A consultant the Flagler school district hired to survey and analyze the health hazards, if any, of the monopole cell tower behind the bleachers at Flagler Palm Coast High School had a simple conclusion today: the tower is not a problem. It’s not close to being a problem. And the School Board’s options with it are limited to none as it is leasing space at least until 2046.
“All the measurements that were performed were less than one less than 1 percent of the occupational standards,” Anthony Handley, director of engineering for SiteSafe, told a somewhat skeptical and frustrated School Board today: board members want to be able to give parents options, such as transferring their children–or finding a way to get the tower moved.
Complaints to the Flagler County School Board about the cell tower in particular and cell towers in general haven’t been innumerable but they’ve been steady enough to concern the board. Board members hear reports of students having headaches at school but not at home. Cause-and-effect speculation centers on the cell tower and its radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, the very low level but constant emission of low-grade radiation cell towers emit to communicate with phones and tablets. Some fear that the radiation causes cancers, or heightens the possibility of cancer, for those in proximity of cell towers.
The risk isn’t zero. To the question–Can using a cell phone cause cancer?–the Centers for Disease Control responds with an equivocal answer: “There is no scientific evidence that provides a definite answer to that question. Some organizations recommend caution in cell phone use. More research is needed before we know if using cell phones causes health effects.” The American Cancer Society is equally cautious, peppering its answer with qualifiers: “At this time, there’s no strong evidence that exposure to RF waves from cell phone towers causes any noticeable health effects.”
At FPC, an emission assessment was conducted on Dec. 20 through data from 15 locations on campus, including from the bleachers. The tower has two tenants–Sprint and Verizon. None of the readings came close to triggering a concern. “The reason why the exposure levels are so low is because the antennas are elevated. The lowest antenna is mounted approximately 120 feet,” Handley said, and the antennas are directed at a horizon to cover as large a ground as possible. “Once you’re outside of the lobe, the main lobe of the exposure, the exposure levels dropped significantly.”
Within the school, the exposure is reduced even further because of the building material, Handley said, reducing exposure 10 to 100 times less than outside. “SiteSafe sees this site as fully compliant with all the FCC regulations and guidelines and limits and standards,” he said, despite the age of the monopole. Still, he said he would not use the word “safe” so much as “compliant,” which itself is a qualifying way of addressing the issue.
“The scientific community came up with a threshold where they believe that RF exposure is a hazard to humans,” he said. “There is a safety factor of 50 built into those limits. So all these facilities must be below that built-in safety factor. And again, the measurements [at FPC] showed that they were thousands of times below that limit as well. So it’s even more below what the scientific community would consider the actual hazard for human exposure.”
Handley is not necessarily an independent voice. Board member Colleen Conklin asked him point blank: “Does your site safe receive any funding at all from any cell phone tower company or any cell phone company?”
“No, not unless we do a service for them. They pay for it, but we don’t receive anything,” he said. He describes himself on his LinkedIn page as a “Professional with 20 years of experience in the wireless industry supporting the major carriers with the development of their networks/facilities and all compliance/regulatory matters related to their networks/facilities.” When Conklin asked him why standards are different abroad–in China, in Europe–he demurred, saying he focuses on the United States alone, and at one point referred to research done for “over 100 years,” even though cell phones and towers have not been around nearly that long.
Conklin was disappointed by the thinness of the analysis in so far as it directly relates to FPC and Flagler County. “We’re we’re talking about a report where really the analysis is barely a paragraph. And that that that is concerning to me,” Conklin said.
It was Board member Christy Chong who cast some doubt on the cause-and-effect theory of towers causing headaches. “if we’re concerned about health effects, I think there’s other things we need to consider, like fluorescent lighting, air conditioning,” Chong said. “My son used to complain a lot about headaches at school. And there was no cell tower nearby anywhere. So there’s a lot of factors that could play a role in headaches, allergies, those kinds of things. Stress.” (The majority of fluorescent lights are being changed to LEDs, Dave Freeman, the district’s chief of operations, said.)
Board member Cheryl Massaro suggested that once contracts expire, perhaps the tower could be moved from FPC. But that may not be as easy, given the contract in place between the carriers and the district: the contract has six auto-renewal terms, each for five year periods, with the last term expiring in March 2046. And moving a tower would not replicate the sort of coverage it is providing currently, though Conklin suggested that some sort of popular movement could lead to the contract being ended early–in exchange for convincing Palm Coast to agree to a relocation of the tower on its grounds. But in the end, that was just so much grasping at straws as board members knew that their options are almost non-existent.Palm Coast High_EME Compliance Measurements Only_12272023_Final Report withPE (1)