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Sick tower?
Study shows Sutro Tower may cause cancer

By Savannah Blackwell

For years residents living near Sutro Tower, close to Twin Peaks, have suspected that the nearly 1,000-foot-high structure has been emitting electromagnetic radiation that causes cancer and other illnesses.

But they had no data to back up their concerns. Until now.

Neil Cherry, a biophysicist with the Environmental Management and Design Division at Lincoln University in New Zealand, has found a relationship between the radio waves Sutro Tower emits and the occurrences of cancer in San Francisco residents.

Cherry is coming to the city March 22 to discuss his study of cancer rates in relation to Sutro Tower and other sources of low-microwave radiation such as cellular antennae. More than 2,000 of these antennae can be found throughout the city.

"I have been collecting and integrating biological and epidemiological evidence from all around the world and will show that electromagnetic radiation is a ubiquitous carcinogen," Cherry wrote to us in an e-mail. "This is causing massive increases in cancer, cardiac, neurological and reproductive health effects in San Francisco."

Cherry is an expert witness in several lawsuits against the cellular phone industry for not disclosing potential health risks to cell phone users. His report concludes: "Living in the vicinity of Sutro Tower in San Francisco significantly elevates the incidence of cancer."

Debra Stein, a lobbyist who represents Sutro Tower's owners – Sutro Tower Inc., a consortium of media outlets including CBS, ABC, and Chronicle Broadcasting – disputed Cherry's conclusion.

"There are 40,000 Americans who believe they have been kidnapped by aliens," Stein said. "There will always be somebody who has a new and original perspective, but no national or international standard-setting organization has found credible scientific evidence that exposure to low levels of radio frequency causes cancer."

The tower has long been a source of controversy. In 1999 residents unsuccessfully fought the tower's owners, which had hung more than 170 pieces of telecommunication equipment on it without getting the required approval from city officials.

In 1997 residents tried to stop Sutro Tower Inc. from hanging a 12-ton pole with antennae attached in order to provide digital television for San Franciscans. They argued that the additional weight would make the tower unsafe in an earthquake. But they lost that battle as well.

Cherry's study may resurrect a tack that activists had dropped.

"I think we have a public health issue here we need to address," said Libby Kelley, executive director of the Novato-based Council on Wireless Technology Impacts.

Neil Cherry is scheduled to discuss his report Sat/22, noon, Hiram Johnson State Office Building, basement conference center, 455 Golden Gate, S.F. For more information call (415) 892-1863.
E-mail Savannah Blackwell at savannah@sfbg.com.