Aegis Corporation Home Page Back To Previous Page
Print This Page
Close Window
From their front porch on Second Avenue, Joseph and Vera Kaszuba have a view of St. Michael’s School and the students who pour out of it at day’s end.

They can also see several of the dozen cell phone antennas that were mounted on the building last summer. The controversial devices haven’t been activated after complaints from school parents and borough residents.

If the Nextel antennas are ever turned on, the Kaszubas say they will no longer sit outside on their porch, enjoy yardwork or chat outside with neighbors, because they fear radiation will harm them.

“We would probably have to move,” said Mrs. Kaszuba, who was born in the Second Avenue home 70 years ago. “I don’t want to get sick.”

As telecommunications companies work to expand and improve their networks, local opposition has sprung up in many communities like Jessup. Cell phone antennas — like microwaves, garage door openers, radios, television and other common items — emit radio waves and microwaves collectively called radio-frequency (RF) radiation. Although the consensus in the scientific community is that RF radiation does not have negative health effects, most experts acknowledge more studies should be done.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have concluded that no study has linked cell phones or their base stations to health problems, but have also acknowledged gaps in research.

“This is the problem — you cannot prove that anything is safe,” said John E. Moulder, Ph.D., professor and director of radiation biology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He has researched cell phones and cancer and found any relationship “weak and unconvincing.”

Dr. Moulder has advised several school districts concerned about RF radiation to test levels before and after antennas are activated. There will be little change, because levels are so low, he said.

“Unless this school is in a mobile phone dead spot, you’re being exposed to RF radiation,” Dr. Moulder said. This also includes the television and radio station broadcasts and emergency fire and police systems that have not shown to have adverse health effects in the decades they have been in communities.

In many cases, higher RF levels are caused by mobile phones, not antennas, Dr. Moulder said. Handsets emit higher levels of RF radiation as they capture airborne waves and magnify them for a signal.

Actually, the safest spot for children might be immediately beneath the antennas, said W. Andrew Berger, Ph.D., a physics and electrical engineering professor at the University of Scranton. Antenna waves spread outward, not down, he said.

Dr. Berger isn’t worried about RF radiation from cell phone antennas, and like La Salle Academy students, he’s in close range. Last summer, the university permitted Nextel to install a macro cellular facility on top of a wing of St. Thomas Hall to “give part of Scranton better coverage and capacity,” said Jerry DeSanto, vice president for planning and chief information officer.

Children are likely the most vulnerable to RF radiation, said Henry Lai, Ph.D., a professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington. He believes biological effects can take place at low levels, and most RF radiation studies examine short-term exposure, not years and months — the situation of people living near antennas.

“There about 40 studies showing effects with low-level exposure,” he said. To be safe, he wouldn’t put any antennas on an elementary building such as St. Michael’s, which holds preschool through second-grade students.

That’s the view of many parents, such as Mary Durdach, who has four children at La Salle Academy. She has helped organize the Jessup Area Neighborhood Alliance to combine the efforts of parents, neighbors and others against the antennas.

“The whole thing about RF emissions, the jury is out,” Ms. Durdach said, comparing RF radiation to cigarettes and lead paint. “Everyone was told cigarettes were safe. It took 20 years before people were dropping dead from cancer.”

Because the Federal Communications Commission sets a safe RF exposure level and Nextel complies, the organization has shifted its fight to the dangers of lightning hitting the antennas, hazardous materials such as batteries in an accompanying Nextel power shed and the negative effect antennas can have on property values.

“Why is there industrial equipment in a residential zone?” Ms. Durdach said. “It’s really a big deal, because of the hazards that come with them.”

Clarks Summit real estate appraiser Robert Vanston said telecommunications antennas have never come up in conversations with his clients at Prudential Preferred Property.

“I haven’t heard anything — any negative repercussions,” he said. “It’s not like a big, massive antenna.”

Joan Kutchmanich isn’t convinced. She also lives on Second Avenue across from St. Michael’s.

“It’s horrible-looking,” she said. “The towers sway when it’s windy.”

Despite the other angles to their fight against the Nextel antennas, the fear of radiation and health problems remains in the forefront of JANA members’ minds.

“If you can’t tell us it’s perfectly safe,” Ms. Durdach said, “why should we want any exposure?”

Contact the writer:
Decision awaited on zoning issue

For now, the cell phone antennas on St. Michael’s School are inactive.

Borough zoning officer Robert Grunza revoked Nextel’s permit and issued a stop-work order last month after he and the borough solicitor realized antennas required a special-exception zoning permit.

Mr. Grunza had mistakenly issued Nextel a permit last year, believing only cell phone towers were regulated by borough code, not antennas.

Nextel had 30 days from the revocation to appeal Mr. Grunza’s decision to the borough Zoning Board.

Nextel attorney Michael Grab said a decision would be coming soon.

Top of Page