LAFAYETTE -- Increasing opposition to cell phone towers, smart meters and ubiquitous wireless devices helped spur a good crowd of East Bay residents to attend a recent panel discussion at the Lafayette Library.

Nearly 200 people came to hear about electromagnetic radiation (EMF), safer cell phone use and studies correlating negative health impacts with the 21st century's proliferation of wireless technology. It's an issue, panelists said, whose facts have been ignored, obscured and downplayed.

"This is a public health issue, make no mistake about it," said panelist John Fowler, KTVU-TV's longtime health and science editor. The government has the most money to conduct research and provide the public with health information, according to Fowler, but he said "politicians who are more beholden to money" than to science misinform the public.

The May 29 panel was presented by the California Brain Tumor Association and the recently formed Walnut Creek-based W.I.S.E (Wireless Information and Safety Education). Besides Fowler, panelists included Columbia University special lecturer and author Dr. Martin Blank; Lloyd Morgan, senior research fellow with the Environmental Health Trust, and representatives of the presenting organizations.

One of them was Ellie Marks, a Lafayette resident and executive director of the California Brain Tumor Association. She has testified before Congress and appeared on numerous national television shows to educate and promote legislation regulating the wireless industry.

The Federal Communications Commission's 1996 regulation standards are outdated, said Marks. The limits deemed safe, she said, don't protect children and pregnant women.

"We don't advocate against the technology, but use it with wires," she said. "Pregnant women, give up your phones, read the manuals (iPhone's says keep it 5/8 inch from the body) and keep them away from children. Remember, distance is your friend."

Fowler, an on-air television presence in the Bay Area since 1978, said it was the "slow tsunami of information that was being ignored by the money interests of wireless technology" that convinced him it was time to speak out. His special report on placing a cell phone in a bra -- shown during the discussion -- introduced audiences to women whose doctors told them their breast cancer might be related to cell phones.

Blank, whose book "Overpowered," draws upon his over 30 years studying cellular biophysics as they relate to exposure to hazardous radiation, said he started out examining properties of cells and membranes. A colleague led him to investigations of the impact of EMFs on human health. Presenting peer-reviewed research spanning decades and arriving from all over the world, he said, "You don't have to ask a scientist, you can ask a cell. It will show you what's happening."

Blank summarized the "crisis in the science business," saying distortions in reporting had forced him to become a "reluctant activist." He said accumulative exposure is a key; he advised powering off devices not in use, maintaining good overall health, using headsets or speaker phone settings, petitioning government and industry for biologically-based safety limits and replacing Wi-Fi in schools with cabled Internet connection -- the latter suggestion receiving vigorous audience applause.

Morgan explained that children's more liquid brains and smaller, thinner skulls absorb more microwave radiation from wireless transmitting devices than do the brains of adults. Recent exponential increases in salivary gland and acoustic neuroma tumors -- their location reflecting exactly where a cell phone is held -- are harbingers, he said. And Google Glass, Morgan suggested, poses serious future danger because "the eye is hugely sensitive (to EMFs)."

Asked how to measure EMFs in the home, Marks demonstrated a meter reader, available on the consumer market at prices ranging from $300 to $2,000. Turning on her cell phone and checking for messages, dense crackling and popping sounds filled the community hall. Blank suggested a "poor man's meter" -- a portable radio, operating on battery, tuned to the end of the dial -- will emit radio frequency signals indicating the presence of EMFs.

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