Parents and one member of the Salt Lake City School District are crying foul over a proposal to install a cellphone antenna on the roof of Glendale Middle School.
Board member Michael Clara said he’s worried the proposal has advanced too far without a public hearing or approval by the district school board, the school’s community council and the Glendale Community Council.
If built, the 8foottall rooftop antenna would be the 14th cellular tower on school property in the Salt Lake City School District. The antennas generate thousands of dollars in revenue for Utah schools, but some worry that the radiation emitted by cellular technology poses a health risk for children.
On Monday, members of the advocacy group WirelessPollution.org said they plan to take legal action against seven Wasatch Front school districts if school leaders fail to provide scientific proof that cellphone towers are harmless. “They’re just putting these towers right on top of students,” said WirelessPollution.org senior associate David Green. “The burden of proof should be on them. They’re the ones endangering children.” Salt Lake City School District receives more than $180,000 each year from lease agreements with cellular service providers, according to district spokesman Jason Olsen. That revenue translates into roughly $4,000 per year for each school in the district, as well as an additional $3,000 for the schools where cell towers are located
Glendale Middle School Principal Chris Gesteland said he was still researching the details of Verizon Wireless’ proposal. But he added that the potential for new revenue would not outweigh a threat to students. “Any time revenue comes in, it’s appealing,” Gesteland said. “But you certainly wouldn’t want to take revenue over kids’ safety.”
Craig Dietrich, an environmental toxicologist with the Utah Department of Health, said the consensus of the scientific community is that cell towers operate at too low a power level to produce health hazards. He said there are dangers associated with the type of radiation used in cellular technology. But those negative effects are more likely to be the result of continual cellphone use throughout the day. “It’s your own cellphones and the way people are using them now,” Dietrich said. “The amount of energy that you’ll receive from your mobile phone can be up to 1,000 times higher than what you would get being exposed to a base station.”
In 2008, the Utah Department of Health conducted a study and found no relationship between cases of cancer and cell towers. And Dietrich said he has not seen any scientific literature connecting the antennas to disorders such as autism or ADHD. He said the concerns surrounding cellular technology are likely rooted in a general distrust of radiation. And he suggested that some of the objections to antenna towers could be based on aesthetics and not health. “It’s not the most appealing thing to look out and see cellphone towers,” Dietrich said. But Green challenged the idea that the scientific community has reached a consensus. He referred to a recent study in Europe, but acknowledged that the study was focused on cellphone use and not cellular towers. “There’s still lots of questions that are unanswered,” he said. “There’s enough research now that really questions their safety.”
Most of the school districts identified by WirelessPollution.org were not aware of any potential lawsuits from the organization. Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley did not have exact figures, but said the district hosted several cellphone towers that bring in more than $100,000 total each year. “It’s a good source of revenue for a school,” he said. In Jordan School District, a property lease for a tower is roughly $18,000 per year, spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf said, with all of those funds remaining at the leasingschool. “In our district, we never put one on a school property without taking it to a school.