The approval of a cellphone tower on the campus of Angeline Academy of Innovation has again raised issues over the proper placement of such towers and whether more care should be taken when deciding where to locate them.
The Pasco County Commission approved the request for a conditional use request, clearing the way for a 154-foot above-ground monopole wireless communications tower on the northeast side of Angeline School Way, about one-half mile north of Ridge Road.
The site is owned by Pasco County Schools, and the applicant for the cell tower request is Vertex Development LLC.
The board’s 3-0 approval came despite a parent’s request to move the tower a greater distance away from the Angeline magnet school, which is at 8916 Angeline School Way, in Land O’ Lakes.
The magnet school ultimately will have sixth- through 12th-graders on the campus.
Robin Patel, who described herself as a parent, scientist and community member, said her primary concern is the health risk such towers can pose to people from prolonged exposure to radiofrequency (RF) radiation.
In this case, students will be exposed for six hours per school day, for up to seven years, she said.
“I have two children in the school district. One in elementary school and one currently at Angeline.
“I’m also interested because I’m a scientist. I have my PhD in biomedical sciences, and while my expertise is not in wireless communications, I have about 15 years doing research on human health, disease and biological systems.
“It should be noted that Angeline is a very tall, four-story building, with student classrooms on all levels. The upper floors are significantly closer to the antennas, compared to the ground level,” she said.
She also noted that “the strength and type of radiation that will be coming from this tower is not known. Proper cellphone tower placement is necessary to limit possible health effects and liability.”
“In the current research, cellphone towers would be cautiously placed 500 meters or about a third of a mile away from schools,” Patel said, but in the case of the Angeline tower, it is about 100 meters away from student classrooms.
Patel also pointed to a statement on the American Cancer Society’s website that says most expert organizations agree that more research is needed on the issue, especially for any long-term effects.
Patel did not request that the cell tower be eliminated, but simply relocated.
“Cellphone towers are a way of life and coverage is needed in the Angeline area, I agree.
“But we need to be thoughtful about where those cell towers are placed to achieve that coverage.
“Until we are sure there are no negative health effects on children’s growing bodies, we should not be placing cellphone towers near student areas,” she said. “Instead, place towers along roadways, fields or other unpopulated areas.”
Mary Solik, an attorney representing Vertex Development, told the county board: “I understand the sincerity of Miss Patel’s comments, but we meet all of the siting requirements that are set forth in your code and the (federal) Telecommunications Act has determined that local governments are preempted on the issue of the health effects of the towers. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulates that and you’re not allowed to approve or deny or regulate the placement of towers based on their health effects, no matter how sincere Miss Patel’s comments may be. The FCC has just taken that away from you and they regulate it.”
Solik also noted that the distance between the corner of the school building and the tower location is 389 feet.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey acknowledged that the board is preempted from considering health concerns. But she added: “I just want to say something to the school district. You know, we keep hearing this and I think it’s part of the 5G scare that’s out there, that people say they didn’t test enough.
“It would be better for us, if you would, when you start laying out your school sites, if you plan for your cell tower site. It could have been on the other side of that pond.”
Commissioner Ron Oakley agreed with Starkey’s suggestion that the school district plan for cell towers on its campuses to be farther away from its school buildings.
Published November 01, 2023