WAYNDOTTE, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Concerns over what parents of students at Washington Elementary School in Wyandotte call a cellphone tower boiled over into anger at school board meeting on Tuesday. Although the project was approved between the school and T-Mobile five years ago and discussed at a public meeting, it wasn’t until more recently, when construction began, that parents started speaking out about it.
More than 30 parents who are fearful about what radio frequency waves could do to the health of their kids attended the meeting in a small crowded room to voice their concerns and ask questions. A group of parents opposing the cell tower, led by Alexandria Cotner and Josh Castmore, got even more upset at the meeting when T-Mobile didn’t stick around to answer their questions.
Although T-Mobile and Site Safe were at the meeting with a presentation of information and they took questions from the board, they left without taking any questions from the parents in the crowd. Site Safe is a Virginia-based company that provided technical information concerning radio frequency exposure and FCC guidelines on radio frequency exposure.
Anthony Handley, Site Safe Director of Engineering, said in his review he found “maximum exposure levels on the top of the rooftop is well below the FCC standards for electromagnetic field safety.” He also said that the vertical antenna pattern of typical pattern antennas project radio frequency energy onto the horizon with very little energy being directed in a downward direction and that the roof and building materials significantly attenuate RF energy. He added that exposure drops off dramatically as you move away from a transmitting antenna.
T-Mobile says that the object in question is not a cell tower. A T-Mobile representative said, “It is antennas attached to an existing structure. We have literally hundreds of cell sites in the central region that are on schools, church schools, public community centers, where children attend school from nursery school to college. This is not a unique situation.”
The tower, which was placed on a smokestack at the school, has parents worried about the effects to the health of their kids because of the radiation. Although the tower is not currently activated, it could be at any time and no one is providing information on when that will happen.
Nicole Zeld, who has a child at the school, said, “We are uncomfortable with the unknown risks. Throughout history, new technologies have been created and we learned the risks after the fact.”
Superintendent Catherine Cost had sent out a letter to parents before the meeting telling them that breaking the contract would cost millions of dollars. She also said that moving the tower, which T-Mobile isn’t interested in doing, would cost over a million dollars in supplies, construction, employees and permits. She added, “As a result of the contract in place, the district cannot force T-Mobile to relocate the tower.”
Her letter discussed what would happen if the school broke the contract. Cost said, “The district would be sued by T-Mobile, and our insurance will not cover this. Based on the signed contract, our legal counsel has said we would be responsible for paying T-Mobile for damages, attorney fees, and court costs, which could be in the millions of dollars. These fees would come out of the general fund. That is why this impacts every family and every staff member, as there would be less available to the remaining classrooms and staff members.”
Cotner and Castmore have taken their argument to the Wyandotte City Council but they are not involved the project. They said it was between the school and T-Mobile.
The only answer that Cost seems to be giving concerned parents and staff members is to inform them how to leave the school. She outlined in her letter the process for parents to transfer their students and how staff members can leave as well. Cotner said the letter was “infuriating” and that “she (Cost) basically told teachers and students to leave the school.”
Castmore and Cotner aren’t convinced of the tower’s safety through the FCC guidelines. They cited a study by independent medical professionals and their recommendation of an exposure limit from T-Mobile that is 1,000 times less than what FCC regulations require.
Castmore, who is an attorney as well as a parent at the school, has created a GoFundMe page to cover any upcoming legal costs to get the tower removed from the school property. It currently has a fund of a little more than $3,600. The page also addresses the income that the school district is making from the contract. The lease provides the District with $1,000 per month and $150.00 for utilities in exchange for the use of the chimney on the school. It also says the tower could be there for several decades.
Castmore says, “At this point we are raising funds for what we anticipate is going to be a prolonged legal battle with T-Mobile, the City of Wyandotte, the school district, the superintendent. So we are asking folks to contribute what they can because we want to get this thing off of our elementary school.”