FCC asked to remove cell tower near school Staten Island

FCC asked to order removal of mobile phone antennas near a
parochial school on Staten Island

by Staten Island Advance
Friday April 03, 2009, 1:14 AM
Photo at right: The Dunkin' Donuts in strip mall across from Our Lady Star of the Sea School in Huguenot bristles with cell phone sector antennas that, according to studies, send low levels of radiation into classrooms.

Passionate parents gathered last night in Our Lady Star of the Sea School, Huguenot, to discuss concerns and vent frustrations about cell phone antennas on the parish property and an adjacent strip mall, and the effects of emitted radiation on the schoolchildren.

Close to 200 people attended the emergency meeting, which was called in response to two studies conducted on the school's grounds to test for radiation.

"Where my son sits to learn, I don't need his brain being cooked," Nicholas Cammarato, 33, of Annadale, pleaded with the church pastor, Monsignor Jeff Conway.

Sprint currently has nine antennas atop the school's gymnasium, installed five years ago as part of a 12-year contract.

The adjacent strip mall on Huguenot Avenue has multiple T-Mobile antennas on top of a Dunkin' Donuts, and Verizon plans to install 12 more.

The independent studies, funded by Sprint, were conducted in January and showed that radiation detected in the building was being emitted from the Huguenot strip mall antennas.

State Assemblyman Lou Tobacco and City Councilman Vincent Ignizio said they filed a complaint yesterday with the Federal Communications Commission about their concerns regarding Our Lady Star of the Sea. They hope the agency will order the antennas moved.

According to the studies, the radiation levels are still considered safe in accordance with FCC standards, Monsignor Conway said.

However, many parents believe their children are still at risk.

"This house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of robbers," said Cammarato to Monsignor Conway, quoting the Bible.

Cammarato was referring to the contract with Sprint, which pays the school about $13,000 a year and the Archdiocese of New York about $15,000.

The meeting was conducted by County Clerk Stephen Fiala, who has relatives in the school.

Along with Fiala and Monsignor Conway, the panel comprised Tobacco (R-South Shore); Ignizio (R-South Shore); Meagan Devereaux, Borough President James Molinaro's chief of staff; Robert Englert, land use director for the office of the borough president; David S. Brown, director, and Ed Newman, assistant director, Archdiocese of New York Real Estate Division, and other school officials.

Suggestions made last night for remedying the problem of the cell phone towers included initiating a class-action lawsuit; starting a fund to raise money in order to break the contract with Sprint and cover the $500,000 fine incurred; building a wall between the church grounds and the strip mall, and temporarily relocating the several classrooms affected and the exposed outdoor play area.

"It's not unsafe for our children, but I don't want it," Monsignor Conway said of the cell phone towers.

As a remedy, Monsignor Conway has ordered reflective metal screens to be placed on the windows of affected classrooms.

He noted that the ongoing construction of the replacement church also will lead to radiation waves being blocked.

Tobbaco announced he is co-sponsoring a bill that would require landlords to seek input from the community before installing cell towers.

And, Tobacco and Ignizio both contacted the FCC asking that the strip mall be inspected for cell phone tower compliance.

The owner of the mall, Salvatore Riggio, has declined to comment, except to say that all of the antennas are legal and have permits.

Stephen Paolino, 38, of Bulls Head, noted that studies judging the effects of smoking, asbestos and post-9/11 air quality in downtown Manhattan to be benign all were later proved to be incorrect.

"We want all the towers gone," shouted Rosaria Ferrara, 35, of Huguenot, to much applause.

Danny Gerrity, 49, of Huguenot, and Sal Adragna, 37, of Tottenville, both cited studies claiming children are more susceptible than adults to radiation.

"I'd like to hear from a doctor and there are no doctors on this panel," said Adragna. "I no longer have 100 percent confidence in this school."

Many parents agreed that the rules and guidelines set forth in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 are outdated, given new technologies and the proliferation of cell phones and cell towers.

The idea that garnered the most applause came from John Tabacco, 41, of Annadale, former candidate for City Council from the North Shore.

His proposition was to have a parishioner who works as a general contractor cut the Sprint antennas off the school building and allow the company to sue the church, forcing the Archdiocese of New York to come to the parish's defense. He noted the money paid out by the Roman Catholic Church for other lawsuits.

"My daughter is already signed up at another school," Giulianna Varca, 38, of Huguenot, told the Advance following the meeting. "I thought it was important to keep her in and let her say goodbye to her friends. But come September, she will no longer be here."

-- Contributed by Doug Auer