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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 22, 2001

Faculty raises health concern over UH antenna

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

An antenna beaming the University of Hawai'i's student radio station signal around O'ahu has caused concern to some of the people who work one floor below the tower.

Faculty in UH-Manoa's women's studies department plan to ask the university to look into a number of illnesses that have occurred in the past several years on their floor, the seventh floor of the Social Sciences Building. They are concerned that radiation from the KTUH antenna, a cell phone tower and other antennas could have played a role in the illnesses, which occurred in their department and others and include six cases of breast cancer, one other type of cancer and two cases of autoimmune diseases. Two of those who were sick have died.

But university officials say the level of radiation emitted is well below standards set by the Federal Communications Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"There's never been an indication that there's a problem," said Roy Takekawa, director of the UH office of Environmental and Health and Safety. The radiation is 30 times less than the federal standards, Takekawa said.

The 90-foot KTUH radio tower sits atop the Social Sciences Building on the mauka end of the University of Hawai'i-Manoa and affords a 360-degree view from the Ko'olau Range to the ocean to Diamond Head.

KTUH, which started in 1966 as an AM station that reached several dorms, recently went through a power upgrade that took the station from 100 watts to 3,000 watts, more than doubling the station's reach.

"Here's hoping it turns out to be nothing," said Susan Hippensteele, associate professor of women's studies. "It kind of makes you question the value of this nice view that we have."

The discussion about the rates of cancer and autoimmune diseases came up at a recent women's studies department meeting, she said. Faculty members came up with an informal tally of people who worked on the seventh floor, one floor below the antenna, who have been sick.

"We've had a relatively high rate of serious illness on this floor," Hippensteele said.

Takekawa said he will respond to the department's concerns, but does not think there is a reason to worry. The safety study done by the university dealt with people who would work on the top of the building in direct contact with the tower and antenna, he said.

"The standards that we use apply to everybody," he said. "If it's OK for the people on the roof, then it's OK for the people below the roof. I understand their concern. I don't know that there's a link that's ever been established."

Station general manager Lori Ann Saeki said she has not received any letters or calls yet about the issue.

The $68,000 project to increase the station's power was financed by student fees and community donations. It has been in the works for 13 years.

"As far as I know it's not a problem," Saeki said. "We actually go up on the roof all of the time."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.