Without your help, there will be a cellular transmission tower on our high school in a few weeks. This is a very dangerous development for the wellbeing of our kids. First, here's some background information to provide context for the instant struggle:
The world is about to be totally bathed by microwave radiation for the first time in the (known) history of humanity. This is being done to "enhance the communications options" of customers of cell-phone providers. However, there have been numerous allegations made by medical doctors and other health professionals which claim that serious health consequences, including leukemia, brain cancer, and/or other serious illnesses, may result from microwave radiation exposure; hence, the current plans to link the world with wireless phone networks may have major health implications for our species. These allegations warrant close study.
Over the past decade, cell-phone use has exploded in the US and throughout the world. The technology rests upon the use of the microwave spectrum as a carrier, and incorporates new designs into the old wave patterns which now utilize digital (i.e., "0" or "off" states and "1" or "on" states) means of encoding the transmitted material.
It is widely known and proved that microwaves can be used to heat the water molecules in organic materials. In fact, microwaves have been utilized for cooking purposes for a long time.
It is also, apparently, acknowledged by all (including the telecommunications industry, according to published materials) that there are dangers to living organisms when the tissues of same suffer the thermal (i.e., heating) effects that can accompany cell-phone usage near the head.
Apparently, there are plans to use satellites over the next couple of years in order to provide a thorough bath of signal around the planet, in order to insure complete coverage around the world. However, at present, towers at a regular interval are needed to accomplish cellular network installation for providers of cellphone service. As it now stands, the FCC gave out licenses to various telecommunications companies for territories that each would be able to serve. Among others, Sprint, apparently, got a license to provide such "service" to the NY metropolitan area, and, it seems, they need a site in Ossining for thier network.
One problem that faces telecommunications companies in the construction of their networks is that people don't want to be near the towers that are essential to the operation of the networks, for reasons that range from the aesthectic impact of the tower designs to concerns over the possible health effects of the constant bombardment by microwave radiation. Since the construction of cellular towers is usually within the regulatory purview of local building or zoning departments and other municipal authorities, our law provides people an opportunity to discuss the desirability of installation proposals. However, recent amendments to Federal law (Telecommunications Act of 1996) apparently proscribe the consideration of health comcerns in the municipal or state approval process, so these regulatory hearings are now generally precluded from considering residents' health concerns. I fact, the mere mentioning of such concerns in the process can result in court-ordered approval of the application. Consequently, these concerns have not been, and cannot be, in the current legal environment, adequately addressed in the consideration of cellular service build-out applications. This failure to deal with such a fundamental issue potentially places all people at substantial risk.
Regardless of the limits upon speech that were imposed by the new body of law, people generally show up, en masse, to object to cell tower proposals in their neighborhoods at municipal meetings considering such applications. This is a potentially destabilizing political force in most communities, since many people are concerned about the potential health dangers of this technology and, yet, by law, the municipality cannot take those concerns into account when making a decision on a permit application.
Given this situation, local politicians, seeing their own demise in the contradiction between the law and the concerns of their own constituents, have tried to find a way out. Ossining's Town and Village government were no exception...
Sprint apparently needs to construct a cell tower in Ossining in order to adequately build out its cellular network in its very important Weschester County, NY franchise area (Westchester adjoins New York City to the north.) Residents have been told that Sprint first went to the local municipality and asked them to assist in finding an acceptable location for the facility. Sprint, it is alleged, was informed that a moratorium on cellular tower permits existed in both the Village and Town of Ossining, and, according to the Superindendent of the Ossining School system, was directed to the school district. According to a letter by the Ossining Village Corporation Counsel's office, school district property is not subject to local zoning.
On September 9, 1998, the Ossining Union Free School District approved a proposal to lease the rooftop of Ossining High School to Sprint for the cell tower, at a price of $30k/annum, plus roof repairs, and an escalator of the greater of 3% or CPI. The term is for 10 years, with an affirmative obligation upon the district to apply for approval by the NYS Department of Education for a ten year extension.
Although the board was presented with a package from a telecommunications advisor that prominently featured the Federal statute proscribing the consideration of potential health effects, and Assistant Superindendent Richard Freyman read from this section to concerned parents before the 9/9/98 vote approving the contract was taken, in fact, because this was a LEASE (i.e., a real estate deal), and not a request for a municipal approval, a full discussion of the health concerns could be had and considered. School districts are permitted to consider any facts or concerns of the community in the disposition of school property; in fact, they are required to do so. Such a discussion, including a comprehensive presentation by a local medical doctor, was had prior to the vote. The Board, which counts no medical doctors among its membership, approved the lease anyway, discounting the medical evidence presented, without consulting any medical authority whatsoever before doing so.
According to counsel for the school district, the lease was subject to the requirements of NYS Education Law Section 403-a, which requires either a referendum or the approval of the State Commissioner of Education for a lease of school property for a term in excess of 10 years. The district submitted the proposal to the Commissioner. Several residents, including Leslie Plachta, M.D., a local family medical practioner who counts some of the high school's students among his patients, and Don DeBar, a concerned local resident, requested that the lease not be approved, with Dr. Plachta arguing among other things, that the tower presented a potential danger to the health of the students and staff of the high school, and Mr. DeBar emphasizing legal and procedural irregularities in the approval of the contract.
The Commissioner denied the lease as an illegal use of school property for private gain. Sprint then sued the Commissioner of Education and two of his deputies both in their official capacities AND INDIVIDUALLY, in the US District Court, Southern District of New York in White Plains. The NYS Attorney General, defending the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners, moved to have the action dismissed as to the individual defendants. Judge Barrington Parker, Jr. dismissed the action as to the Commissioner, individually, but let it stand against the individual Deputy Commissioners. Apparently (I have only seen this in Lexis, but it was not in the Court file), there was an adjudication of the primary issue in favor of Sprint, and the lease was approved by the Commissioner late last summer.
Community outrage began to swell, after DeBar called for a boycott of Sprint on his local public access show "The Local Scene with Don DeBar", which airs town-wide. Parents and other concerned residents formed a group called "Safe Ossining Schools" (SOS) to fight the implementation of the lease. On Wednesday, 1/19/00, members of the group and other residents successfully organized a protest outside the School Superindent's office while the Board and the Administration were in a special meeting with Sprint and, according to news reports, TEN (!) Sprint lawyers. Simultaneously, SOS held an informational meeting at Ossining's Trinity, where over 300 people heard medical experts present evidence on the health effects of cell towers. Both events got considerable press coverage in the Metro NY media.
Also last week, a lawsuit was filed by Dr. Plachta and DeBar, under Article 78 of the NYS Civil Practice Laws and Rules, challenging the validity of the cell tower lease on procedural and environmental grounds.
The following day, the school district issued a press release which claimed that Sprint was now considering other possible locations in Ossining. On the same day, two articles appeared in the local Gannett newspaper ("The Journal News") which dealt with cell towers. The first, about the Ossining lease, contained a quote from Sprint representative Larry McDonnell to the effect that Sprint had already looked extensively for an alternate site and didn't believe one was likely to be found. The other covered opposition to an unrelated cell tower proposal in nearby Irvington, NY, where, for the first time, residents turned out to vocally oppose the construction of a fifth cell tower atop Abbott House. Health effects were cited in the article as the reason for residents' concerns.
Finally, DeBar last week presented proposed legislation to Assemblywoman Sandra Galef (D), of the 90th Assembly District ((914) 941-1111), at a televised public meeting, which legislation would amend the State Education Law (by adding a new sub-section 7 to Section 403-a) to prohibit the construction of cell towers on school property and/or schools throughout the state. He has also sent the proposal to Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D), chairman of the Assembly's Environmental committee, as well as (by e-mail) the entire NYS legislature.
Here is the situation that cell tower opponents now face: There is apparently an attempt underway to stall the process, which Sprint and/or the board may be doing in the hope that a pause in their activity will allow the opposition to dissipate. The district has thus far refused to take an aggressive public posture with Sprint. Calls by DeBar and others for the resignation of the board members who voted to approve the deal made the front page of at least one local weekly. Posters saying "Resign" and "Boycott Sprint" cover telephone poles all over town.
This week (week of 1/23/00), another local cable show will bring materials from the demonstration and the informational meeting to a larger area than that covered by DeBar's show. Also, Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, who spoke with DeBar by telephone Thursday night, said she was familiar with the Ossining case already (New York City's Pacifica station WBAI has aired interviews with Plachta and DeBar), and requested materials which, hopefully, will reach a national audience sometime in the coming days. DeBar would like as wide a discussion of the potential dangers of this technology as possible. He sees it as an EXCELLENT organizing opportunity for environmentalists, given the efforts of telecommunications companies to extend their networks to cover the entire inhabited surface of the planet with a technology that may be fatally unsafe.
Ossining needs help organizing protests against Sprint, statewide. Your efforts are necessary to the success of this attempt to educate state residents about the potential dangers of cell towers. Please respond as soon as possible.
(We'd REALLY like a letters to the editor campaign that seeks legislation to keep these things off of schools (see my proposal above) and mentions WHY (the potential health effects).)
1/29/00 UPDATE: Over 200 people braved the 20 degree weather to turn out for a "NO CELL TOWER" rally in front of Ossining High School. Members of the press were out in force also. ABC, NBC, NEWS 12 CABLEVISION and others from the electronic media shared the crowded space in front of the school with local and regional print and radio reporters, dodging cars on Route 9 as the sidewalks filled up with cell tower opponents.. Marchers were asked if they would turn out again next week should it prove necessary, and responded in the affirmative with loud applause. Dr. Leslie Plachta can provide you with 2 websites FULL of information - email him at email@example.com.
The board has recommended that Toronto adopt a policy of "prudent avoidance", which would ensure that radio frequency exposure levels be kept at a 100 times below safe levels set by Health Canada.
Ron Macfarlane,a research consultant with the Toronto Board of Health, said rooftop gardens and balconies of buildings with antennae, and neighbourhing spaces are of greatest concern .
"The data is not there to confirm one way or another at what level we might expect to see long term effects,"he said "We should not wait till we get further data to confirm the suspicions before we act".
The Toronto board did not recommend setting a minimum distance from schools and residential areas, since exposure levels also depend on factors such as the height, power level and direction of the tower or antenna. But it did call for a public information process for new antenna sites, outlining the maximum expected exposure to radio frequency waves.
When residents express concern over an existing cellular antenna, the board recommended that the operator be asked to monitor the levels of radio frequency fields around the antenna and report back to the community.
The stricter Toronto protocol which is still under consideration by a special telecommunications steering commity, promted Vancouver resident Milt Bowling to wonder why council plunged ahead with an agreement that would allow a dozen more towers on city property.
"I was dumfounded", said Bowling, who successfully fought an aplication a few years ago to site an antenna on Sir James Douglas elementary school on Victoria Drive. "I just want to scream at the irresponsibility of this whole thing".
Bowling, who heads the national lobby group EMRadiation Task Force, pointed to scientific accord signed in October 1998 at a conference in Vienna on the health effects radio frequency electromagnetic fields, which said that biological effects from low-intensity exposures are scietifically established. The Vienna accord was endorsed by scientists from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the president of the Royal Society of Canada.
Citing Australian, Greek and British studies that link long term exposure to memory loss, lymphomas, leukaemia and infertility, Bowling said council could be opening the door to the kinds of lawsuits already cropping up in Britain. He pointed out that Loyds of London has refused to insure the wireless industry against claims for adverse health effects, "if it turns out worst-case, it's our dime"
But Vancouver medical health officer John Blathewick maintains the risk of adverse health effects from emissions is lower than the probability of fining toxins in peanut butter, and called the Toronto Board of Health's recommendation stupid. He said Health Canada's safety code provides "more than enough" protection fo residents.
"I don't go to council and say I know more than the people that set the standard," he said."Toronto [Board of Health] has traditionally given the political answer. I'm giving the scientific answer."
Blatherwick said the city is too crowded to practice prudent avoidence, although he recommends against installing antennae on school roofs to avoid conflict with parents.
Last week council approved a 25-year master agreement with cellular phone companies that would allow them to install antennae and 50-foot-plus towers on city propery, in return for $1,500 to $16,000 in annual fees.
The companies had argued more antennae are needed to plug gaps in reception for cellular phones.
Residents living near proposed cellular phone towers and antennae won't be informed of the installation unless it affects their views.
One local education authority is teaching pupils about the possible health dangers posed by mobiles, following an explosion in the number of under-16s who carry them.
Two more authorities are set to follow suit and issue pupils with their own guidelines on how to cut the health risks. Brighton and Hove Council in East Sussex has been warning 55,000 children - some as young as five - in its 77 schools of the dangers since last year.
Education chiefs in Derbyshire are now writing to 400 schools with a similar warning.
And in Edinburgh councillors are drawing up guidelines to help teachers educate 60,000 pupils on the dangers.
Microwave radiation from mobiles is feared to cause cancer, affect blood pressure and cause memory problems. And scientists fear young children may be the most vulnerable.
Dr Henry Lai, of the University of Washington, Seattle, said: "It is very scary that so many children in Britain are using mobiles. We have no idea of the effect. I won't let my seven-year-old child use a mobile phone."
Professor Gerald Hyland of the University of Warwick added: "It's totally irresponsible for parents to let their children have mobiles. It is the equivalent of giving the child a cyanide pill."
The advice which teachers in East Sussex are giving to their pupils includes:
Use a land line rather than a mobile if possible.
Keep mobiles as far away from the head as possible while making calls.
Keep mobile calls short.
Buy a mobile from Vodaphone or Cellnet, which operate at lower frequencies.
Edinburgh City Council will offer similar advice. Local councillor Brian Fallon said: "We will advise school children to use a land line. If that's not possible, use an earpiece and carry your mobile in a plastic bag or handbag because, if there was a harmful effect from radiation levels, it would be worse if the phone is next to the body."
About 350,000 children in Britain now use mobile phones. Over Christmas the mobile phone industry gained an extra four million subscribers - many of them children.
Perdita Patterson, editor of What Mobile, said mobile firms are increasingly targeting children, by making phones more brightly coloured and exciting, and by introducing the ability to send text messages.
And the sudden rise in mobile phone ownership has also landed schools with a financial headache.
Headmasters are spending way over their phone budget - because parents keep
leaving mobile numbers to ring them back on.