Radio play: Cell tower over playground worries parents

The cell-phone antennae on a water tower atop 264 Water St. may be bathing children playing at the nearby Peck Slip School’s rooftop playground in harmful radiation, parents claim.
Photo by Patrice Farameh

BY COLIN MIXSON

Peck Slip School’s rooftop playground may double as an alfresco microwave, claim worried parents, after discovering the roof of a nearby building is home to several radiation-spewing cellphone antennae.

“You should not put a cellphone tower that irradiates people next to a children’s playground,” said Emily Hellstrom. “This is basic stuff.”

The radio transmitters at 264 Water St. are operated by Verizon Wireless and Metro PCS, and have been rigged to a water tower atop the condominium since 2002, according to a spokesman for Verizon.

The School Construction Authority opened Peck Slip School with its rooftop playground about 60-feet-away from the transmitters in Sept. 2015, but parents only found out about the tower’s existence at a Community Board 1 meeting last week, where condo resident and mom Patrice Farameh expressed her concern that radiation from the device may be harming kids and called for its removal.

“We could find out all these kids have brain tumors and be sorry later,” said Farameh. “I would rather protect them now.”

Board members shared Farameh’s concern, but ultimately decided to table the discussion on potential actions for an upcoming meeting in November to gather more information, according to the chairwoman of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee.

“We need to do more research based on the initial findings we’ve received thus far,” said Tricia Joyce.

Joyce was nevertheless disturbed to learn the city had sited the relatively new school and its rooftop playground right beside a source of radiation, and hopes the city will exercise better judgement when deciding where to build future schools.

“We’re in an urban environment and there are challenges in terms of space, but radiation is radiation,” Joyce said.

The local PTA, however, has dedicated itself to removing the transmitters, and is currently compiling petitions and pushing letter-writing campaigns calling for the devices to be moved, Hellstrom said.

But despite the concern, the parents are not aware of any study measuring the amount radiation kids are being exposed to.

A resident living in the condominium building did bring in an expert in November 2016, who took readings inside homes there and found that radiation generated by the cell towers was similar to what’s emitted by cell phones or wireless internet routers, according to Matt Waletzke, environmental consultant and owner of Health Dwellings.

But Waletzke’s benign-sounding analogy belies one key difference — cellphones can be turned off, and routers relegated to the far corners of a home, but residents are powerless to manipulate the cell tower, Waletzke said.

“The difference here is it’s being produced by something you have no control over,” he said.

Exposure to those levels can potentially lead to minor health issues, including sleeplessness, difficulty focusing, tinnitus, nausea, and dizziness, according to Waltezke. But studies recognized by the American Cancer Society suggest the type of non-ionizing radiation produced by cell towers isn’t strong enough to destroy DNA cells and thus cause cancer.

Throughout his investigation, Waletzke’s highest measurements amounted to less than one-percent of the maximum safety standards for cell-phone radiation set by the federal government, but that standard — the same standard applied to microwave ovens and intended only to prevent the literal cooking of human flesh — is considered by some to too lax.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Waletzke said. “I’m assuming they doesn’t recognize any health effects at lower levels, but there’s plenty of information that shows that there is.”

And children playing at the school’s rooftop playground in the shadow of the tower aren’t shielded by walls or windows like condominium unit where Waletzke took his measurements, and could be exposed to significantly more radiation depending on which direction the transmitter’s signal is beaming, according to Waletzke.

“Performing a study would be my recommendation,” he said.

A spokesman for the Department of Education did not provide a comment before deadline.

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