My Turn: The cell tower hit list — Heath, Ashfield, Rowe, Colrain, Otis, Buckland and tonight … Conway (again!)

  • Jonathan Mirin

Published: 5/18/2022 5:26:23 PM
Modified: 5/18/2022 5:24:36 PM

More than two years ago, Conway’s Planning Board approved an application to build a cell tower from Sharon-based Vertex Towers. The tower is still not built. Now Vertex is back.

Tonight Conway’s Planning Board is poised to wrap up another application for another site in Conway. The first meeting featured a presentation by Vertex lawyer Fran Parisi followed by a who’s who in the town government (plus the fire chief) supporting the application.

And just as in other recent cell tower hearings a resident brought up the question of health. She wanted to know, for example, would 5G be installed from the tower? The short answer is why stop at 5G? 6G is already in development. Or the site could be sold, for example, to a group like Wi-Valley, which offers fixed wireless in Hawley.

The Federal Trade Commission recently passed something called the OTARD Rule. Companies like Wi-Valley can now pay anyone to install antennas on their own house and service their neighbors with none of that bothersome public hearing stuff! That’s right, just plug and play infrastructure anywhere, anytime, no due process for the neighbors needed.

More local economic opportunity sounds good, right? It does until someone gets pregnant in the house next door to the new antennas and the family realizes their child is at risk. Or you can’t sleep anymore. Or you have cancer and read the research about wireless exposure and tumor promotion. Or you are one of the 17 people injured by a tower in Pittsfield where its Board of Health became the first in the nation to issue a cease-and-desist order to Verizon.

Thanks to the work of Sen. Adam Hinds and others, our towns now have high-speed internet that allows people to use their phone at home without a cell tower. Now it is time for Sens. Hinds and Jo Comerford to help mitigate harm from the FCC and federal regulations that put profit over public health. How many families are going to be forced to move? Abutters in Heath and Rowe have recently packed their bags. The Hilltowns have become a pin cushion for Vertex: Colrain, Buckland, Conway, Rowe and Ashfield.

But what if you can’t move? That is the story of environmental justice (or the lack of it) in America. Black and brown communities, low-income rural communities bear a disproportionate brunt of wireless health impacts just like the long list of other environmental toxins that are harder to escape without significant financial resources.

Back to the scene in Conway, Mr. Parisi’s response to the health question featured a combination of delegating to Fred Goldstein, the local telecom consultant of choice and repeating the phrase that these emissions are “highly regulated.”

I suppose he was referring to the FCC. The FCC functions more as a cheerleader than a regulator. There has never been a full systematic review evaluating the science on health effects of cell towers by any U.S. health agency. Instead, the FCC has adopted exposure limits based on the “thermal threshold,” i.e., if it does not heat your skin, everything’s fine. The FCC was recently found in violation by the U.S. District Court of Appeals of ignoring 11,000 pages of evidence demonstrating this is a false assumption. Goldstein and Parisi have no backgrounds in biology. Asking their opinion on health effects is like asking President Biden whether people should vote Democratic.

If you are going to approve a tower, understand you are trading improved cell coverage for, in particular, the health of residents who live within 500 meters, the distance a New Hampshire expert commission determined to be a reasonable setback. Tom Ricardi’s bird rehab sanctuary is within 500 meters of the new Conway tower. I always respected Mr. Ricardi for including cell towers in the list of threats to birds during his presentations.

Now it is time for Conway’s Planning Board to respect him and his neighbors, at the very least by requiring Vertex to pay for shielding the homes of those within 500 meters who want to be protected. As for the firefighters, the massive deployment of low altitude satellites (including for cellphones) will soon take care of any “gaps” in the event someone is too far in the woods for the Wi-Fi to reach when the call goes out — for better or worse.

Jonathan Mirin is a co-founder of Hilltown Health, a group that works to leverage safe technology on behalf of healthy, sustainable communities in western Massachusetts and beyond.


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