Verizon Drops Lawsuit vs. City of Pittsfield Board of Health

By Meg Britton-Mehlisch, June 7, 2022 | Original The Berkshire Eagle article here.

PITTSFIELD, MA — Verizon Wireless has dropped the federal lawsuit it had filed against the Pittsfield Board of Health in the dispute over the company’s cell tower at 877 South St.

The telecommunications company said in a motion to dismiss filed Thu June 2 that the case was moot since the Pittsfield Board of Health voted a day earlier to rescind a cease-and-desist order over the Wireless Telecommunications Facilities (WTF) at 877 South St.. Judge Mark G. Mastroianni accepted Verizon’s motion on Friday, dismissing the request of several neighbors to be added as intervenors to the case in the process.

On June 1, the Board of Health voted 4-0 — with new board member Dr. Jeffrey Leppo abstaining — to withdraw the order. Members said they no longer felt that the order, which they said was intended to bring Verizon to a discussion, would serve the best interests of the residents they were trying to protect.

Chair Bobbie Orsi said.

“When we issued the cease-and-desist order, we did that as a strategy to have a conversation with Verizon. I felt in my heart that we really wanted them to come talk to us about this.We wanted something that was going to be helpful for the residents in that neighborhood. I guess my feeling now is that litigation is perhaps not the process, that’s going to get us to — that’s not going to help resolve the issues right now.”

The board voted unanimously to issue an emergency order against the company and tower in April after more than a year of investigating reports from residents living in the area around the tower that they’d been experiencing health problems such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, insomnia, skin rashes, palpitations and tinnitus since the tower began operating in August 2020.

At the time, Orsi and other members said they felt it was their “duty” to respond to these health issues and ask Verizon to meet and discuss moving or shutting off the tower. Board members said they’d taken a polite approach at first, hoping to appeal to the company’s desires to be a good neighbor to no avail.

Wire America: For those who were not aware the extension of the FCC’s RF microwave radiation standards was ruled “arbitrary and capricious” in the DC Court of Appeals on August 13, 2021.

Link to Transcript of Press Conference Following EHT Federal Court Victory Over FCC Wireless Radiation Safety Limits – Environmental Health Trust]

“The August 13, 2021 landmark ruling in the case Environmental Health Trust et al. v. the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) found the FCC violated the Administrative Procedure Act because the FCC’s 2019 decision to not update it’s 1996 RF microwave radiation exposure limits failed to address impacts of long term wireless exposure, failed to address unique impacts to children, failed to address the testimony of people injured by wireless radiation, failed to address impacts to wildlife and the environment, and failed to address impacts to the developing brain and reproduction.”

The DC Circuit judges ruled the following in Case 20-1025:

“. . . we grant the petitions in part and remand to the Commission to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radio-frequency [microwave] radiation. It must, in particular,

  • (i) provide a reasoned explanation for its decision to retain its testing procedures for determining whether cell phones and other portable electronic devices comply with its guidelines,
  • (ii) address the impacts of RF radiation on children, the health implications of long-term exposure to RF radiation, the ubiquity of wireless devices, and other technological developments that have occurred since the Commission last updated its guidelines, and
  • (iii) address the impacts of RF radiation on the environment.”

Wireless radio frequency microwave radiation is bioactive and is currently being insufficiently regulated. Therefore, each state or locality can regulate the maximum power output of microwave radiation from wireless infrastructure antennas that reaches any areas that are accessible to human beings and other living organisms, consistent with the 11,000+ pages of peer-reviewed, scientific evidence that Environmental Health Trust and Children’s Health Defense and others plaintiffs placed in the FCC’s public record: Vol-1, Vol-2, Vol-3, Vol-4, Vol-5, Vol-6, Vol-7 Vol-8, Vol-9, Vol-10, Vol-11, Vol-12, Vol-13, Vol-14, Vol-15, Vol-16, Vol-17, Vol-18, Vol-19, Vol-20, Vol-21, Vol-22, Vol-23, Vol-24, Vol-25, Vol-26 and Vol-27.

This page is one of three legs of the stool that establishes local control over the operations of Wireless Telecommunications Facilities (WTFs); the other two are the US House/Senate Conference Report for the 1996 Telecommunications Act (“1996-Act”) and the stated purpose of the 1996-Act: to promote the safety of life and property.

In April, the board changed tactics, issuing an emergency order that gave Verizon seven days to meet or receive a cease-and desist order as part of the board’s “statutory and historical police power to protect its citizens from injury and harm. In the order, the board found that the cell tower “is a public nuisance” and “a cause of sickness” that “directly causes harm to certain individuals, and renders dwellings unfit for human habitation.”

Verizon responded in May by filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court and asked the court to decide whether the order violated the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — a law that established how telecommunication companies could be regulated and compete with one another.The company cited the law’s preemption clause (US Code Title 47 §332(c)(7)(B)(iv), which says

US Code Title 47§332(c)(7)(B)(iv):

“No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.”

The company filed its lawsuit on the same day that the board was set to come before the City Council and request funding to hire two attorneys to defend the cease-and-desist order in court. News of the lawsuit halted all funding discussions and for the last two council meetings, councilors have declined to take any action one way or another on the board’s request. With no way to hire attorneys and a deadline looming for the board to issue a response to Verizon’s complaints, board members decided to remove the cease-and-desist order.

Board of Health member Brad Gordon said during the meeting last week

“I don’t think that litigation, at this time, is the most effective vehicle to provide a remedy for the folks in that neighborhood — as much as we want to help them,”.

Gordon said the better approach would be to come up with the “right solution” for the residents. Board members said they’d continue to work with the City Council and state representatives on “collaborative discussion” around changing state law around the process and standards for placing and citing cell towers. Orsi said an update on that work would likely come at the next board meeting in July.

[End of article]


This is where we things stood in July, 2021 regarding the FCC RF microwave radiation exposure regulations, which are not protective, when signal strength exceeds what is needed for “5 bars” of telecommunications service in areas accessible to people: higher than: -85 dBM.

Health Impacts of New Cell Tower Reported

Link to July 8, 2021 source article.

PITTSFIELD — First came testimony from people who say their lives were upended when a cell tower began transmitting in September.

“You can’t tell me that I’m not having this going on,” said Elaine Ireland of Alma Street, referring to headaches and nausea.

Then came a highly technical spiel on the meaning of a new field survey of that Verizon Wireless tower’s emissions — a report that found radio frequency radiation levels to be, at most, 1.66 percent of what the Federal Communications Commission allows What didn’t come: Resolution, after months of debate, about the tower’s safety.

“I think we’re just beginning to get towards an answer,” Dr. Alan Kulberg, the Board of Health chair, said Wednesday night, after more than two hours of deliberations alongside fellow members. “But, I think we’re at the beginning of a process.”

Gina Armstrong, the city’s health director, suggested that despite the low radio frequency readings, the issue of the tower’s possible impact on health in the neighborhood cannot be dismissed.

“There can possibly be some health sensitivity among some people,” Armstrong said. ‘There’s a lot more that can be explored.”

On June 2, the board heard from experts in the field of electromagnetic radiation and human health. Armstrong said the city reached out to those experts again for help in interpreting the findings in a report by V-COMM Telecommunications Engineering of New Jersey. Pittsfield hired that company to test levels of radio frequency radiation in 17 locations around the new tower, located at the rear of 877 South St.

Armstrong said the study, which cost the city $3,725, was needed to check whether FCC limits had been exceeded, giving Pittsfield grounds to complain. Three experts weighed in with suggestions earlier Wednesday, too late for their ideas to be fully reviewed by health board members.

But, it already is clear that the board is not inclined to take the V-COMM findings as evidence that the tower has had no impact on health in the surrounding neighborhoods. This week, members of the city’s Board of Health said that reports of health effects in the neighborhood cannot be dismissed despite a recent field study that showed radio frequency radiation to be well within levels allowed by the Federal Communications Commission.

Stephanie Koles of V-COMM summarized the survey’s method and result for the board. She said the study, a “standard tower survey,” found the 115-foot tower, set high on a hill overlooking south Pittsfield, to be operating well within what’s allowed.

One test location produced the highest reading, at 1.66 percent of the FCC threshold. That is less than one-fiftieth of the maximum.

“That’s a very small amount of the limit,” she said. “Now we know that it is operating in compliance.”

Koles, a former Verizon Wireless employee, declined to speak to possible health effects of the tower’s operations.

“We are not involved in any biological research or anything like that,” she said.

Experts who have advised the board and residents caution that the exposure levels allowed by the FCC are dated and do not do enough, as wireless technology has advanced, to protect health.

Brad Gordon, a member of the health board, said he is not ready to give the tower a clean bill of health.

“Yes, there is the FCC measurements, but those will not get you where you need to go in terms of understanding the impact,” he said, a view echoed by Kulberg.

“Perhaps those standards are outmoded. Perhaps those standards don’t take into account health considerations,” said Kulberg, a retired pediatrician. “It should be recognized that we are a board that has taken this seriously and have tried to operate within whatever powers we have.”

Gordon, an attorney, reminded fellow board members that the FCC holds authority over what companies like Verizon Wireless are able to do on towers. The board, he said, is constrained.

“What we want to do is be certain that we are maximizing what we can do,” he said.

Kulberg said health officials should continue to press for state lawmakers to raise the issue of wireless technology and cell tower safety. The board decided this spring to write a letter in support of legislation filed by state Sen. Julian Cyr that would create a commission “to study the impact of electromagnetic (EMR) and radiofrequency (RFR) radiation on consumer protection, public health, and technology in the Commonwealth.”

“Others have more potent standing with those who make the rules,” Kulberg said, suggesting that the next step lies with lawmakers “to bring forth the complaints of the citizens, which might help to establish a different standard [on allowable exposure] in the future.”

Neighborhood accounts

Ireland, the 15 Alma St. resident, told the board that since the tower began operating in September, she has suffered headaches, nausea and ringing in her ears. She said she had not had health issues before.

“Recently, the ringing got so bad that I had to leave my house,” she said. “This has just turned my life completely upside down. Now I have to choose between my health and my house, and I shouldn’t have to do that. It’s really upsetting. I never imagined that something like this could happen.”

Ireland said she believes the tower stands too close to homes and should be relocated. Otherwise, she has no complaint. “I love my cellphone like anyone else and I’m not anti-technology.”

Amelia Coco Gilardi, 13, sat at a microphone before board members as her mother, Courtney Gilardi, stood behind her and displayed the sorts of remedies the family keeps handy to address symptoms of nausea and stomachaches.

“But, they don’t help,” said the teen, who has made appearances before numerous city boards. “Indigestion isn’t the problem, radiation is. No one should have to live like this.”

Another neighbor, carpenter William Coe, said that though he has been fixing up his house at 118 Alma St., he might opt to use it for short-term rentals, or might sell, to get away from exposure to tower transmissions.

“That’s what everyone talks about, getting out,” he said of people in the area, despite their affection for the place. “They’ll bend over backwards to keep the neighborhood together.”

Like Ireland, he said he is experiencing tinnitus, a ringing of the ears.

“When I put on my ear protection, it makes it twice as loud,” he said. “Our neighborhood is going to be a ghost town.”

[End of article]

No forum. No health study. Did Pittsfield oversell DPH help with cell tower problems?

Link to May 3, 2021 source article.

PITTSFIELD — People unhappy about a new cell tower in south Pittsfield heard of two promising developments, when health officials took up their issue last month.

Neither, it turns out, will come to pass as described.

Representatives of the state Department of Public Health will not appear at a forum to answer questions about the safety of electromagnetic radiation. That forum was supposed to be taking place this week.

And experts from the DPH’s Environmental Toxicology Program will not conduct field research in an attempt to determine whether reports of headaches, dizziness and nausea can be linked to the powering up of a Verizon Wireless tower last summer at the rear of a lot off South Street.

The city councilor for Ward 4 came away from an April 12 Board of Health meeting thinking the city’s Health Department had secured support from the DPH for a forum and an initial epidemiological study.

“That was the impression I got,” said Christopher J. Connell. “Absolutely. I thought [Dr.] Alan (Kulberg) was all on board.”

It was Kulberg, the board’s chair, who told people logged on to the online meeting that the city needed wider expertise to understand whether the cell tower was the source of reported ailments. And he and Gina Armstrong, the city’s health director, suggested that the DPH’s involvement would fill that gap.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a causal relationship,” Kulberg said that night, speaking of the tower and health concerns, “but these things have to be done in a rigorous epidemiological way. … We feel this is the most scientifically valid way to do it.

Armstrong said that in the months that residents have been pressing for answers, her department, in addition to dealing with COVID-19, was getting a handle on a complex question.

“We were researching the resources needed to address this problem,” Armstrong said at the meeting. “Working on a plan took some time … to do this to the level that is necessary.”

Armstrong urged people to contact the DPH, suggesting that the agency involvement would bring the deeper look that residents have been seeking in sustained outreach to the Health Department and City Council.

“They will report back to the Board of Health … on how many people have, in fact, been impacted and what the possible association is,” Armstrong said.

The fact that there will be no such report frustrates Connell, who had joined with Ward 5 City Councilor Patrick Kavey to push for action.

“I don’t know what else to do,” Connell said. “They’re either stalling or hoping the issue goes away. We have a health problem, and they’re not responding. It’s a city issue because we allowed the permit for the tower.”

Courtney Gilardi of Alma Street, a leader of neighborhood opposition to the tower, said the resources offered through the DPH are not game-changing.

“They can offer a referral to a doctor who has a background in environmental medicine,” she said. “This is exactly what our physicians offered us seven months ago. We have not moved forward at all.”

Armstrong says now of the outreach to the DPH: “It was unclear to me what level of assessment their referral sources could provide.”

On agenda

When the board meets Wednesday, Armstrong says it again will try to provide answers to residents, in part by building out City Hall’s understanding of the issue.

“The Health (Department) and Board of Health are working through a process to educate ourselves more about cell tower EMF [electromagnetic fields], governmental guidance and other reports on the health impact … and to look at best options for facilitating a plan to address resident concerns,” Armstrong said in an email, in response to questions.

She told The Eagle that the DPH’s role with the issue in Pittsfield will indeed be more limited than the response outlined at the April meeting.

“At this point, MDPH Environmental Toxicology Program is available to speak with residents about their problems related to the South (Street) cell tower,” Armstrong said. “They do not conduct field work for EMF or have referral sources for that.”

A spokeswoman for the DPH confirmed to The Eagle that the agency is not conducting a health study.

Its assistance is limited, she said, to advising Pittsfield health officials and fielding questions from residents and directing them to information on the Bureau of Environmental Health website. In at least one case, the DPH offered a resident a referral to a medical expert.

The department declined the city’s invitation to present information about health issues linked to electromagnetic fields at a health board meeting.

In an April 26 email to city councilors, Armstrong wrote that the health board had decided, at its April 12 meeting, to invite DPH staff to join the board’s early-May session. Residents who joined the session were invited to send in questions that state experts could help answer.

“We are very disappointed to learn that representatives from the environmental toxicology program will not be attending the next BOH meeting,” Armstrong wrote in comments to The Eagle. “The Board is considering other panelists and a format to facilitate information to the public about technology safety at a future date.”

[End of article]