San Diego - The more we rely on smart phones, the more data we want and the more antennas we need.
Workers say they are getting injured working on these antennas. They say the constant push for more towers is putting them at risk.
Team10 talked to a San Diego company that came up with a solution to keep these people safe.
Benjamin Rivas worked on cell phone towers for 14 years.
"I was dealing with them day in and day out--climbing the towers, on the rooftops," Rivas said.
He left the business after an antenna that should have been powered down was still live.
"It physically burned my hand. You'll get burned on the outside but internally it blisters."
The burn is a work injury you can see. Other problems he said caused by the towers are not as easy to spot.
"Depression, I get headaches, mood swings,” Rivas said. “Things I've never gotten before."
Rivas is one of the 250,000 workers that the insurance rating agency AM Best said gets too close to these antennas. They act as an open microwave and can cause eye damage, sterility and cognitive damages.
There are 600,000 cell towers in the United States with thousands more on the way. Sprint just announced installation of 20,000 more towers.
Drew Fountain co-founded San Diego-based RF Check. The company tracks where every tower is located in the United States. Fountain showed the RF frequencies coming from several tower sites all over San Diego using a $20,000 meter.
"I'm going to show you the invisible footprints of these potentially hazardous areas that these workers don't see," Fountain said.
Fountain said an RF frequency over 20 percent is over the allowable limit by the FCC. He showed Team 10 RF frequency ratings from towers on a Del Mar rooftop that ranged from 20 percent to 150 percent.
Fountain said cell phone tower workers, roofers and painters could be put at risk if they don't know where those towers are located. Many tower sites have these signs telling workers to stay at least three feet away from the antennas.
"Signs are dismissed by workers,” Fountain said. “This doesn't even say anything,"
The law requires that the workers be made aware of these areas before they get near them. That's not being done today.
Since 1985, the FCC has required workers be made aware of these dangers, but the law doesn't specify how to alert them. The FCC gave notice of a proposed rule change two years ago for the cell companies and site owners to figure out the “how.” Fountain said the FCC tried to make things better for workers but the companies and owners have been slow to act.
"Cell phone providers are looking the other way and not protecting the little guy," Fountain said.
Rivas claims that if you tell a manager or company about safety concerns, you are let go.
"What we're told is to just go ahead and work. Get it done," Rivas said.
Fountain helped develop the only database of every wireless antenna system in the nation, so workers could be made aware of the danger before they get to a site. RF Check is working with the FCC to get it used across the entire industry. Workers would check the tower sites before any job.
"If they need to work in those areas they can request a power down through our protocol," Fountain said.
Rivas believes it could have protected him.
"It would be a savior," Rivas said.
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