A third-grader from the NOCCS stands by a protest sign opposing a proposed 9-antenna cell tower within 100 feet of his school
Families from schools and homes concerned about the health effects of nine cellular antennas Verizon Wireless plans to locate near an elementary school have organized an appeal to the Oakland City Council, which will vote on whether to approve the placement of the antennas on a contaminated building at their June 15, 2010 meeting.
Parents and neighbors are concerned about the potential health risks of the towers, citing preliminary research that has linked electromagnetic field radiofrequency (EMF RF) emissions to long-term health problems, including cancer. The National Research Council has called for more research into the safety of cell phone towers and antennas, particularly as it relates to vulnerable populations, such as children. Last month the President’s Cancer Panel said more study of EMF radiation is “urgently” needed.
“I don’t want to experiment with my child’s health, only to learn years from now, that this was an incredibly risky thing to do,” said Dr. Terese Gjernes. “Kids will be there every day for a long time, up to 9 years at the school. We need long-term epidemiological studies to confirm that this is safe.”
The Oakland group opposing the cell phone towers is not alone in sounding the alarm for school-aged children. The European Parliament, the Los Angeles Unified School District and other entities have called for a precautionary approach, recommending 1,500-foot buffer zones around schools and day-care centers until more research is complete. Here, two schools are within 300 feet of the proposed cell tower; with more than 500 children enrolled. On March 23, 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors joined dozens of cities around the country that are restricting cell phone antenna placement, when it adopted Resolution 102-10, which calls for further study of the health impacts of EMF RF radiation.
Parents also question whether nine antennas are necessary since Verizon’s own map shows strong coverage in the neighborhood. Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits municipal governments from considering communities’ concerns about health when deciding whether to grant permits. They can, however, deny projects based on other criteria if a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) is required. However, Council President Jane Brunner said to the group opposing the towers, “You’ve been thrown a dead-end here,” as residents can only question the design of the towers because the inaccurate zoning code lists the area as HBX2, as a mix of businesses and housing.
However, the area consists predominantly of homes and schools. If the proposed site were designated as residential, Verizon would be required to apply for the more stringent CUP. Of course, children and residents in HBX2 are no less exposed or vulnerable to EMF RF.
Parents of the adjacent schools and residents in the neighborhood strongly recommend the Council deny the project because, in addition to posing unacceptable risk to children, the current design plan does not take into account the historic character of the building and the fire safety of the antennas on the remediation site. They also call for the Council to negotiate with Verizon and McGrath Properties, the building’s owner, to find an alternative site safely away from vulnerable populations.
Hannah Latham, Gordy Slack and Rachel Swain contributed to this article.