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Pittsfield Board of Health to Conduct Cell Tower Abutter Questionnaire
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:11AM / Tuesday, November 09, 2021
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The Board of Health is hoping to surveil the neighborhood around the South Street tower to see who might be affected by it. Some abutters say they're fine with the tower and with the permitting process it went through four years ago.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health plans to conduct a questionnaire to quantify any symptoms that residents near the South Street cell tower say they are experiencing.
 
At the board's meeting last week, interim Director of Public Health Andy Cambi agreed to form the questionnaire including locations and symptoms after member Bobbie Orsi called for further documentation of those reporting effects from the Verizon tower.
 
"We're never going to show a direct causation, but it would be really interesting to know is it five people or is it 40 people?" she said. "And what are the kind of common symptoms, and I think it would just be good information for us to have."
 
Orsi recognized that she is late to the game, as she recently re-joined the board and was voted as chair at the meeting. Nonetheless, she felt that one solid document with the information will better inform the Health Department and possibly drive further conversation.
 
Member Kimberly Loring recalled that from the beginning, people were asked to contact the Health Department with reports, and they were keeping track of the calls. The department had originally hoped that the state Department of Public Health would investigate it as a cluster, she explained, but the state was not interested in doing that.
 
Orsi said she would call the DPH and see if it would be interested in helping form the survey.
 
"One of the biggest challenges is when you have something like a toxin that's still under investigation, and I understand this from what we went through with the PCB thing eons ago, people think, not that you're making it up, but, but there is that that you may not necessarily think that the impact is as real as it is,"  Orsi added.
 
"So, I think it's always nice to capture that, we did a map with pins in it, and it was a great visual, so I just think that if there was something that we could capture, just anecdotally, so that people could write down, and we could somehow quantify what's going on in that neighborhood, it would be more helpful, it would be better data than what we have now."
 
The board asked Alma Street resident Courtney Gilardi's thoughts on the questionnaire. She has relocated because of the cell tower and has advocated for its removal since it was built over a year ago.  
 
Gilardi said there have been five houses sold in her area, so she is wondering how relevant the survey may be, as there are people who have moved from larger cities where electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure is more common and AirBnB renters.
 
She though the small size of her neighborhood perhaps would not yield a lot of information.
 
"We know that we have about 20 people who have come forward because we have their testimony," Gilardi said. "We have written letters, we have people turning up to Board of Health and City Council and Community Development meetings, so we have that information captured."
 
Though she was skeptical, Gilardi wasn't against looking deeper into residents' symptoms and offered her help to Orsi in contacting DPH.
 
Also in this meeting, Cambi announced that the Health Department received an independent study that was done by Verizon on the EMF levels that, similar to the former study that was done by the city, found that the levels were within Federal Communications Commission limits.
 
Cambi is hoping to coordinate a followup meeting with Verizon to bring forward the request to remove the tower or have it relocated. In a past meeting, Verizon representatives did not take the considerations off the table but said it would be "unlikely" for that to happen.
 
He hopes to have that scheduled at the end of November and to have an update by the next meeting.
 
The City Council is also taking up the cell tower issue. At the end of October, the panel voted to send a letter to Attorney General Maura Healey requesting an investigation on its permitting process.
 
This is also a matter before the appeals court.
 
But not all residents are opposed to the cell tower.
 
Lori Court resident Lewis Schiller defended the permitting process related to the tower's construction just to the west of his street. Schiller also said he and his direct neighbors were properly notified and have not had any of the reported symptoms.
 
Schiller is pleased with the improved cell service and says some of the claims about improper permitting were not true. At the start of the permitting process, he did have questions and received extensive answers in response that satisfied his queries.
 
He welcomed further investigation into the process on the basis that he believes no flaws will be found.
 
"I attended the original Zoning Board of Appeals meeting and spoke, and a couple of my other neighbors came with and didn't speak," Schiller explained. "I discussed this with the other abutters. We all received notices. Some of the statements that have been said about the process, that it was underhanded and deceitful, I find very disturbing."
 
He provided documentation from the ZBA hearing on the tower that occurred on Nov. 15, 2017. In the meeting minutes, Schiller is recorded expressing concerns about visibility, electrical interference, and construction impacts with the project.
 
During the ZBA meeting, he also asked that a beacon be placed on the tower due to its proximity to the airport and the amount of helicopter traffic seen in the area as well as that the proposed access gate be constructed to minimize it being bypassed by all-terrain vehicles.
 
"Leading up to that meeting, I sent a number of questions to the zoning board that they forwarded on to Verizon and their engineering, and I got extensive answers to all the different questions," he said.
 
"Because when this first came up, I didn't know how I felt about it. I proceeded to do considerable research, I spoke to some engineers that I know about this, I started spending a bunch of time trying to Google research and studies that have been done, which are all inconclusive at best. These are peer-review studies that I was looking at because I wanted to find out because I say my kitchen window is 500 feet from this tower."
 
He added that none of his studies have found conclusive causes and effects from EMF radiation.
 
Included in the documentation Schiller provided to iBerkshires, was the ZBA abutter notification from Oct. 26, 2017, which states that Verizon requested a special permit to allow the construction of a 115-foot tower at 877 South St. in an R-43 zoning district.
 
It also notified abutters of the public hearing on Nov. 15.
 
Another issue that Schiller posed with the situation is a lack of identification for who will pay to move the tower.
 
"I don't know that anyone's answered that question," he said. "I got the original notice, because of my construction experience, and I like many people have hiked back into that area, I knew instantly exactly where they were going to put the tower, I think I was off by about 100 feet."
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