Retired Athletic Coach Fights Cell Tower in MA

Lexington —

When Dave Walko retired, he planned to move to Lexington and live a quiet life with his wife Sophia.

Seven years ago, he purchased a fourth-floor unit in the Muzzey High Condominium complex at 1475 Massachusetts Ave. after interviewing with the Lexington Housing Assistance Board (LexHAB). The former director of athletic development for Boston University, Walko was an athlete in his own right.

“I was playing international basketball (on the over-40 Team Watertown). I was in prime shape and I was doing fine,” said Walko, now 64.

Soon after moving in, Walko discovered there was a network of cell antennas “hidden in the cupola” — the dome rising from the roof about 40 feet from his bedroom. Three years later, he developed cancer, which he believes was related to exposure to the cell tower.

Walko beat his cancer in 2007 but said living so near to the cell tower has exacerbated an existing condition. Walko, who is hypersensitive to the frequencies emitted by cell phones and computers, said he cannot use a cell phone or sit at a computer without experiencing discomfort, with symptoms ranging from headaches to atrial fibrillations.

“It’s terrifying,” he said. “You shouldn’t have things mounted where people are living 40 feet away.”

Walko said had he known about the existence of the cell tower, he never would have moved in. “Why wouldn’t [LexHAB] disclose this?” he said.

Representatives from LexHAB could not be reached for comment.

Walko said he feels unsafe in his own home and nobody in the community is doing anything to help him. So he is taking matters into his own hands.

Walko has filed an appeal in Middlesex Superior Court alleging the Lexington Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) failed to adhere to the town’s zoning bylaw in a May decision to grant AT&T a permit to add three more antennas, in addition to three already installed in the building’s cupola. The cupola also houses antennas for cellular providers T-Mobile and MetroPCS, according to Jim Goell, chairman of Lexington’s Communications Advisory Committee (CAC).

Cell towers in Lexington

There are currently more than 40 towers located in Lexington, Goell said. According to Town Manager Carl Valente, the seven towers on town-owned land generated $291,969 in fiscal 2010.

Since 1995, telecommunications companies have had the opportunity to lease space from the town, as well as private property owners, to locate cell towers and equipment. Planning Board Chairman Richard Canale wrote the bylaw.

“At the time … there were a lot of questions in terms of the safety part of it and the nuisance part of it,” Canale said. “There are radiation limits that the companies need to pay attention to. All we can do is ensure that the federal standards are being adhered to.”

Will Keyser, a spokesman for AT&T Wireless in New England, said the antennas deliver stronger and faster networks for customers.

“We work very closely with the communities in which we seek to expand high-speed broadband service,” Keyser said.

Goell said the CAC reviews all proposals to locate cell equipment to ensure compliance with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations. The application is also reviewed by the Design Advisory Committee, which considers design and aesthetic impact.

“This is standard equipment. [The applying companies] know very well what the regulations are. It’s unlikely they would [go over the limits for radiofrequency (RF) exposure],” he said. “But no one’s watching them so who knows.”

Keyser said all RF wave levels are monitored and comply with industry standards.

“We follow very closely the guidelines that have been established by the FCC regarding safety,” he said.

Architectural plans submitted by AT&T and its subcontractors to the ZBA advise all workers to wear RF exposure monitors due to “dangerous exposure levels” of electromagnetic radiation while working near the antennas. Keyser said he couldn’t address the safety measure as it applies to third-party contractors, adding: “There have been extensive studies regarding the safety of wireless technology.”

Muzzey tower

In 1996, the Muzzey High Condominium Trust signed an agreement with AT&T to allow it to lease space for the tower. Walko believes the agreement violates a stipulation in the deed stating the building is “to be used solely for resident purposes.”

Hans Marr, president of the trust, said he could not speak to the clause because it was written before he joined the trust. Marr said the trust only permitted AT&T to come in after confirming the RF levels met industry standards.

“This is a concern, of course,” he said. “We had done two readings through the whole building and we wanted to make sure they were within the federal and state limits. They are 200 percent below the allowable state limits.”

Marr would not disclose how much revenue the trust is collecting through their contract with AT&T.

In addition to condos, the Muzzey building also houses the Lexington Senior Center on the lower levels. Valente said the town’s rights, in terms of the cell tower, are restricted to that of a tenant.

“The Board of Appeals hears the issue and grants a special permit,” he said. “We were notified of the hearing as a tenant but we have no more or fewer rights than any other.”

Director of Human Services Charlotte Rodgers, who oversees the senior center, said she hasn’t heard any concerns from seniors.

“We are responsible for the health and safety of those who attend [the senior center] but there has been nothing released by our public health department that gives us concern to think that we are not meeting health and safety needs,” Rodgers said.

Health concerns

Regardless of FCC standards, Walko believes the accumulation of radiation over time has had a deleterious effect on his health and threatens the wellbeing of his fellow tenants.

“In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, did I have a faster-moving cancer or a slower one because I was this close to the tower? Did that affect my situation? Did that put me over the top?” he said.

In May, the World Health Organization classified radiation from cell phones as possibly carcinogenic. According to the WHO website, the issue merits further research to determine the risk of brain cancer by those who use cell phones for longer than 15 years. [Correction: up to 10 years of using cell phones 30 minutes a day.]

Lexington Health Director Gerard Cody said his concern is exposure to RF wave radiation from antennas, not local cell towers.

“This is [the] general agreement in the scientific studies that the RF radiation emitted from cellular phone towers antennas is far too low to cause health risks as long as people are kept away [from] the antenna itself,” Cody wrote in an email. “It is the antenna that people need to keep away from, not the tower. As with all forms of radiation, the strength of the radiation fields decreases rapidly as one moves away from the source.”

According to Cody, the FCC recommends a maximum exposure level to RF waves of 580 microwatts per square centimeter — to exceed those guidelines would mean an individual must be “very close to and in front of the antennas.” He added RF levels at the ground level are “thousands of times” less than the limits advised by the FCC.

For Walko, moving farther away from the antennas is not an option.

“I have no choice, because I’m disabled and I have challenges getting a mortgage,” he said. “Even if I found another option, I wouldn’t run away from this.”

Walko’s appeal

Walko contends the ZBA made errors, which he details in his appeal, during hearings on the AT&T proposal held in April and May.

“There’s no transparency in these procedures,” Walko said. “It’s a group pandering to the cell phone industry. They’re not concerned for the citizens; it’s like a backroom kind of thing.”

At the April 28 ZBA meeting, Walko presented a letter from his endocrinologist concerning his episodes with atrial fibrillation. He told the board he was experiencing episodes that may have been caused by “wave frequency emitted by the [antennas],” according to meeting minutes.

ZBA Chairman Nyles Barnert said health and safety concerns are not within the board’s purview during the permitting process.

“[Walko] was aware that he couldn’t talk about health and safety,” Barnert said. “We basically have to follow the zoning bylaw and we have to look at things like what the appearance is … In this case, [the antenna enhancement] is hidden. There’s no problem there. There’s no noise or odor. And that’s all we’re allowed to look at.”

Walko recognizes he is facing an uphill battle but said he hopes his efforts will raise awareness of the dangers of exposure to RF waves, particularly in children.

“What’s really at the forefront of this is the children,” he said. “They’re so vulnerable.”

Samantha Allen can be reached at 781-674-7722 or


Read more: Lexington resident raises concerns about cell tower exposure – Lexington, MA – Lexington Minuteman


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