Washington, DC — The cell tower at Mount Washburn within Yellowstone National Park emits radio frequency radiation in excess of federal safety standards, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In an email about plans to expand cell phone coverage in Yellowstone, the park safety officer warned his chain-of-command that “we are pushing the edge of safety up on Mt. Washburn.”
Located near the center of the park, Mt. Washburn is a popular hiking destination drawing an estimated 10,000 visitors a year. In addition, the cell tower is co-located with a fire lookout station.
In a June 10, 2004 report, Brandon Gauthier, the safety officer for the park, described a survey conducted by a federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) official that found radio frequency (RF) radiation levels at Mt. Washburn in excess of the general population safety standard established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Gauthier recommended that warning signs be installed and that any “future installations of antennas on Mt. Washburn lookout must be closely evaluated to insure the safety of employees and visitors.”
Several months later, on March 22, 2005, Gauthier again cautioned about “the safety implications of antenna installations” in an email regarding an upcoming meeting with telecom industry officials to develop a plan to dramatically increase the level of cell and microwave communication coverage in the park. At that meeting, held on March 31, 2005, one park official attending the meeting wrote discussion notes about the need to address “safety issues (RF) & bring [the park] back into compliance.”
“The fact that Yellowstone managers need to be repeatedly reminded about the dangers to their own employees as well as visitors is less than confidence inspiring,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has been drawing attention to the proliferation of cell towers throughout the national park system and their negative consequences in terms of views, solitude and commercialization. “The panoramic locations that cell phone companies crave to maximize their towers’ coverage may also be putting those who visit these vistas at risk.”
Despite Gauthier’s warnings, park officials are moving ahead with an industry-designed plan to nearly double cell tower installations in Yellowstone. The plan also envisions bringing radio and TV signals into the park, as well as installing broadband wireless internet access.
Besides the FCC, some 24 states have radio frequency radiation standards. While OSHA does not have a specific standard on RF radiation, it enforces protective clothing and warning sign precautions as part of its “general duty clause” responsibilities to keep workplaces safe. The carcinogenic, reproductive and neurological health effects of radio frequency radiation are poorly understood and are the subject of much ongoing research.