School Board weighs health concerns on cellphone towers
Members consider lifting moratorium because of budget shortfall
The removal of a ban on cellular phone towers at Palm Beach County public schools is on hold until health concerns are answered.
School Board members on Wednesday said they want to see more research about potential medical risks before they agree to lease more campus property to cellular phone companies.
"Until we're assured that cell towers are not deleterious to our students' health, I cannot support more cell towers," board member Karen Brill said.
A moratorium on the towers at local schools has been in place, with one exception since 1997, because of parent concerns about radiation and the appearance of the towers. The ban was lifted in 2005 for a school in The Acreage, leaving a total of 10 towers on school district-owned property.
Last month, the board's Budget Advisory Committee of citizen volunteers, recommended removing the ban to help generate much needed funds. District officials anticipate a $52 million operating budget shortfall for the 2012-13 school year.
The existing towers, leased by Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, are expected to bring in about $214,000 for the district this year, and $220,400 next year, said Kris Garrison, director of planning and real estate services.
Shelly Kalnitsky, a Boca Raton resident who is editor of Cell Phone Radiation News Bureau — cprnews.com — said the board would make a "major mistake" by allowing more towers. He warns about an electro-magnetic field of radiation coming from the towers.
"Radiation is falling on the schools 24 hours a day, not radio waves," Kalnitsky said in an interview. "Children are at the greatest risk from cell phones as their skulls are thinner."
But budget committee members said they were satisfied children would not be exposed to health dangers, and the towers wouldn't be community eyesores. They recommended allowing only "stealth towers," which look like flagpoles.
Boca Raton High and the old Atlantic High site in Delray Beach are among the campuses with towers since the mid-1990s, built before the restrictions. Other schools near Boca Raton, Wellington and elsewhere could provide land for new cell towers, Garrison said, noting more space on existing towers could be leased as well.
School property often has been targeted for cell towers because land and potential locations are plentiful. But first the health issues must be addressed, said School Board members, who asked administrators to collect studies from experts on the topic.
"We need a little more clarity, quite obviously, on the medical concerns," member Jennifer Prior Brown said.
Seven years ago, the board allowed a tower at Western Pines Middle after county health officials indicated cell towers are safe as long as companies follow Federal Communications Commission guidelines.
The FCC states on its website that "radio frequency emissions" from the towers result in exposure levels on the ground that are "typically thousands of times below safety limits." The FCC also notes, "there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students."
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