CENTERVILLE — Neighbors near the South Congregational Church in Centerville say they have recently been experiencing many physical symptoms consistent with exposure to electromagnetic radiation from the cell phone tower in the church steeple, according to members of the Concerned Citizens of Centerville.
Jennifer Lynch of that group said the newly discovered readings that neighbors were getting from reliable meters were triple the previous week from what they had been. Symptoms “have been kind of accumulative” over the past year and most recently increased dramatically, Janet Davis, chairwoman of the Concerned Citizens group, said.
Davis, a co-owner of the 1856 Country Store next to the church, said some of her employees are having symptoms, including herself and her sister, Joanne O’Connor, who lives and works at the store. Their symptoms include headaches, brain fog, heart palpitations and ear ringing. O’Connor has also had extreme nausea for many days sending her to a doctor to determine the cause, Davis said.
“Another neighbor, a nurse, went to Cape Cod Hospital ER with a feeling that led her to believe her brain was swelling. Extreme bread,” Davis said. Another couple reported overall fatigue and nausea.
After the most recent rise in symptoms, the citizens group met last Friday with about 20 people attending to discuss the issue, and the group has come up with an action plan. Radiation readings from the upper terrace of the Centerville Library taken Friday “were astronomical,” Davis said, while readings from the lower terrace were almost nothing. Similar readings from the steps of the church were negligible, she said. “The closer you are to the antenna, you’re in harm’s way.”
Concerned Citizens group monitors radiation levels
Some of the efforts include alerting residents of the radiation emission readings, having professional emissions readings taken and assessing the radiation levels. They will also alert the nearby Centerville Library staff and patrons of radiation emissions there.
The cell tower has been operating since April 8, 2021, after a federal district court ruled in June 2020 that T-Mobile could place six cell antennas in the church. T-Mobile argued it had a coverage gap in the Centerville and Craigville Beach areas and the church steeple was the only viable location to install equipment to resolve the issue.
The town Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals had denied the initial applications, but T-Mobile said those denials violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and were unlawful since they were based on concerns about environmental and health effects, according to a report in the Cape Cod Times.
The Telecommunications Act restricts the authority of local and state governments to regulate wireless antenna and tower installation where service is deficient, and prohibits local governments from considering environmental effects of radio frequency emissions that comply with FCC regulations.
The Concerned Citizens formed in 2018 after the church was issued a building permit for the antennas. The group opposed the cell tower and have been pushing town officials to adopt an ordinance that would “give the town some control over the location of telecom infrastructure, specifically towers and antennas,” Lynch said.
“We have been told ad nauseam they ‘are working on it,’” she said. “Barnstable’s leaders have dragged their feet and left residents sitting ducks.”
A written response to an email to Town Manager Mark Ells Tuesday was sent by Lynne Poyant, director of communications for the town of Barnstable.
“Town staff have been working with outside counsel to develop draft regulations for wireless facilities in the public way,” Poyant wrote. “These regulations would update and codify our existing grant of location procedures to tailor them specifically to the installation of small wireless facilities and to ensure compliance with federal law. We expect to make a draft available to the public for comment sometime during the week of June 27.”
Town is exploring options for cell tower rules
The statement said the town did not appeal the US District Court’s order and judgment in the T-Mobile matter in which the court ordered the town to issue T-Mobile all permissions and permits for the antennas at the church.
The town “concluded that there was not real likelihood of success and pursuing an appeal would not have been an appropriate use of town resources.”
The town statement said, “Radio Frequency Emissions (RFEs) are governed by federal law and that cities and towns may not regulate wireless facilities on the basis of RFEs if those facilities comply with the Federal Communications Commission regulations and standards. We are currently looking into how the town may seek to ensure that wireless facilities comply with those federal regulations and standards as well as the option available to the town if it is determined that the wireless facilities are not in compliance.”
Next steps for citizens
Other steps the citizens group plans include calling state and federal officials to report their concerns, as recommended by town officials, who said they were not equipped to deal with the radiation issues, Davis said.
“We are not very optimistic,” she added, but the group will continue to seek the town’s assistance and to open a dialogue with church leaders. She said the interim pastor “is open to talking.”
The Concerned Citizens also plan to research what emissions levels T-Mobile discussed at local meetings and if levels are referred to in permits and other documents. They will continue to catalog readings and residents’ symptoms.
Regarding the ordinance, the group will review and evaluate the upcoming draft ordinance and educate the public and the Barnstable Town Council on the need for an updated ordinance to control where towers and antennas can be located.