Parents, Verizon on different wavelengths - P.S. 185 moms & dads reject offer to study cell phone towers

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Parents from Public School 185 have turned down an offer from Verizon Wireless to provide funding for a study of radio frequency data from the company’s cell towers situated on a building across the street from the school.

Members of the PTA at P.S. 185, Ridge Boulevard and 85th Street, rejected the offer after it was discussed at the group’s meeting, said Tressa Kabbez, the co-president of the PTA.

Verizon had offered to finance the study, said David Samberg, a company spokesperson, in an email statement, noting that it could have been conducted by “a third-party expert chosen by the community.”

However, explained Kabbez, “We still don’t have a 10-year study of what this will do over time.

“It is not what we really want,” Kabbez added, stressing, “We want them (the cell towers) removed because nobody knows what will happen over time.”

Besides rejecting the offer, parents also held their second protest against the installation, marching from the school to the Verizon Wireless store at 86th Street and Fifth Avenue. Objections have focused on the unknown health risks posed by the equipment.

In response to concerns expressed by the school’s PTA, on April 8th, Verizon had relocated the towers, which were initially installed on the exterior of 8701 Ridge Boulevard, facing the school. Now, the towers are on the building’s roof, 25 feet further away from the school, and pointed away from it.

“It is our sincere hope that these extra measures will allay any concerns expressed by parents and the community at large,” noted Samberg.

The towers were put up in early January, and parents have been battling to have them taken down ever since. There is particular concern about the long-term effects of radiation from the equipment, especially because there is a rooftop play area now under construction at the school.

However, actually getting the company to remove the equipment is extremely difficult, in large part because the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 basically prohibits municipalities from denying cell phone companies the ability to install transmission equipment, though it does allow local governments some say over such issues as placement and construction.

As it now stands, cell phone companies are not even required to notify the community of impending installations.

Among efforts to control cell tower siting is legislation introduced by State Senator Marty Golden and Assemblymember Janele Hyer-Spencer that would prevent cell phone companies from putting antennae within 500 feet of a school, plus require 90 day notice to the community.

Explained Hyer-Spencer, “While awaiting concrete evidence of potential health risks, we cannot sit idly by and gamble with the lives of hundreds of innocent students.”

In addition, City Councilmember Vincent Gentile has co-sponsored legislation that would require the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB), which issues permits for cell phone towers, to notify elected officials and the community board when such permits are requested.

Dialogue between parents and Verizon Wireless will continue, said Golden aide John Quaglione, who told this paper that a meeting between the parties had been brokered by Golden, to take place, “Within the next 10 days.”

The legislation introduced recently, Quaglione added, was, “Getting the attention of the cell phone industry, that this is a real problem, that putting the equipment up near schools is a no-no. The parents are keeping the pressure on. So, it’s not over yet.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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