Failure to follow cellular antenna regulations cause of concern - CBS46 News

Failure to follow cellular antenna regulations raises safety issues

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ATLANTA (CBS46) -

We want more bars, more data and faster speeds for our cell phones. Our desire for all things digital has cellular providers scrambling.

To fill the need, cellular companies put more radio frequency antennas closer to us - on parking garages, apartments, and rooftops across Atlanta. Walk into their footprint, and those antennas can emit radiation hot enough to cook human tissue.

"We're at 300, 350, 400 percent of the limit close up to the antenna," said Drew Fountain, co-founder of RF Check. He's talking about antennas on the top of a building close to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"When you're over 100, people get injured and it's just not right," Fountain said.

RF energy coming from antennas can cook the body, much like being inside a microwave oven.

"You're going to heat up without doing any physical activity," said Marvin Wessel, an RF engineer who's audited more than 3,000 sites.

"Our brains are very sensitive to RF radiation and it can cause memory loss and mood disorders," Fountain said.

More than one in 10 rooftop sites nationwide are in violation of federal safety rules - leaving painters, roofers, maintenance workers, and anyone who accidentally walks by with no idea how to control their exposure.

"I'm going on a rooftop to service a piece of equipment. I'm going on a rooftop to do a visual inspection - well, nobody's notified," said Chad Collins, of Bone Dry Roofing.

Fountain and Wessel are dedicated to exposing RF industry hazards across the country.

"The radio frequency radiation is invisible, tasteless and odorless," Fountain said.

Fountain flew to Atlanta to help CBS46 analyze the hidden dangers we uncovered. Near Hartsfield-Jackson, the danger zone of a newer rooftop antenna extends 25 feet.

"We were out 18 feet and we were too close," Fountain said.

According to law, signs and locks on the door to the rooftop don't go far enough and likely wouldn't keep anyone from walking into the antenna's footprint.

"Often they're ambiguous, like that sign, it doesn't mean anything to a worker," Fountain said.

Wessel found a similar reading for us on a Phoenix rooftop.

"Six-hundred-twenty percent, which is greater than 100 percent, which is the limit," Wessel said.

In both Phoenix and Atlanta, CBS46 discovered building owners are unaware of the danger, have no RF safety plan, or don't realize they could be liable.

"We actually were never provided with any type of site plan, where it's safe to enter, where it's safe to stand," said building owner Sherrie Anderson.

While rooftops may be an occupational risk, we found two sites in Midtown parking garages anyone could access. At the first, it only takes a chair to expose our crew.

"We all have five bars coming through our heads," said Fountain, as he measured the antenna on the parking deck off 14th Street in Midtown.

At the second, you can actually reach over and touch the antennas.

"We were having 500, 600, 700 percent readings a minute ago," Fountain said.

An even bigger worry is antennas workers never see. Three men completed an entire church roof with no idea they were working beside a stealth antenna inside the base of the steeple next to them.

In Candler Park, the Epworth United Methodist Church will have three antennas placed inside its steeple next spring.

"You don't necessarily know if you're working in close proximity to some of this equipment, if you're being exposed," Collins said.

The law requires anyone with access to a rooftop to be fully aware of the dangers, so they can protect themselves. In fact, our investigation found there's little policing by the FCC.

"I have never run into a FCC enforcement person doing an assessment on a rooftop," Wessel said.

In 18 years, just Metro PCS has been cited. While the FCC admits two Verizon sites broke the rules, the FCC dropped their investigation.

RF Check is attempting to map the invisible footprints of the nation's antennas, to show where it's safe and not safe to work.

"That's the key protecting the workers, which protects our networks which keeps the licensees in compliance, keeps the building owners safe, the workers safe," Fountain said.

"We want workers going home to their families in the same condition or better than they were when they got here," Collins said.

RF radiation will only get worse as 4G LTE expands.  Wessel said some locations will soon exceed a thousand times occupational safety limits.

Cellular providers in Atlanta tell us they take, "RF safety concerns very seriously," but they weren't serious enough to allow CBS46 cameras in to show you.

"Verizon Wireless takes pride in its world-class network and the safety of its facilities. We take safety concerns very seriously and have a comprehensive program in place for rooftop sites. The process we went through with the FCC earlier this year was productive and reaffirms Verizon Wireless' strong commitment to safety. Verizon Wireless will continue to deliver the best wireless experience for our customers with first-rate network coverage and speeds."

"Sprint takes great lengths to comply with the FCC's regulations in this area. This includes an annual review process to ensure all of our sites are compliant with the Commission's rules on RF exposure limits, including signage and barriers. We've also instituted additional site reviews with our Network Vision installations to certify the compliance of this new infrastructure."

The CBS46 investigation also revealed there's big money to be made by leasing rooftop space to cell phone companies.  An average lease nets a building owner $23,000 a year for one antenna. The more desirable a location, the higher the price.

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