Dear Editor: I write in response to the Sept. 20 letter, Move Cell Towers Higher. The author of that letter claims to be a biochemist, but I suggest she (and many others who claim that radio emissions are dangerous) should have paid more attention to physics.
Albert Einstein proved long ago (1905) that the photons of radio emissions (all electromagnetic emissions, including light, involve photons) do not have nearly enough energy to knock electrons out of their atomic orbits - which is what must happen if DNA is to be disrupted to cause cancer. Each photon from a radio or microwave transmitter has less than one-millionth the energy of a red light photon. These feeble photons, which you can't see, cannot disrupt the atomic electrons no matter how many photons there are.
To a photon, your body is just a collection of molecules. A low-energy photon from a radio or microwave transmitter finds itself too feeble to break the atomic bonds of the sturdy molecules. By contrast, while sunning yourself at the beach you are exposed to ultraviolet photons from the sun that do have enough energy to cause chemical havoc (break atomic bonds, resulting in genetic mutation and possibly cancer). Radio and microwave photons, on the other hand, have no chemical effect (cannot break atomic bonds) no matter how many of their photons hit you.
This doesn't mean that low-energy photons never matter. You can cook with microwave photons because there are lots of them, but they don't break individual molecules, the kind of change that could lead to biological effects. They just make the food molecules move around faster, and that heats up the food. What this means is that it's OK to be near a radio or microwave transmitter as long as the power level is low enough that you don't cook yourself with it.
Paradoxically, the domination of our lives by technological innovation has made us ever more susceptible to superstition. It is superstition that makes us fear all things termed "nuclear" or "radiation." We call nuclear magnetic resonance "magnetic resonance imaging" (MRI) so as not to frighten those who will benefit from this non-invasive technology. We are terrified by our cellphones and the associated microwave transmitters because they emit radiation, forgetting that light bulbs radiate much more, and really are more dangerous although we find them so convenient we never concern ourselves about them. I'll worry about hazards from cellphone towers when my neighbours agree we should turn off all our electric lights and never go out in sunshine.
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