A few weeks ago, Joseph Wroblewski, owner of Frank’s Deli on 72nd Place in Maspeth, agreed to a contract with Omnipoint to erect a 25-foot tall cell tower on top of his two-story home adjacent to the store. Most of these contracts are long term – 15 to 20 years – and include all expenses associated with the erection and maintenance of the tower, sometimes even paying any increased property taxes. Since Wireless Capital Partners’ Wireless Bluebook values the average monthly rental income for cell towers over the past five years in our area at $2,213 it was a “no brainer” for Mr. Wroblewski to do this, even though now, after community outcry and protest, he says he is regretting his decision.

What are the possible long-term effects of the obtrusive and ubiquitous cell tower on the health of our neighborhoods and especially our children? In the scientific community, there is a continuing debate regarding the health hazards of exposing the human body for long time periods to the radiation from low energy level electromagnetic radio frequencies (RF) such as the waves emitted by hand held cell phones and laptop wireless computers. On the one side, those who seek financial profit drive the debate, and on the other side, we have the preservationist or protectionist who argues to protect humans and animals from the health hazards of technology – especially children.

An example of the industry’s deceptiveness came when the Ossining School Board voted to allow the installation of a cell tower atop a school building based on a “safety analysis” presented by the company seeking to install the tower. The report falsely claimed that this technology is universally considered safe and suppressed all other areas of controversy. The school board was told that health concerns from exposure to electromagnetic radiation such as that produced by power lines and hand held cell phones was based on fear and not fact. The Board later felt remorseful when they learned that the National Institute of Environmental Health Science designated power frequency electromagnetic fields as possible human carcinogens.

While no one disagrees that serious health hazards occur when human cells are heated with high intensity RF (just like what happens in a microwave oven), scientists are still investigating what health hazards present themselves with low intensity exposure, which does not raise the temperature of living cells in the body.

The telecommunications industry claims cellular antennas are safe because the radiation they produce is too weak to cause heating, a “thermal effect.” They point to “safety standards” from groups such as the American National Standards Institute, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection to support their claims. But these groups have explicitly stated that “safe levels of exposure” are based on thermal levels. The claim that RF exposure is harmless rests on the fact that it is too weak to produce a rise in temperature, a “thermal effect.”

There is a large body of internationally accepted scientific evidence which points to the existence of non-thermal effects of microwave radiation. The issue at the present time is not whether such evidence exists, but rather what weight to give it. Non-thermal effects are recognized by experts on RF and health to be potential health hazards. Safe levels of RF exposure for low intensity, non-thermal effects have not yet been established.

Many national and international organizations have recognized the need to define the true risk of low intensity, non-thermal RF exposure, calling for intensive scientific investigation to answer the open questions. These include:

• The World Health Organization, noting reports of “cancer, reduced fertility, memory loss, and adverse changes in the behavior and development of children.
• The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
• The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
• The Swedish Work Environmental Fund
• The National Cancer Institute (NCI)
• The European Commission (EC)
• New Zealand's Ministry of Health
• National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia
• Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organization of Australia (CSIRO)

The question is – should we expose our children and ourselves to this radiation for the next twenty years when so much uncertainty exists? Many of us can recall the Jack Benny Radio & TV show ad “LSMFT = Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. Remember! 9 out of 10 doctors smoke Lucky Strike.” Well that was the 1950s and society has since learned the health hazards of tobacco smoking.

Community Board 5 unanimously voted against placement of the cell tower at the proposed location in Maspeth. It is now the duty of Borough President Helen Marshall, a former schoolteacher, to make clear to Mr. Wroblewski, Omnipoint and the Board of Standards and Appeals that a cell tower behind Maspeth Town Hall, in an area where school children congregate, is not in the best interest of Maspeth.