Parents Organize to Remove Antennas from Schools

Two articles that appeared in the Staten Island Advance, a local newspaper in New York City.

City removes 3 antennas at Totten Intermediate
by Staten Island Advance
Friday May 02, 2008, 8:00 PM
(Printed May 2, 2008- Pg1)

Who says you can't fight City Hall? Amid concerns about radiation, the city's Department of Information, Technology and Telecommunications has taken down "temporarily" three radio antennas it placed atop Totten Intermediate School in Tottenville.

The 14-foot antennas were erected over last summer as part of the $75 million Citywide Radio Network designed to improve communication between firefighters and EMS and dispatchers.

"We certainly want to make it clear that we're not walking away from the school site -- we're temporarily taking down the antennas," said Vincent Grippo, chief of staff for the department. "This is absolutely vital; firefighters not being able to communicate poses an extreme danger to the community." Some parents were outraged upon learning that the city had built -- without much public notification -- three antennas on top of a roof that covers the heads of the 1,178 students enrolled there.

"Our kids are literally separated by a roof from a huge antenna, and no one told us anything about it," said Ed Armstrong, whose 12-year-old daughter attends the school. "Show me one study that says it's safe -- they can't, because one hasn't been done."

The city says that the radiation from the antennas doesn't even approach thresholds set by the Federal Communications Commission, and that to be in potential danger one would have to be standing right next to the array. The American Cancer Society says the energy released is too low to cause cancer, and in urban environments is often lower than that from other sources, like broadcast television and radio signals.

Armstrong and others point to the BioInitiative Report, which casts doubt that federally accepted limits for cell phone and wireless tower radiation levels are safe, and have been linked to childhood leukemia and brain tumors. The antennas on top of Totten Intermediate were never turned on.

The Citywide Radio Network comprises 40 antennas throughout the five boroughs designed to boost communications between first responders.

Once in place, the network should let the FDNY speak directly to other agencies, like the Office of Emergency Management, and will let individuals talk directly to dispatchers using hand-held radios. The DoITT says it hopes to have the system working by June.

The company contracted to construct the network, Motorola, had found that the only building tall enough in the area to be of any use was the school, but will go back and look for alternative sites, the department said.

The department experienced similar opposition when it was revealed it planned to build a wireless data antenna, part of a different, $500 million NYCWiN network, on top of PS 30 in Westerleigh.

The DoITT has put off construction and scheduled meetings with school administrators and the public for later this month.-- Contributed by Phil Helsel

City pulls plans to put wireless antenna on Staten Island school

by Staten Island Advance
Tuesday May 06, 2008, 5:07 PM
(Printed May 7, 2008 Pg A3)

In the face of mounting opposition from worried parents, the city has backed off plans to build a wireless communication antenna on top of a primary school in Staten Island's Westerleigh neighborhood.

The city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, or DoITT, has sent its engineers back to the drawing board after parents blasted a plan to mount an antenna on top of PS 30.

"It was made very clear to us that there was going to be a lot of opposition to anything at the school site," said department spokesman Nick Sbordone.

The planned antenna is part of the $500 million New York City Wireless Network, or NYCWiN, designed to speed up communication between city agencies.

The city says that such devices -- there are already about 50 on Staten Island -- are safe and emit far less radiation than federal safety thresholds, but parents and some scientists are unconvinced.

"Believe me, I understand after 9/11 we need this technology, but to put it on top of a school is just asinine," said Carol Aponte, whose 8-year-old daughter attends PS 30. "Let them tell us whatever they want, but they can't tell us that in 10 years there's not going to be health effects."

The DoITT was scheduled today to hold a private meeting with school officials and concerned parents, including Mrs. Aponte, but canceled it after being told Friday that opponents were seething, Sbordone said.

It has also put off a planned May 27 public meeting to discuss the project, and instead has asked network engineer Northrop Grumman to come up with alternatives to the school site.

Those won't be returned until July at the earliest, after 98 percent of the system has already gone online.

A group of scientists, including Columbia University professor of physiology and cellular biophysics Martin Blank, published last year a report questioning federally-accepted levels or wireless and cellular radiation. "We don't know what the risks are, but we know they're not zero," Blank said on Friday. -- Contributed by Phil Helsel



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