Aspen group against 5G technology wants city’s attention

Small mobile antenna on concrete pole.
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5G technology is on track to debut in Aspen next spring under a cloud of skepticism from a group of locals who contend it will harm the environment and pose health risks.

Newly created Concerned Citizens for 5G Health Effects wants local government’s attention. It claims the technology is ushering in an unprecedented level of radio-frequency radiation that can lead to a litany of health problems ranging from blindness to cancer.

“Our intention is to bring education to the (Aspen) City Council, to the health department, to the county commissioners,” said group organizer Tom Lankering, a chiropractor who practices in Aspen and Basalt.

Lankering, with five other local residents, recently gathered at the Aspen Art Museum Cafe, where they aired their concerns about 5G to City Councilman Skippy Mesirow and a reporter.

They advocate a cautious approach to the technology and maintain no decisions should be made about its implementation until the science is settled through an objective, nonpartisan study on 5G.

Communications companies are misleading people and communities, they said, not only by claiming the technology is nonthreatening, but also saying 5G is a “‘done deal, forget it, and don’t even try,’ which some people are accepting as facts,” Lankering said.

High-tech pundits have said 5G over time will render its predecessor 4G LTE near obsolete. For instance, 5G will be the future technology behind performing remote surgeries, operating self-driving cars and downloading a two-hour movie in 3.6 seconds.

5G marks a revolutionary change to wireless technology and has been slowly introduced globally and nationally, including in Denver, on a limited basis. Protests over 5G were held over the weekend in Switzerland, one of the first countries to employ the technology. The Bern demonstrations came as 5G is looking to expand in the country.

At noon Wednesday in Aspen, the local anti-5G group will hold an open discussion about the matter. The meeting will be held at the Chabad Jewish Community Center (435 W. Main St.).

“5G is a completely new cellular technology which uses ultra-high frequency wavelengths that have never been used before and have never been studied for health effects or any other effect,” reads a news release promoting the event. “It turns out that local governments have been systematically fed false information by industry-paid legal consultants. This has put our local governments and community under a spell thinking that we have no power, responsibility or accountability regarding 5G deployments. This is not true!”

Yet to condemn 5G, however, have been both the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which sets standards for radiation exposure limits and is charged with ensuring cellphones are safe for the public to use, and the Federal Communications Commission.

“Based on our ongoing evaluation of this issue, the totality of the available scientific evidence continues to not support adverse health effects in humans caused by exposures at or under the current radio frequency energy exposure limits,” read a Nov. 1 statement from Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “We believe the existing safety limits for cellphones remain acceptable for protecting the public health.”

Shuren’s statement was in response to a study conducted by National Toxicology Program, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, that concluded radio-frequency radiation used in 2G and 3G cellphones can cause cancer in rats.

Local governments also have less control over the placement of so-called small-cell transmitters, which enable 5G technology.

A state law passed in 2017 gives providers the right to locate small-cell facilities on a city’s lights poles, traffic signals and in public rights-of-way.

And federal law states, “No state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.”

In short, that means opponents of 5G don’t have legal footing by using their concerns to block its implementation, according to Andrea Bryan, the city of Aspen’s assistant attorney.

In August, City Council agreed that a neutral host could help minimize the blight of small-cell facilities that potentially could be installed every 150 feet on Aspen’s lights poles and traffic signals, and in public rights of way. Having a neutral host would help contain the number and size of small cells by compelling carriers to use shared facilities rather their own, city leaders concluded.

“We’re working on everything we can within the limits of the law to protect our environment and the community,” said Paul Schultz, the city’s information technology director, noting he has fielded calls from residents worried about 5G.

“There are the health concerns that we do hear from the public and we do see on the internet,” he said.

Anti-5G group members such as Candice Claire Oksenhorn and Dorothy Thau say Aspen should take a bold stand against 5G.

“I would like to see that we are put on the map saying that we’re not going to subject citizens and visitors here to something seemingly and potentially dangerous,” Oksenhorn said.

Said Thau: “We’re mothers, grandparents, we have friends with children, and ourselves — we don’t want to be fried.”