5G worries, rural opioid topics at Club 20 summer policy meetings in Snowmass | PostIndependent.com

5G worries, rural opioid topics at Club 20 summer policy meetings in Snowmass

Club 20, 'voice of the Western Slope,' meets to discuss health care, telecommunications and business issues affecting western Colorado

Kim Bimestefer, executive director of Colorado Department of Health Care & Policy Financing, speaks at the Club 20 health committee meeting in Snowmass on July 11.
Thomas Phippen/Post Independent

Facing 5G fears

Western Slope leaders have cause to be concerned about how 5G transmitters will affect health and town property, but it could be some time before the technology comes to rural areas.

The latest communications technology was only one of many topics discussed on the first day of summer policy meetings for the western Colorado advocacy coalition Club 20.

“We’re all hearing about this hype, and you’d better be ready for it,” Virgil Turner, chair of Club 20’s telecommunications committee, said at the meeting in Snowmass Village Thursday.

“I’m here to tell you, it’s going to be awhile before rural Colorado gets it,” he said. “It’s not coming in the next three months.”

Small cell 5G, or “fifth generation” transmitters, offer a higher bandwidth for high-speed mobile data downloads, but have drastically smaller coverage zones.

Federal regulations allow mobile network providers to place antennas on public rights of way with little to no say in placement.

Carbondale amended its development code in April to add certain requirements on wireless providers. Among them are to:

• Camouflage future antennas, which currently are around 3 cubic feet

• Use existing light poles

• Require mobile providers to use the same location for multiple transmitters.

Club 20 is interested in ways to allow for more local control. As it stands, it seems governments have local control, except when it’s preempted by a federal agency, one member quipped.

The high cost of placing these 5G transmitters makes it more economical for dense urban centers. In some places, Turner estimates, there could be 480 per square mile.

The high cost means that networks will prioritize denser urban centers, giving time for technology to develop, according to Turner.

“It’s going to eventually get to us, but we’re probably going to see different technologies,” Turner said.

Aspen City Council member Rachel Richards said she has heard some constituents express concerns about the potential negative health effects of 5G, and wondered whether that has been studied.

“People are concerned about this, and I think when they start to see towers go up that close to their homes and streets, they will be banging on the table,” Richards said.

The potential health risk of 5G signals has gained attention recently, mostly because the true effects are unknown.

The World Health Organization has classified standard mobile networks as “possibly” a contributor to cancer in humans — in the same category with coffee and power lines.

“The health concerns are real — we need to be thinking about this,” Turner said. But the true effects may not be known for some time, according to Turner.

 “I don’t think we have science to back up the long-term health ramifications, but it is something we may regret years from now,” Turner said.

Reducing opioid prescriptions not a complete solution to crisis

Data from some communities reveals a potential link between opioid prescriptions and suicide, Pattie Snidow, who works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Colorado office, told Club 20 committees.

“As fewer prescriptions are being given, our suicide rates are going through the roof,” Snidow said.

Recent legislation has empowered practically every federal agency, including USDA, to address the opioid crisis in various ways.

“Rural communities are deeply affected, deeply impacted by this issue, and a lot of the silent people affected by this issue are [agriculture] producers.”

“It’s all pain management issue from beginning to end, whether it’s emotional pain, psychological pain or physical pain,” Snidow said.

Medicaid prescriptions for opioids have dropped 50 percent in five years simply by closing loopholes, said Kim Bimestefer, executive director of Colorado Department of Health Care & Policy Financing.

She agreed that reducing prescriptions is not a complete solution, and one way to address the addiction is by going after the companies that said “these opioids aren’t addictive.”

“I’ve asked our attorney general’s office to join every lawsuit we can. We need money to come back into the state, especially on opioids, to make sure we have money to fund treatment,” Bimestefer said.

Club 20, based in Grand Junction, is made up of member Western Slope government and business leaders. Policy meetings continue Friday at the Stonebridge Inn in Snowmass Village, with several sessions focused on transportation, tourism and outdoor recreation.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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