Balloon test floats new views of proposed Altamont cell tower

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

A newsroom with a view: The scene outside the office of The Enterprise of the second “balloon float” test for the 120-foot monopole telecommunications tower that is being proposed for a village-owned parcel of land on Agawam Lane. The Re-Nue Spa on Maple Avenue is in the foreground. 

ALTAMONT — As the planning board here prepares for a Jan. 28 meeting on a proposed cell tower, an Altamont doctor has raised concerns about electromagnetic fields, and village residents got a chance to visualize the tower as a balloon was floated on Tuesday.

Enterprise Consulting Services plans to erect the 120-foot monopole telecommunications tower on village-owned property on Agawam Lane, on the shoulder of the Helderberg escarpment.

“Given the potential hazard, the close proximity of the tower to the village is shocking,” Larry Malerba told The Enterprise. “Furthermore, as the true nature of 5G becomes more known to the public and as [electromagnetic field] pollution concerns grow and people begin to connect their health problems with the new technology, I imagine that places like Altamont may become the target of lawsuits by injured parties seeking redress.”

In a letter to the Enterprise editor this week, Malerba expresses deep concern about the “preliminary indications that EMF (electromagnetic field) pollution, one form of which is produced by cell towers, is fast becoming one of the more pressing health issues of our time.”

Produced by electricity, electric and magnetic fields are invisible areas of energy, also known as radiation. An electric field can be easily weakened by any object in its path; by contrast, a magnetic field can pass through almost any object. Taken together, the two types of energy are called an electromagnetic field, which produces electromagnetic radiation.

There are two main types of electromagnetic fields:

— High-frequency electromagnetic fields like x-rays and gamma rays, which can directly damage a person’s DNA or cells; and

— Low- to mid-frequency electromagnetic fields, which include microwave ovens, computers, wireless networks, power lines, cell phones, and cell towers. These electromagnetic fields are not known to directly damage cells or DNA.

According to the World Health Organization, there is “limited evidence” of an association between low- to mid-frequency electromagnetic field exposure and cancer in adults. However, when it comes to children, “the association between childhood leukemia” and low- to mid-frequency electromagnetic field exposure “is unlikely to be due to chance,” says the World Health Organization; but that association may be affected by selection bias, which is to say that children in the studies are not representative of the overall population.

For cell-phone towers specifically, the public’s exposure to radiofrequency waves, a type of radiation, “is slight,” according to the American Cancer Society. That’s because a cell tower’s antenna is mounted high above the ground and the energy (which is relatively low compared to radio and television towers) emanating from the antenna is directed up and out, not toward the ground, and, as the distance increases between the energy and its origin, its intensity decreases rapidly.

Currently, according to the American Cancer Society, “there is very little evidence” that a person’s proximity to a cell-phone tower — whether living, working, or attending school — increases their risk of cancer or other health problems.

Malerba’s letter to the editor also brings up safety concerns associated with fifth-generation wireless systems, known as 5G technology, which, he says, “is already raising alarm bells around the globe.”

With the installation of a nationwide 5G network, Malerba writes, “Our exposure to electromagnetic radiation levels will certainly increase.”

Both Qualcomm, a company that manufacturers semiconductor chips for the cell-phone industry, and Verizon estimate that the new 5G network will be 20 times faster than the current 4G network. But to achieve this dramatic increase in network speed, according to the wireless industry’s lobbyist, companies will have to install hundreds-of-thousands of new cell sites.

Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman under President Barack Obama, estimated that new cell sites could number into the millions (as of 2016, there were about 308,000 cell sites in the country), with sites located as little as 500 feet apart.

The 5G network will use a frequency that is higher than what previous generations of mobile communication networks used. Although 5G still falls into the low- to mid-frequency electromagnetic field (not known to directly damage cells or DNA) there is a safety concern that, at the higher frequency, the eyes and skin could be affected.

In Altamont, according to Josh Silver, the lawyer for Enterprise Consulting Services, ECS is proposing to install 4G antennas.

“However,” Silver said to The Enterprise in an email, “with the continued growth and evolving demand on modern wireless 4G networks and the eminent rollout of 5G wireless networks, it is very difficult to predict the future need for additional wireless facilities in the Village.”

To date, the collective and conventional wisdom of the World Health Organization, American Cancer Society, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, United States Food and Drug Administration, United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Federal Communications Commission says that health risks associated with cell-phone use are possible, based on limited evidence from human studies but there is no scientific evidence that definitively answers whether cell phone use causes cancer.

The World Health Organization considers cellphones a Group 2B carcinogen, meaning they could possibly cause cancer in humans. Also considered Group 2B carcinogens: aloe, coffee, pickled vegetables, and careers in carpentry and the textile manufacturing industry.

Furthering his case about the health hazards associated with cell-phone towers, Malerba writes, “Researchers from the Ramazzini Institute in Italy recently released the findings of a study that indicates cell-tower radiation is associated with certain types of cancers in lab animals.”

In one instance, male rats that were given the highest dose of radiofrequency radiation, which was whole-body exposure for 19 hours a day, experienced a “statistically significant increase in the incidence of heart schwannomas,” which are tumors that, in rats, are rarely malignant, the study says. There was also, the study says, an “increased incidence” of malignant brain tumors in both male and female rats.

Jon Samet, professor of preventive medicine and dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, has warned against drawing the conclusion that wireless technology can be as risky to people as it is to rats. For example, heart schwannomas, the tumors developed by rats due to radiation exposure, are almost unheard of in humans; one review of medical literature found a total of 24 reported cases.

“What’s more disturbing,” according to Malerba, is that another recent study came to similar conclusions that the Ramazzini study had. That study, from the National Toxicology Program, which falls under the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services, said “there is clear evidence” (the National Toxicology Program’s highest level of certainty) that male rats exposed to high levels of radiofrequency radiation developed cancerous heart tumors; between 5 and 7 percent had developed tumors, compared to none in the control group.

Additionally, the study concluded, there was “some evidence” (the second highest level of certainty) that male rats developed brain and adrenal gland tumors due to radiation exposure; about 2 to 3 percent of the male rats developed brain cancer, compared to none in the control group.

After the National Toxicology Program study was released, Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society — whose organizational line on the the cancer risk associated with radiofrequency radiation is that there is not enough evidence to draw a link — issued a statement that said: “For years, the understanding of the potential risk of radiation from cell phones has been hampered by a lack of good science. This report from the National Toxicology Program (NTP) is good science.”

The Ramazzini study and National Toxicology Program study both evaluated radiation exposure in rats but in different ways, and still they yielded comparable results. The National Toxicology Program study examined how a subject is exposed to radiation from a close distance, meaning cell-phone use. Whereas the Ramazzini study looked how radiation emanating from a distance, in this case a cell-phone tower, affected the subject.

Ronald Melnick, who designed the National Toxicology Program study, wrote that consistencies between the two studies illustrate that their results can be reproduced.

“Reproducibility in science increases our confidence in the observed results,” Melnick told Scientific American.

Balloon test

The second “balloon float” test took place Tuesday, giving residents a vague idea about what a 120-foot monopole telecommunications tower would look like among the bare trees of the winter season.  

At the December village planning board meeting, residents who live close to the proposed tower said they had not been notified of the first balloon float, which took place in September, when the trees have leaves. Residents asked that another test be performed so that they can see what the tower would look like in winter.

The balloon float is used to determine the visual impact the proposed tower would have on the village. For the test, a red weather balloon approximately 3 feet in diameter was floated 120 feet into the air; then pictures were taken of the balloon from various points around the village. Finally, a cell-phone tower will be photoshopped into the picture to give an accurate representation of what the tower will look like from those spots around the village.

Silver, the lawyer for Enterprise Consulting Services, told The Enterprise that the photoshopped pictures would be available for public view before the Jan. 28 planning board meeting, adding that it can take up to 10 days to complete the process.



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