St. Louis group pushes back over privacy, health concerns of 5G industrial revolution

We are on the brink of a totally new era, the Fourth Industrial Revolution, one that builds and extends the impact of digitization in unanticipated ways. An essential piece of this puzzling future is the 5G technology — the next generation of Internet connectivity.

If you believe all the hype, 5G will usher in a new epoch with driverless vehicles cruising down smart highways; with remote robotic surgery happening around the digital clock; with all your household appliances talking to each other through enhanced connectivity.

The 5G Revolution is expected to be up to 100 times faster than current wireless technology. Most important, perhaps, from the perspective of the average consumer, this new electronic speed through the cyberspace ether will mean downloading a two-hour movie on a smartphone in less than five seconds.

Illustration by Steve Edwards

The Trump Administration has been opening the anti-regulatory floodgates to try to overwhelm anything that might slow the 5G technology from being developed and implemented in the United States. The administration thinks It’s crucial that the Chinese do not get there first with 5G, wherever “there” might actually be in the astonishing global connectivity competition.

Not everybody is gaga about the increase in Gs. Pentagon intelligence officials are worried about its impact in hiking cybercrime and cyber-terrorism. Civil libertarians are worried about an enormous invasion of privacy in a Brave New World of 5G. And, then, there are regular folks with health concerns related to an increase in electromagnetic radiation set loose upon the planet.

Robert Spalding, a former senior director for strategic planning at the National Security Council, told Sue Halpern of The New Yorker that the possibilities for cyberspace warfare in the future are more than perplexing. Hackers have already breached the control center of a municipal dam system, stopped an Internet-connected automobile headed down an interstate, and sabotaged multiple home appliance — even before the introduction of 5G.

“5G is not just for refrigerators,” Spalding told Halpern. “It’s the farm implements, it’s airplanes, it’s all kinds of different things that can actually kill people or that allow someone to reach into the network and direct those things to do what they want them to do. It’s a completely different threat that we’ve never experienced before.”

Surveillance Threat

If the enormously enhanced cyber-attack threat with 5G technology doesn’t get a rise out of you, then consider the Big Brother surveillance threat.

This new technology is specifically designed to handle billions more connections, as well as an exponential increase in video streaming. That’s primarily about smartphone users downloading and enjoying content on their handheld devices. But what comes down, can also go up.

Once 5G is in place, it will become an expanded venue for live streaming uploads. Smartphones will then be able to show everything happening around you as well as what’s happening inside you — all in real time.

Clearly all the ramifications for those who want to live privately and confidentially are disturbing. As more friends, enemies, marketers, politicians and government agencies engage in continuous livestreaming activity, privacy will be harder to preserve. And as each year goes by, the ability to opt out of the new technology will become virtually impossible.

Never mind the potential for massive invasions of privacy with the new 5G technology, and never mind the heightened threat of cyberattacks with the new technology, Darryl Barker of St. Louis has become an activist with serious health concerns related to the increase in electromagnetic radiation from the introduction of 5G.

Barker, who lives in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, first became alarmed by the presence of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiation in local schools due to high-powered Wi-Fi routers and devices used in some schools. Barker raised the alarm about wireless effects at Kirkwood School District board meetings.

“I made my feelings known, but I was a voice crying in the wilderness,” Barker said. “Most of the other parents did not want to hear about it. Parents are just as addicted to their cell phones as their kids now, and don’t want to know about low-level radiation effects.

“Californians are much more sophisticated about the problem and are raising the issue, maybe because so many Silicon Valley scientists are there,” Barker added. “Missouri is behind in being conscientious about public health. Look at how many people still smoke cigarettes in Missouri.”

STL for Safe Technology

This past summer, Barker and other St. Louis residents started STL for Safe Technology and began planning public meetings around the region to raise awareness of the potential health effects of the increasing technology surrounding us. The group celebrated what they view as an important court victory in August.

“Our new group wants to spread the word about the ill effects of cellphones, ‘smart electric meters,’ and now the ‘5G Revolution’ that is coming at us,” said Pat Tocco of Kirkwood. “We are not being told about the 5G technology that is going to invade our lives.

“Doctors and scientists in Europe are much more concerned about the effects of 5G technology and Europe is holding 5G Awareness Days,” Tocco said. “In the United States, most people don’t even know it is coming. They don’t know the health impacts coming because of it.”

The 5G technology will require installing small cell tower antennas inside buildings and on millions of utility polls. Deploying all these wireless relays so close to one another, and subsequently, so close to human bodies, has elicited concerns.

In Europe, 200 scientists and doctors have called for a moratorium on 5G technology until more is known about its low-level radiation effects. In the U.S. Congress, several Senators have slammed the FCC and FDA for pushing ahead with 5G without assessing health risks, privacy issues and cyber security.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has warned about health risks as well as the unthinkable surveillance potential of millions of cell relays and sensors. He noted that telecom companies are already selling all kinds of wireless data to marketers and other corporations.

An Appeals Court ruling in the District of Columbia overturned an FCC decision to allow wireless carriers to install new 5G cell towers without environmental review or historic preservation considerations.

The decision by the FCC would have allowed wireless carriers “to jam thousands of 5G towers in virtually every neighborhood in the country” without impact reviews, according to the Environmental Health Network and the new STL for Safe Technology.

Skeptics of 5G also were recently encouraged the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the cell phone industry challenging the Berkeley Cell Phone Right to Know Ordinance. That 2015 ordinance requires retailers to post a notice warning people of possible health effects from carrying a cell phone in pants, a shirt pocket or bra. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals turned down the First Amendment challenge from the industry and said the health issues were “substantial” and the ordinance was not inaccurate.

“Unfounded Paranoia”

Defenders of wireless technology and the new 5G Revolution call concerns by grassroots groups around the country as just “unfounded paranoia.” They label the medical studies that are cited by organizations, such as STL for Safe Technology, as just so much “pseudoscience” and science fiction.

Proponents of the technology argue that the EMF emissions are similar to what the sun sends out naturally. They also insist that wireless involves low-level, non-ionizing radiation that is virtually harmless. They note that people have been living with microwaves, cell phones and Wi-Fi routers for years.

“Most of the rebuttals of our concerns come from people associated with the industry,” said Barker of STL for Safe Technology. “It’s the same pattern we saw from the cigarette industry. First there is total denial of any ill-effects, and then they say all the studies are suspect or are inconclusive about the effects.”

The St. Louis group is up to several hundred members after being founded this summer. The organization tries to move its awareness meetings around the St. Louis region with events in Clayton, Rock Hill and Webster Groves.

“We are both encouraged and discouraged since our work began to inform the public about this urgent, wireless technology related health issue,” Barker said. “There are possibly a hundred groups like STL for Safe Technology around the United States, but we are not getting major press coverage regarding our concerns.

“We are networking with other groups, but as our group is a result of volunteer time dedicated by local residents, our progress is partly dependent on our ability to devote time to the issue,” he said. “Our mission right now is to create awareness with our public meetings.”

Theadora Scarato, MSW, executive director and policy analyst for the Environmental Health Trust (EHT), spoke to STL for Safe Technology in November. Her EHT campaign offers information on the health hazards of wireless communication as it exists in the 2nd through 4th generation cell phone technologies, as well as WiFi, smart meters, wireless toys, wireless computer use, and many other products using wireless frequencies, specifically marketed toward children, as well as the potential harm now being introduced by the 5G technology rollout.

Environmental Health Trust

Scarato of EHT told the St. Louis group that wireless companies, with the blessing of state legislatures, are trying to put up. small cell antennas everywhere. They don’t want residents trying to stop these installations by saying they don’t want them in their neighborhood. She said 21 states now have passed bills taking away a city’s authority to regulate 5G.

Cities could say that they want the antennas to be a couple hundred feet from homes, but the state bills remove that kind of intervention. It’s all so companies don’t have to deal with a city that doesn’t want small cell towers next to homes, mounted on power poles, or located in people’s front yards, according to Scarato.

Another speaker for the STL for Safe Technology was Raymond Francis, an MIT trained chemist and expert on proactive health care, who was invited to present in September at a Webster Groves meeting.

Francis was attacked after the meeting as a perpetrator of baseless conspiracy theories. Alex Chosid, a St. Louis attorney, accused Francis of being a charlatan who ignores that “5G technology is much less harmful than already harmless radiation we are surrounded by.”

Chosid said there is no scientific consensus on any charges that 5G technology will damage health.

“There is no scientific consensus regarding 5G technology because it has never been studied in the U.S.,” responded Francis. “We will be exposing millions of people to a technology that has never been tested for safety.

“Thousands of studies do show that existing cell phone technology is causing cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, infertility and mental disturbances — such as depression.” Francis added. “Long-term cell phone users have the highest incidence of brain cancer. Children who use cell phones before age 20 have a four-fold increased brain tumor risk.”

Barker said Americans should not rely on attorneys or politicians to inform them about health care risks from wireless technologies. He said most lawmakers in Congress have not weighed in on possible health issues, because there is too much campaign cash at risk from corporate benefactors.

“A report from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt was the third highest benefactor of wireless lobbying money, accepting $1.283 million in campaign contributions from the wireless industry,” Barker noted. “But just about every member of the U.S. Congress has accepted money.”

‘I lost my son’

Sheilah Mitchell, a member of STL for Safe Technology and a Richmond Heights resident, arranged the Webster Groves presentation by Francis.

“I lost my son, Adam, to testicular cancer,” Mitchell said. “He carried a cell phone in his pants pocket through grade school, high school and after college. If you take the time to read all the studies, you know what that can do to you.

“I became acquainted with Dr. Francis’s work and he is trying to spread the word,” Mitchell added. “He has a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has several books out on public health issues. I trust what he has to say.”

Webster Groves’ Dave and Diane Sperber also are members of STL for Safe Technology. The couple became interested in the EMF issue after a smart meter for reading electric usage was installed at their home. They said they suffered many of the effects listed as possible consequences of low-level radiation. Those effects include:

• sleep disturbances, insomnia

• anxiety and depression

• dizziness, concentration loss

• loss of appetite and weight loss

• skin burning and tingling

• bouts of nausea and fatigue

“My husband and I both suffered from adrenal fatigue. I was breaking out in hives and had angiodema,” said Diane Sperber. “All the medical tests we took came up with nothing. Then I saw a YouTube video about the effects of utility smart meters on people.

“We were sleeping three feet from where the meter was installed,” She said. “We fixed that with a radiation shield. We unplug our Wi-Fi when it’s not being used. We stay away from cell phones when possible.

“We’ve addressed our issue and we are better, but we want other people to know what is going on,” Sperber said. “Smart meters transmit information all the time about your use of electricity. And this coming 5G technology is really frightening because it will be all pervasive. I hope people coming to our meetings can increase their awareness.”

It’s Purely Anecdotal

Proponents of 5G transmission, and the wireless technology preceding it, are skeptical of reports of cancers, brain disorders and leukemias that have been attributed to EMF exposure. They express sympathy for those suffering illnesses, but contend that these personal cause-and-effect stories involving EMFs are purely anecdotal.

Barker said his group would welcome some independent studies on the effects of 5G technology and more press about it. Members are frustrated that they are shrugged off as part of some “tin hat crowd” telling conspiracy stories.

“STL for Safe Technology feels that attacks on our group, and the journalists who attempt to cover our concerns, are  attacks based on either ignorance of the proven science that wireless technology carries harmful health effects; or, that these attacks on our message originate from the wireless industry.

“The attacks are coming from the industry, or supported agents, or members of financially threatened industries, or businesses whose intent is to deny and ridicule the proven science that wireless technology carries health risks,” Barker said.

Barker noted that older people are more receptive to the message of STL for Safe Technology, because they’ve seen too many instances when safety assurances regarding toxic materials or pollutants later turned out to be false with the result that innocent humans have paid a heavy price. In the St. Louis region, those safety assurances of the past have involved production of lead contaminants, dioxin waste spread over large areas, low-level radioactive waste dumped into neighborhood creeks and buried in porous landfills.

“Young people should think twice about the technology they are so close to,” Barker said. “Personally, I attribute the entire population’s attitude toward wireless technology hazards as one of short-term thinking and emotional dependency on the technology.”

Barker said too many people insert their personal lives into their devices with little or no regard for privacy. He said people feel empowered in an artificial, short term sense by wireless technology, and since the health effects are not always readily observable, they do not respond to threats that are not immediate or apparent.

“STL for Safe Technology’s hope is to inform people so that those who are receptive to the safety information about wireless and the coming 5G might better protect themselves and their loved ones,” Barker said.

“Local governments, school officials, politicians are not responsive,” added Barker. “It will require protests by local citizens for appropriate action to be taken. Given that so many of their constituents love their technology, local officials are not going to go out on a limb on these issues now.”

Don Corrigan is the editor-in-chief and co-publisher of the Webster-Kirkwood Times, South County Times and West End Word newspapers in St. Louis. He also is a professor of journalism in the School of Communications at Webster University in St. Louis, where he is back serving as a print adviser to the university newspaper, The Journal, and where he teaches courses in media law and mass communication. This article first appeared in the winter print issue of GJR.

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