David v. (Verizon) Goliath in Pittsfield

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.

The deadline for action is fast approaching. A Verizon spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did officials at the Board of Health.

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.

BRUCE MOHL

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Wu backs low-income MBTA fare: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, a champion of eliminating fares on the MBTA, takes a slightly different tack by backing legislation calling for a discounted fare for low-income riders. The move comes as early results from a fare free bus pilot show limited or no savings for two-thirds of riders – those who need to transfer to the subway and commuter rail. Read more.

Tax relief bids shot down: House Democrats refuse to budge on tax relief, kicking off the budget debate by rejecting Republican-sponsored amendments to suspend the gas tax, lower the capital gains tax, give higher tax breaks to seniors, and overhaul the estate tax. Read more.

Early College lauded: At a roundtable with Gov. Charlie Baker, Fall River students sing the praises of Early College programs that enable them to earn college credits in high school. Baker is pushing for more funding for Early College. Read more.

Tracking T control board’s priorities: A new report from the business group A Better City tracks the fate of policies endorsed by the MBTA’s previous oversight board and finds proposals for electrification of commuter rail and a low-income fare are falling by the wayside. Read more.

OPINION

Retooling the gas system: Activist Dorie Seavey says the state is on track to spend as much as $40 billion in ratepayer funds recommissioning its gas distribution system to make it ready for biomethane and hydrogen. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

More than 1,200 applications are received for 46 new affordable housing units in a Worcester development, highlighting the vast need for more affordable housing in Worcester. (Telegram & Gazette)

For the first time, a protester outside Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s home is arrested for violating a city ordinance banning demonstrations outside private residences between 9 pm and 9 am. (Boston Globe

The Anti-Defamation League says the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Massachusetts reached an all-time high in 2021. (Boston Globe

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The number of flu cases in Massachusetts is rising – at a time of the year when it typically starts to fall. (MassLive)

Nurses and other clinicians at McLean Hospital in Belmont have voted to unionize. (Boston Globe

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Elon Musk will buy Twitter for $44 million and take it private. Musk promises a more lenient approach toward policing content. (Associated Press) The Atlantic offers an interesting analysis. 

A New York judge holds former president Donald Trump in contempt of court and fines him $10,000 a day until he complies with a subpoena seeking documents. (NPR)

A study by researchers at Boston College says the share of young people aged 12-17 carrying handguns in the US has risen 41 percent over the last two decades, with the sharpest increases among white teens and those from the highest income households. (Boston Globe

ELECTIONS

Former congressman Joe Kennedy III will endorse Andrea Campbell for attorney general. (MassLive)

Utah Democrats are throwing their support behind independent Evan McMullin, a conservative never-Trump challenger to Republican Sen. Mike Lee, who worked to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. (Washington Post

Younger Americans are feeling disillusioned with politics but most still plan to vote in this year’s midterm elections, according to a new poll from Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics. (Boston Globe). 

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The latest industry hit with supply chain issues is boats. Boat manufacturers and sellers say they have little inventory available, due to high demand and workforce shortages. (Patriot Ledger)

MGM Resorts will continue to manage the MassMutual Center, but the state says it cannot put the MGM name on the center. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION

The Berkshire Flyer, a weekend train connection between New York City and the Berkshires, is finally launching this July. (Berkshire Eagle)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary in Westport, which is threatened due to climate change, experiments with a relatively new technique for restoring salt marshes. Runneling involves digging shallow channels to drain standing pools of water. (Standard-Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Patrick Rose, a former Boston police officer who remained on the force and rose to become president of the city’s largest police union after being credibly accused of child sexual abuse, pleads guilty to abuse charges and is sentenced to 10 to 13 years in prison. (Boston Globe

The death of a patient with developmental disabilities at the Hogan Regional Center in Danvers last  year is ruled a homicide. A worker has been charged with assaulting him. (Salem News)

A Leicester man cleared of a 2020 murder charge sues the Worcester police, alleging officers fabricated evidence. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Worcester police consider buying a drone, raising concerns about privacy and whether it will be used to help target homeless encampments. (MassLive)

The Massachusetts Trial Court is close to reaching an agreement with individuals who filed a lawsuit seeking to have the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield closed due to dangerous environmental conditions. (MassLive)

John Wilson, who was convicted last year in the college admissions scandal and received the longest sentence, files an appeal. (Associated Press) 

MEDIA

The Emancipator makes its official debut.

PASSINGS

Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator in history and a fixture in Utah politics for more than four decades, dies at 88. (Associated Press)