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A pediatrician’s concerns about cell phone exposure

A pediatrician’s concerns about cell phone exposure

A guest post by Troy A. Jacobs, MD, @DrTroyJacobs

A proposed Montgomery County zoning bill, regulating residential-neighborhood placement of 5G “small cell” towers, became mired in controversy over the county’s response to claimed health and environmental impacts and has been withdrawn. However controversy continues on several other fronts. We have Montgomery County suing the Federal government over outdated small-cell antenna emission standards and over preemption of local action on cell antennas. And activists’ attention, motivated by health-impact concerns, has shifted to the City of Takoma Park, which is considering an ordinance on small-cell tower rules. Activists will no doubt focus again on the county, should a new bill come before the next council.

Dr. Troy Jacobs

I am a pediatrician. And yes, I have many concerns about cell phones and families but not with cell-phone towers.

It is prudent for many reasons to minimize exposure to cell phones, which can negatively impact children and families in terms of learning, interaction, and physical activity. But there is no current evidence to worry about the non-ionizing radiation that would come from cell towers. By some accounts, having more and smaller towers could potentially DECREASE exposure to this type of radiation. Sure, this radiation is a environmental pollutant that deserves further ongoing research just like light pollution or other toxins in environment. There is always some uncertainty in science but we do have compelling evidence to go forward.

I would direct truly concerned people to credible, vetted evidence-based sources where there is ongoing review of the science, for example, to the National Cancer Institute or American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which explains that “several studies have been done to find out if cell phone use can lead to cancer. These types of studies in people have not shown clear evidence of an increased cancer risk with cell phone use.”

Groups like the AAP have developed understandable and authoritative resources for lay audiences. I’m sharing a link to AAP’s web portal, which has educational and more technical resources available in English and Spanish for anyone on a number of hot topics:

While the AAP advises, “parents should not panic over the latest research, but it can be used as a good reminder to limit both children’s screen time and exposure from cell phones and other devices emitting radiation from electromagnetic fields (EMF),” the group also supports more research into how cell-phone exposure affects human health long term, particularly children’s health. The page linked to above provides sensible safety tips for families.

There are lots of things I could worry about killing someone or causing cancer, plausible threats, but cell-phone towers wouldn’t be high on that list.

Troy A. Jacobs, MD, MPH, FAAP

Troy is a guest blogger who is a pediatrician with both clinical and public health experience. He focuses on health issues impacting Montgomery County and DC area. He lives in Takoma Park.

Mental health matters. How can county government help?

Mental health matters. How can county government help?

Mental-health issues impose a huge burden on Montgomery County families and individuals. Maybe you or someone you know has experienced their effects.

Here’s a telling statistic: one in five students suffers from a mental health disorder, according to Christina Conolly, Montgomery County Public Schools’ director of psychological services. Data show nearly 7 percent of children ages 3 to 17 had ADHD, 3.5 percent had behavioral or conduct problems, 3 percent had anxiety, and 2.1 percent had depression. Mental health “affects everything you do, in terms of how you’re learning, how you’re sleeping, how you’re eating,” Conolly said, speaking at a February program.

A chart from a 2015 report on Behavioral Health in Montgomery County provides numbers for the larger County population:

As a candidate for Montgomery County Council, at large, I am committed to addressing County mental and behavioral health needs. I’ve posted a position, drawing on conversations with affected families and community advocates…

Montgomery County has some very good services that work with persons in need of mental health assistance, and excellent partners such as NAMI Montgomery County, EveryMind, Cornerstone Montgomery, the Collaboration Council, and Adventist Healthcare. We have youth and non-English-language partners such as Identity, and programs extend into Montgomery County Public Schools. We have a 24 Hour Crisis Center with mobile crisis outreach response.

Yet there is unmet demand. We have insufficient psychiatric outpatient services and hospital beds for those with serious mental illness. This gap has overburdened our hospital emergency rooms and resulted in long ER waits for all county residents. Student mental and behavioral health are particular concerns, as is our reaction to individuals with mental health issues. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system have a mental health condition, and substance abuse and addictions are rampant.

We must work with state regulators and with County agencies and providers to redouble our commitment and expand the scope of County mental health services and partnerships. I will support programs to reduce criminalization, suicide, and homelessness and promote measures to enhance recovery for all individuals with mental illness and behavioral health needs.

I welcome your comments, stories, and suggestions. What has your personal / family experience been with mental and behavioral health issues and the support you’ve received? How can Montgomery County better support you and your family? If you have dealt with these issues, I admire your courage and would like to hear from you how we can improve life for residents confronting these challenges.