It's the common sense idea behind many adages: "Be careful." "Better safe than sorry." "Look before you leap." "First do no harm."
When the DeKalb County School Board announced its plans regarding cell towers last May, very few people were aware of the issue. And then, a few weeks after the announcement, the World Health Organization (WHO) upgraded its assessment of the radiation to “possible human carcinogen.”
That was a game-changer for me. I don’t care if other schools have tried this idea as some sort of alternative form of financing. That was an uninformed mistake they made based on a lack of information as far as I’m concerned. Knowing what I do, I could never agree to take that chance with the life of a child... not my child and not anyone else's, either.
The WHO is the largest, most well-respected group of scientists and researchers in the world. Often, the classifications of threats to human health that are determined by them will start a domino effect among all other health organizations, including the American Cancer Society, in terms of how they also view the threat level and determining what precautions to recommend.
What They Don’t Know Might Hurt You
In short, if the WHO says that they are unsure, then all the debate in the world will not change the fact that we will all need to wait and see. In the meantime, what’s the logical thing to do? I guess that depends on how much you value your own life, or the lives of those around you. And, it probably depends on how much of a “risk-taker” you are when it comes to your own health.
But, when it comes to public policy, are we expected to blindly place our trust in other people, elected officials or not, to make the right choices for us? How about for our children? If the WHO is not sure, why would we expect our school board to know the right thing to do in this situation? Even if they had a track record of excellent decision-making, which they do not, does that mean we are required to keep quiet and hope for the best?
Perhaps we have elected a board of “risk-takers” without realizing that such a personality trait might be an important issue to raise during the campaigning process. It isn’t a party affiliation. Risk-taking is a personal decision, but right now it is something that is impacting others.
Have we entitled others to decide everything for us? Or do we still expect our goverment officials to represent us? Do we expect them to ASK first and THEN action once they know how we feel?
Committee Chairman Rep. Chuck Sims held up a local bill (HB 1197) that was intended by Rep. Dr. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates) to prevent cell towers from being placed on public school property, even though he does not even live in the county. He waited for the arrival of industry lobbyists who provided very little input other than citing the FCC Telecommunications Act of 1996 and claiming it was in their favor. Despite the overwhelming support for the bill locally (17 of 19 delegates signed on in favor), it was stalled and may likely never make it out of the committee.
Supporters are working on possible re-writes of the legislation and say that they may even try to call for a repeal of the portion of the FCC Act that states that one cannot deny approval of a cell tower based on health factors alone. Another idea involves including an item on the upcoming ballot so voters can, at least, let their voices be heard on the subject.
The Precautionary Principle (or “Prudent Avoidance”)
"When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken - even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically," states Paul Miller, co-founder of Get the Cell Out - Atlanta, and a physical therapist at a prestigious hospital near Atlanta.
Miller treats bone marrow transplant patients frequently and extended an invitation to the DeKalb County School Board to visit him at work so they could see first-hand what the victims of cancer must suffer. He stated that he thought they should see what they are asking parents to put on the line before any final plans are made regarding the placement of towers on school grounds.
Key elements of the Precautionary Principle include:
* Taking precaution in the face of scientific uncertainty;
* Exploring alternatives to possibly harmful actions;
* Placing the burden of proof on proponents of an activity rather than on victims or potential victims of the activity; and
* Using the democratic processes to carry out and enforce the principle, including the public’s right to informed consent.