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Microwave on the Hot Seat (Jan. 30, 2002)

Arthur Firstenberg moved from New York City to Mendocino, a quaint Victorian village on California's rugged Northern Coast, to escape the radio frequencies he believes were making him sick. 

The 51-year-old says he is “electrically sensitive,” meaning he believes he can detect, and is harmed by, the electromagnetic fields emitted by everything from hair dryers to power lines. 

Firstenberg is one of a growing number of people around the globe who claim they suffer from the same condition. And since wireless technology burst onto the scene in the mid '90s, they say, there are fewer and fewer places to hide from radio frequency pollution. 

“The world is a minefield for people with electrical sensitivity,” said Firstenberg, the author of Microwaving Our Planet, a book that blames radio frequencies for everything from irritability to cancer. 

Firstenberg is the president of The Cellular Task Force, a national organization of people who claim they are electrically sensitive, and a member of Wireless Free Mendocino, a local group that — you guessed it — wants to ban wireless services from Mendocino. 

“I have people calling me, crying to me that they're in pain all the time, asking me where they can live,” Firstenberg said. “I tell them we're trying to save Mendocino as a refuge.” 

The group has been highly successful in achieving its goal. Wireless Free Mendocino has been instrumental in defeating attempts to bring cell phone and a high-speed Internet service to the town's 1,000-odd residents. Now the group is trying to force the high school radio station to remove its antenna from the school roof — a move that could sound the death knell for the struggling student outfit. 

But while Firstenberg says he's fighting to protect the health of the townspeople, his detractors say the group has created a brain drain of entrepreneurs to more connected locales, miring Mendocino in low-paying tourism industry jobs and reducing future opportunities. 

“Basically what you have is a very small population and a lot of people who aren't technical,” said Lee Livezey, the chief technology officer of Elucit, a firm that builds Web-enabled temperature monitors. “He's convinced a vocal minority that wireless is bad for them.” 

Elucit is planning to relocate up the road to Fort Bragg, where it can get a fatter Internet pipe than the unreliable ISDN line offered by the local ISP, Mendocino Community Network (MCN), Livezey said. 

MCN, which is owned by the school district and operated out of Mendocino High School, fought hard to establish a high-speed wireless Internet service in the village last year before crying uncle a few weeks ago. 

Wireless Free Mendocino vehemently opposed MCN's plan to offer wireless broadband from the moment it was announced as an item at a school board meeting last spring. A series of public forums were launched, in which technophiles argued in favor of the service, and the anti-wireless folks –- including a woman who appeared at one meeting wearing dark sunglasses and protective headgear to ward off stray signals –- insisted that the plan was dangerous. 

More than 260 people signed a petition against the proposal, including 16 who said wireless made them sick. But the school board approved the plan, and the skirmish continued in the form of scathing letters published in the editorial section of the local newspaper, The Mendocino Beacon, and flyers posted around town. 

After MCN installed a wireless transmitter on the high school roof, one woman yanked her daughter from class. English teacher Christy Wagner said her students suddenly became “irritable and easily distracted” and that she herself felt nauseous whenever she was at the school. In September, she took a medical leave. 

“This overexposure to pulsed microwaves has been a personal tragedy for me,” Wagner said in an e-mail interview. “I'm left hypersensitive -– even my mouse burns my hand when I use my computer now.” 

MCN cancelled the wireless broadband service in December, said manager Rennie Innis. Only 60 people signed up, despite market surveys reflecting a viable demand before the controversy arose. 

Electrical sensitivity is not recognized by the U.S. medical establishment, and Firstenberg refused to disclose his diagnosis, which allows him to collect disability income. He also says he suffers from chemical sensitivity, a condition denounced by many doctors as quackery. 

Firstenberg says he became electrically sensitive in 1982 as a pre-med student at the University of California at Irvine, after he received more than 40 dental X-rays. One day he collapsed on the hospital floor with heart pains and subsequently he lost 15 pounds in two weeks. He also grew short of breath around electrical equipment. Finally he dropped out of med school and moved to the “clean environment” of Mendocino. 

Nowadays when Firstenberg travels, he lugs along a bevy of devices to detect radio frequencies, including a meter that gauges electrical, magnetic and microwave fields. 

If he visits wireless-saturated San Francisco, three hours south of Mendocino, his devices go berserk and he experiences multiple symptoms, including an unquenchable thirst, a pressure in his chest and behind his eyeballs, and “buzzing sensations” in his lips. 

“The reason I'm lobbying so hard to stop the expansion of wireless facilities all over the country is because I firmly believe this is affecting the health of the nation,” said Firstenberg, who graduated from Cornell University with a degree in mathematics and a minor in physics. “There has to be widespread recognition among scientists and the public that this is a problem.” 

One of his targets has been the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which prohibits local governments from banning wireless facilities based on the “environmental effects” of the radio frequency emissions. 

In 1997, a coalition of anti-wireless groups, including Firstenberg's Cellular Phone Taskforce, sued the FCC, alleging that the clause preempts local governments from protecting public health and therefore violated the 10th Amendment, which limits federal authority. 

The case, which plaintiffs said represented over 2 million people, was thrown out by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and denied review by the Supreme Court earlier this month. 

Because anti-wireless activists are unable to challenge cell tower sitings on health grounds, they resort to scouring municipal codes for rules that would preclude the towers for other reasons. 

It worked in Mendocino. The village's Historical Review Board -– dubbed the Hysterical Review Board by locals since it controls everything from the color of housepaint to the number of lawn gnomes placed in yards — denied a height variance to U.S. Cellular to erect a tower in Mendocino, despite testimony from the Sheriff's Department that mobile phone service would increase public safety. 

Now Wireless Free Mendocino has its sights set on a couple of radio antennas perched on the high school, which the group alleges also violate height restrictions. One of the antennas is a transmitter used by the student radio station, KAKX. If the station –- which scrapes by on funds collected from yard sales and donations –- is forced to take down the antenna, it may not have enough money to build a new one, said station manager Scott Southard. 

Southard, who teaches an audio class at the high school, said the wireless controversy has torn his small community apart. 

“There have been radio towers on the high school for 30 years and there were never complaints about them until Firstenberg started his campaign of misinformation and fear,” Southard said bitterly. “You can't argue with zealots.” 

(courtesy Wired Magazine)

8 Comments

  1. Dave LeBlanc January 16, 2021

    “There are hundreds of peer reviewed scientific research papers that prove that they are not safe for people, animals, and plants and cause many illnesses like cancer, heart problems, diabetes, and many more.”
    So why can you not cite ONE? You can’t make these kind of claims without at least stating your sources. So far I’m not seeing a lot of credibility here.

  2. Tony Dinkel January 11, 2021

    What do they do when they need to call 911?

  3. Jim January 4, 2021

    Seems he had a psychotic break of sorts from rigor of medical school. Hope he is ok. More to the point, the Nashville Bomber was convinced he was plagued by this background radiation and prospect of 5G coverage. Rather than move to Mendocino he elected to spend two years plotting to destroy ATT in downtown Nashville. Seems the ‘tinfoil hat’ crowd has weaponized their sensitivity.
    Do these adherents not use a cell phone? Lot of exposure there.

  4. Eric Sunswheat January 2, 2021

    ->. January 01, 2021
    Prior to the Industrial Revolution, people experienced “segmented sleep”: they would retire to bed and sleep for three or four hours (“first sleep”), then wake up after midnight and stay awake for another hour or so, before going back to bed for their “second sleep.” There are references to first sleep in Homer’s Odyssey and Virgil’s Aeneid, according to Ramirez, as well as several 19th century novels and thousands of 19th century newspaper reports. “When artificial lights came into being, they pushed back the darkness and lengthened the day,” she writes.
    It’s just one of the many fascinating interconnected tales featured in The Alchemy of Us.
    https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/01/how-electric-lighting-changed-our-sleep-and-other-stories-in-materials-science/

    • Bruce Anderson January 2, 2021

      Sleep in today, Eric?

      • Eric Sunswheat January 2, 2021

        Yep, worked 100 hours in 12 days. Donner Pass is chill. I recommend Gunnar Intercept 65 blue light / UV blockage glasses for grocery store shopping and screen device viewing, so you control destiny in mind and online. Agency approved.
        What is Blue Light Protection Factor™ (BLPF)?
        Just how Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures protection for the skin, the BLPF scale measures lens protection for the eye against artificial blue light.

  5. Mark Wilkinson Laszlo January 2, 2021

    I am another of the growing mass of electrosensitives. Via my years of intensive, discriminating research and physical sensations and effects from electrosmog, i think filling the whole biosphere aboveground with electric arcs and waves that life was never subjected to before en masse, even from fleets of thousands of satellites, is basically mass electrocution, causing cancers, birth defects, immune disorders and sterility. The ultrarich who profit from manufacturing consent for exposure to their deadly products and effluents, can best afford to protect themselves, while the “pitchforks”; the poor and middle classes, slowly die to make those ultrarich people who fleece us safe from growing awareness of their boots in our faces. Early this year, AT&T’s beach head in Ukiah, for stealthy mass extermination of people, a 5G antenna array, was installed on Feedlot Rd, W. of the 101 intersection, as if 4G, WIFI, Bluetooth, imperfectly shielded microwave ovens, Wireless DECT phones, “smart meters”, PCs and other electrosmog emitters do not kill the People fast enough for the ultrarich to stop trembling from fear of us. The 5G array is in a white plywood box on top of the old Auto Truck Coffee Shop sign on two steel pillars. In this age of laws that are crimes bought by campaign contributions, the FCC’s permission for 5G is based on out of date, incomplete safety research. 5G sometimes includes frequencies that make it rain dead birds and bees and kill trees, as happened in Holland and England. Microwave technology has been developed by several governments to weaponize it since the 1960s, as with MRAP crowd control panel mounted vehicles and devices on ships that also make people on suspect boats that come close feel on fire and when it’s turned up are literally burned alive. 5G includes frequencies next to MRAPs. Should we trust AT&T, never to turn up their antennas or PG&E never to turn up their “smart meters” that shut off solar arrays hooked up to their grid, to kill whole cities if ever we rebel? Hundreds of physicists have petitioned for 5G safety research to be completed, instead of making guinea pigs of the whole, unshielded human race, but psychopathic telcos for profit, spies who want to see anyone through walls and military men who want total surveillance and
    control of hypersonic missiles, have abandoned the idea of a government “of the people, for the people and by the people”, but for lip service. They all have fallout shelters for themselves and the rest of us who do not, to protect our families from WWIII that our government started w/o telling us, will be dead soon, if we do not prepare with ionizing and electromagnetic radiations shielding. I’m very discriminate with information and can prove or furnish credible evidence for what i say. I don’t make things up. I love truth. If any can disprove my information or interpretations of it, by better evidence and reasons, i would be so happy! Please correct me, if possible by better evidence and reasons. How come no-one ever tries? I don’t want to believe these things. I’d thank anyone who could change my mind. AT&T, take down your child killing 5G tower now!

    • Annemarie Weibel January 3, 2021

      Mark, thank you for your comments. It is interesting to read the article by journalist Julia Scheeres about events that happened 20 years ago in Mendocino.

      If you are interested to know what has changed keep on reading.

      Arthur Firstenberg has moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
      While he lived in Mendocino Arthur Firstenberg received many phone calls from people who were electrically sensitive. Now 20 years later 10%-15% of our population is suffering from this disease and the #’s are only increasing. We need a moratorium until the industry shows that these wireless communication facilities are safe. There are hundreds of peer reviewed scientific research papers that prove that they are not safe for people, animals, and plants and cause many illnesses like cancer, heart problems, diabetes, and many more. Most people do not even know why they are not feeling well and doctors are not trained and can not help them.

      Mendocino did not become a refuge for people who suffer from Electromagnetic Sensitivity, Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), Radiation Poisoning, Radio Wave Sickness, or Microwave Sickness.

      Arthur Firstenberg, other than being interviewed often and speaking at various events (due to Covid by zoom) published many articles. The title of his latest book is: The Invisible Rainbow A History of Electricity and Life.

      On September 17, 2018 Arthur Firstenberg and others launched an “International Appeal to Stop 5G on earth and in Space.” The Appeal, together with the list of signatories, was formally presented to the United Nations, World Health Organization, European Union, and world governments. Go to http://www.5gSpaceAppeal.org and add your signature to the hundreds of thousands who have already signed.

      There are still places where it is not possible to get cell reception or internet yet in remote areas; in Wayne County & Centralia in Pennsylvania; Amish Country in Southwest Ohio; and places in the American desert, etc. There are areas in Greenland, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Belarus, Burma, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and some Caribbean beaches where there is no cell reception or internet.

      There are white zones, or Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) free zones in communities where you can detox from the harmful negative health effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation such as Harbin Hot Springs in California; Green Bank, in West Virginia; the Quiet Dome in the Sierra Nevada mountains; the Snowflake Community in Arizona; the Rose Hill Off-Grid Farm in Horsefly, British Columbia; the EHS Refuge Zone in Drôme, France; the Swiss Healthy Living Foundation by Zurich, Switzerland; the Parc de Carnè in Brisighella by Ravenna in Italy; and the Beacon Bank Farm in Staffordshire, England.

      EMF free zones are a fantastic option for many – and a life saver for those with EHS. They exist because there are still places on earth that remain largely untouched by these emissions. While the number of EMF detox options will almost certainly increase in the coming years, alongside EMF awareness and the exponential growth in EMF-emitting technology, there is another trend that puts this at risk. Companies like SpaceX, Google and Facebook are surrounding the planet with low-orbit communications satellites to bring wireless internet to every inch of the planet.

      Google announced plans to tackle remaining internet deserts through its Loon project, a group of giant balloons that will fly at about 70,000 feet and deliver internet to rural or disaster-stricken areas. Like satellites, people connecting through the balloons would need a special antenna to deliver and receive a signal. The pilot launch took place in 2014 when 30 balloons were deployed above New Zealand’s South Island.

      The company Elucit Inc. that settled in Fort Bragg was founded in 1999 and got sold in 2014. Now, Elucit is a custom software development company based in Noida, India. Their clients include startups and Fortune 500 companies spread across the globe.

      English teacher Christy Wagner was never able to go back to teaching again.

      The antenna for the Mendocino High School radio station was moved from the school roof, and it did not become the death knell for the school’s radio station. Covid 19 took care of that.

      Mister Southard is no longer teaching at the Mendocino High School.

      On June 27, 2006 the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors adopted the Precautionary Principle.
      https://www.mendocinocounty.org/home/showdocument?id=1926#:~:text=In%20adopting%20 the%20Precautionary%20Principle,a%20wide%20range%20of%20alternatives

      The Precautionary Principle should be used to limit unnecessary exposures to Wi-Fi for as long as the safety has not been proven by the telecom industry.

      Slowly, individual organizations, cities, counties, countries are warning about this technology, and many have supported lawsuits. The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Telecommunications Act of 1996 is being challenged on many fronts in the courts and legislature. It is completely outdated and useless. The levels are at least 3 million times higher than levels at which severe biological implications have been observed at the cellular level.

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