David vs. (Verizon) Goliath in Pittsfield
Board of Health blames cell phone tower for illnesses
THE PITTSFIELD BOARD OF HEALTH is taking a bold stand against a cell phone tower owned by Verizon, claiming the South Street structure is dangerous to those in the area who are “electromagnetic sensitive” and threatening to shut it down.
In a lengthy emergency order containing 14 pages of analysis and nine pages of various citations, the board says it believes the 17 or so residents who complain the tower is causing their headaches, sleep problems, heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, dizziness, nausea, skin rashes, and memory and cognitive problems. Some of the residents have been forced to flee their homes, which have been rendered unfit for human habitation, according to the order.
The board says the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates cell phone towers, isn’t doing its job by relying on regulations dealing only with the thermal effects of pulsed and modulated radio frequency radiation. “They were not designed to protect sensitive populations against all harms,” the order says of the FCC regulations.
As a result, the Board of Health is taking matters into its own hands, ordering Verizon to appear at a hearing and show why its tower, which went up in August 2020, is not a danger to the town’s residents. If the company fails to comply, the board is threatening to issue a cease-and-desist order and shut the tower down.
Before taking action, the board met last September with a delegation from Verizon led by Eric Swanson, a professor in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Pittsburgh. Swanson, according to the Board of Health, insisted the radiation emitted by the cell phone tower could not be harming residents in the area and suggested those who were complaining had psychological problems.
In its order, the board all but called Swanson a hack – a theoretical physicist with no medical background who nevertheless dismissed more than 2,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies showing wireless radiation can negatively impact human health.The board is girding for a legal fight, asking the City Council to approve funding for a small legal team to defend the board should the matter end up in court, which seems likely given the danger of a legal precedent for Verizon.
The Berkshire Eagle, the local newspaper, thinks the Board of Health has lost its mind. “By deeming actionable these anecdotal, unproven, and seemingly motivated claims, the city’s Board of Health is not just solidifying a scientifically unsound approach to controversial topics brought before them, which would be bad enough. It’s also risking the financial health of the entire city by picking a potential legal fight with a telecom giant on specious grounds,” the newspaper said in an editorial.