Pittsfield Health Officials to Investigate Cell Tower Complaints
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Health Department will be investigating health concerns related to a 115- foot Verizon cell tower at 877 South St. at the request of the City Council
A petition from Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell and Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey requesting that the department look into health concerns reported by residents that live near the cell tower was unanimously approved last week.
The City Council has been hearing of these symptoms primarily from Alma Street resident Courtney Gilardi every two weeks during public comment since the tower was turned on in August. Gilardi said she and her family will move if the tower is not turned off.
Gilardi also has had her 12-year-old daughter Amelia call into the meetings to speak about the symptoms she is experiencing such as nausea and sleep disturbances.
"No one wants to feel like they can't live safely in their own home," Gilardi wrote in an email. "And no one wants to accept that living with these symptoms; rolling headaches, nausea, dizziness, tinnitus, insomnia, palpitations and others is the 'new normal.' No one wants to feel like the tower is exacerbating pre-existing health symptoms or creating new ones, No one wants to worry about what the long term health effects are if they stay."
The tower was constructed in 2020 after Verizon received permitting from the Zoning Board of Appeals in 2017. The tower's address is on South Street but it was installed far from the road in the southeast corner of the property.
Neighbors in the residential area say they were never properly notified and only became aware of it once construction vehicles started driving through their neighborhood. Abutters have concerns over health complications, safety hazards, aesthetics, the possible decrease of property values because of the cell tower.
On Sept. 23, the Zoning Board of Appeals took no action on a City Council petition to re-permit the 877 South St. cellular tower, adhering to City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta's opinion that legally the board cannot re-open the special permit.
Gilardi gave a presentation to the Community Development Board on Nov. 5 outlining the neighborhood's concerns. The city was represented by attorney Anthony Lepore who has been representing local governments since 1997 on wireless siting issues. Lepore said he could not endorse the council adopting a cell tower setback of 1,600 feet from residential structures and notification to abutters within 1,600 feet through certified mail because it violates 47 U.S.C Section 32. He also claimed that a lot of the information in the presentation was incorrect.
Kavey and Connell wanted to put this item on the agenda because there have been numerous complaints about health concerns and symptoms that residents believe are coming from the cell tower since it was activated.
"Listen I'm not a doctor," Connell said. "I try to read as much as I can and absorb what I can and look at reports and things like that but there seems to be a trend, there seems to be a common denominator here and the common denominator is once the tower was activated and functioning people were having all types of different health problems."
Connell said Gilardi had called the Health Department to send out an inspector and the inspector never showed up and that he never got a response after emailing the public health director.
He recognized that the Health Department has a lot on its plate because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but said this is a health concern too and asked that the department find a way to fit this issue into its schedule.
"One of the councilors in one of the last meetings said, 'well, you can accomplish a lot of the things you put on petitions by a simple email' well the email was sent and nobody did anything," Connell said.
Because of the lacking communication and followup, he explained that the neighborhood felt like they were on their own.
Kavey believes this investigation is long overdue.
"I think once our department goes to investigate whether or not the radiation levels from the tower are causing people to fall ill, then we can move forward with a plan to rectify the radiation levels if that is the issue or we can look into other environmental causes," he said.
Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Maffuccio suggested that the petition is sent to the Public Health and Safety subcommittee so it can have an open, broad, discussion with department heads and do a joint referral so that they can go out and evaluate and then come back with a report.
"That's what our subcommittees are for," Maffuccio said. "Let’s start using them."
Councilor at Large Earl Persip III said the callers have a misunderstanding of what the city can do about the tower at this point. Residents keep asking Mayor Linda Tyer to turn off the tower, but legally the only way to have it turned off at this point is through the court system or Verizon agreeing to shut it off voluntarily.
Persip said he would love for it to be that easy, but it just isn’t.
Kavey said it is good to be realistic in this situation and that Persip is right in saying this case would turn into quite a bit of legality.
"We can't just shut the tower off," Kavey responded. "But in the event that we found these side effects were coming from the tower there would be lawsuits and it would be a big process, it would be extremely difficult for us to do, but that's one way this could go and it really just depends on findings."
Ward 6 Councilor Dina Guiel Lampiasi thinks that the city has to at least try to meet this neighborhood in the middle and find out what the cause of these illnesses is.
"We have Pittsfield residents saying that something is making them sick and there are new symptoms coming up for them that did not exist previously," she said. "I know there is a lot of debate out there about whether or not the tower has anything to do with it, but I do think that considering the history of this city and its environmental exposures and its relationship to cancer-causing agents we owe it to our residents to look into this."
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Morandi said he hasn’t heard of these symptoms in his 10 years on council before the tower came up. He feels that families like the Gilardis have a right to be in their home symptom-free and not have to move their children out of the house they grew up in.
Morandi thinks the process was flawed from the Zoning Board of Appeals since the beginning and residents of the surrounding neighborhood are paying for that.
"The bottom line is, we can’t continue to let this happen," he said. "There needs to be some action done."
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