Pittsfield Health Board Ordering Verizon to Remove Cell Tower
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health on Wednesday unanimously agreed to send Verizon a cease and desist order to remove its cell tower at 877 South St.
It will be held in abeyance for seven days and if the wireless provider does not agree to have a meeting with the board and demonstrate a desire to cooperate to the board's satisfaction, it will go into effect.
Board members acknowledged that this action is a long shot and would be expensive to the city if it has to go to court, but they said they felt it is their duty to do everything they can to protect the health of residents.
Since the tower's erection in August 2020, Alma Street resident Courtney Gilardi has spoken during open microphone about negative health effects from electromagnetic fields (EMF) generated by the antennae on the 115-foot pole. Other residents have recently joined her protests.
"There is a very good chance that we will not win this, and in some ways, we know that Verizon is following the FCC guidelines in some way, which right now we know are not protective enough of public health," Chair Bobbie Orsi said.
"One of the options that I talked about with [City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta] was interesting to me, and he called it a halfway option, what that means is that we vote to do a cease and desist order and if Verizon does not come to the table in seven days, that order becomes real.
"So we basically vote to issue a cease and desist order and then give them seven days to notify us that they will come in and have a conversation that will show and demonstrate a sufficient commitment to resolve the issues that we're having at that cell tower address."
The board would like Verizon to agree within the order's deadline to a meeting in two weeks.
After a cease and desist is issued, the proof of harm will be on the board. Pagnotta advised them to have ample support and evidence.
Recently, Orsi received one document from a medical professional of a patient in the area of the cell tower that has electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or microwave syndrome.
She felt that this, testimony from Gilardi and her family, and testimony from other residents in the neighborhood is substantial proof of harm. Eight people spoke of symptoms or in opposition to the cell tower during the meeting.
One resident who abuts the tower reported having unexplained tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, from the EMF.
"It is just very disruptive to our neighborhood, even if they're getting sick or not, they're kind of worrying, thinking 'is this going to happen to me next?' because it took a little while before mine kicked in," he said.
"And I think that's really what everybody is looking for is feeling safe about it and we could really use your help in setting a standard going forward, wherever it may take us."
Orsi also pointed to a legal handbook for Massachusetts boards of health released in 2020 that includes a chapter on cell tower radiation exposure. The handbook reads "the fact that towers are ubiquitous must not be confused with the presumption that they do not present certain health risks."
Verizon can either appeal the order or ignore it, which could result in a preliminary injunction. Orsi acknowledged that legal action would be expensive to the city. Board members are hopeful that this will be a nudge to "be good neighbors."
BOH members have had two meetings with the wireless company in regards to the cell tower. In January, they said "no" to removing or moving the tower.
Though he is in support of the action, member Brad Gordon said it is "extraordinarily unlikely" the city could win this case in court.
"I also don't want to do something just for the sake of being symbolic, I think that ultimately we'll strengthen Verizon's position not weaken it, and so I think we want to really be deliberative and thoughtful in how do we approach this," he said. "And it maybe that's our only option, but then I think people need to understand that, I don't think based on our conversations that that's going to magically change Verizon's position, and I think we'll end up in court, I think again, I don't see how they don't prevail in court."
Orsi, who is hopeful about the order, pointed out that this would at least prompt the company to respond in some way.
Member Steve Smith pointed to the role of the panel, stating that even if the battle is lost, he would like to know he made every action he could.
"As a member of the Board of Health, I'm here to safeguard the health of residents of the city of Pittsfield," he said.
"So on some level for me, win or lose this long battle with a company that's going to look at this on a global scale, at some point, I'm going to have to sit back 20 years later and say, did I do everything I could to safeguard the residents in Pittsfield when I was in that position or did I not? I guess that's the way I have to think about it."
Tags: BOH, cell tower,