the adjacent town.
Mr. and Mrs. Molnar had just returned from a trip to Europe in 2019 when they saw people signing a petition to stop the approval. "That's when we heard about it,” Mr. Molnar said.
The couple weren't anti-technology, but given their sensitivity to wireless signals, they were concerned.
The petition gained more than 500 signatures, yet few wanted to lead the action to the next step. So the Molnars decided to step up.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic began.
"So we had some extra time, and we just both felt very strongly intuitively that we were being guided to help lead this," Mr. Molnar said.
In preparation, the Molnars started educating themselves on EMFs and consulted lawyers. They spent a month or two familiarizing themselves with the laws, health concerns, and policies.
The Power of Local GovernmentsAs it turns out, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) gives local governments considerable power to control the placement of new wireless facilities; they just need to know how to use this power to their advantage.
"The only truly effective means of controlling the number and placement of wireless facilities in a jurisdiction is a well-drafted local zoning ordinance," Andrew Campanelli, a lawyer experienced in handling cell tower opposition cases and TCA-based litigation, told The Epoch Times.
A well-drafted zoning ordinance would detail suitable sites to place the cell towers. These sites are generally advised to be inconspicuous and as far from residential areas as possible. Most importantly, zoning ordinances would also include procedural guidelines that allow the planning board to make decisions without violating the TCA.
The telecommunications companies "know the law, and they also, unfortunately, know that most local governments are clueless," Mr. Campanelli said, "and they take advantage of that."
A well-written zoning ordinance would set forth regulations for the placement of wireless facilities while preventing redundant installations.
One of the procedural requirements of the TCA is that local governments must ask the applicant telecommunications company to prove that there's a gap in call service and that the new installations that it's applying for are the least intrusive means to fill that gap.
Most zoning ordinances don't have a procedural guideline that the planning board can follow, so many mistakenly reject an application without addressing this procedural requirement, resulting in the telecommunications company filing a lawsuit within 30 days of the decision. In these instances, the court always rules in the telecommunications company's favor due to the local government's mistake, Mr. Campanelli said.
While some people file for a moratorium or cease-and-desist resolutions, neither would be effective for controlling the placement of cell towers, according to Mr. Campanelli.
Updating the Local OrdinanceMr. and Mrs. Molnar asked their local government to update its ordinance on wireless facilities.
"I often tell people, if you're really serious about changing things in your town, you have to be the most educated person," Mr. Molnar said. If educated on the issues, an advocate won't be seen as a "wild conspiracy theorist."
In the spring of 2020, the Molnars began reaching out to city councilors and meeting them individually.
Some of the 500 people who signed the petition formed the Ithacans for Responsible Technology, a task force that the Molnars and four other active members led together. Hundreds of people were part of the mailing list and would send in testimonies, voicing their concerns to local officials.
"There is power in numbers. When you have two people contact council members versus 200, it makes a difference," Mr. Molnar said.
At first, none of the councilors believed them. Mr. and Mrs. Molnar tried to get the local media's support to no avail. A Cornell professor also sent emails to the government opposing the Molnars' efforts, further damaging the couple's credibility.
The Molnars responded to the professor via email, refuting his claims, but it seemed like they had hit a wall.
Four months into it, the two had almost decided to give up. But the day after, Mr. Molnar had his first successful conversation with a council member.
Upcoming Bills Designed to Strip Local ControlIthaca has two municipalities, one for the city and one for the town. In 2021, the city of Ithaca updated its zoning ordinance, and the town of Ithaca updated its ordinance in 2023.
Mr. Molnar said that over the years, he and his wife have made friends with the councilors and their staff, which has made keeping track of new wireless facilities much easier. Nonetheless, the two would check in on meeting agendas to review new applications.
"I know lots of towns that tried and haven't gotten things done. So it's not all rosy," Mr. Molnar said. "But I also know there are lots of examples where citizens like us kept pressing and persevering, and they eventually got at least some good things done."
However, new bills may obliterate the painstaking progress that the Molnars have made over the past three years.
About 50 bills are currently being fast-tracked through Congress and to the Senate. Among them, H.R.3557—the American Broadband Deployment Act of 2023—is the most notorious.
It removes local control over cell tower placement, attorney Odette Wilkins told The Epoch Times via email. Ms. Wilkins is leading the action against 5G small cells in New York City.
The bill overrides case laws that require telecommunications carriers to prove a service gap and use the least intrusive means to fill that gap for their wireless installations.
When the TCA was adopted, Congress established "a balancing of interests" of the wireless industry and local governmental protection of residents, Mr. Campanelli said. This balance would be "completely destroyed" by the new bill.
This article concludes our series. Read the entire series “EMF: The Invisible Hazard” here.