Wash.DC Group Fights Cell Towers on School Grounds

Note the picture of increased radiation in a child’s brain being held by the young girl.

Maryland fight against towers at schools






WASHINGTON — More and more cellphone towers are going up on the grounds of schools, but a new group has formed to fight the trend in the D.C. region.

Citizens, homeowners and parents from Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties have formed a group called the Maryland Coalition Against Cell Towers on Schools. They want all cellphone tower construction on school grounds in the state to stop immediately.

They cite the possibility that kids are being exposed to radiation.

“We have no proof of safety, and until we have proof of safety, why would we put it on our children,” said parent Thea Scarato at a news conference Tuesday night in front of the Prince George’s County Board of Education building in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

They’re also concerned about the materials stored at tower sites.

“Cell towers turn school grounds into haz-mat sites, with diesel generators and lead batteries,” said homeowner David Keaton.

The group has put together a list of 25 reasons to keep cell towers off school grounds. List below.

The coalition has launched a petition drive and is looking at other ways to take action.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education has teamed up with Milestone Communications to bring cellphone towers to the grounds of public schools in the state.

Milestone’s website reads: “Our mission is to create recurring revenue opportunities for school systems and increase wireless capacity through developing wireless towers when and where they are needed.”

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25 Reasons 

Cell Towers Have No Business On or Near School Property

by The Maryland Coalition Against Cell Towers on Schools​

We join together as parents, teachers and residents to call for the cancellation of all cell tower contracts on school grounds. 

Our concerns are:

1. Schools should be in the business of education, not radiation.

2. Cell Towers put hazardous materials, lead acid batteries and diesel fuel,  on school grounds.

3. Cell tower equipment emits diesel exhaust increasing air pollution near schools.

4. Schools should not have three cell towers on each site.

5. Schools green space is paved over with cement and trees are cut down for the cell tower.

6. Students and staff should not be made to be constantly exposed to cell tower microwave radiation and put at risk of adverse effects from cumulative long term radiation exposure.

7. School zones should not be hard hat zones as falling and wind-flung ice, equipment, and tools have been determined to cause fatal injuries within cell towers’ fall zones.

8. Students should not be witness to tower worker accidents.

9. Cell towers catch on fire putting students and staff at risk.

10. Cell towers can collapse and schools and students are in the fall zone.

11.Cell towers increase noise pollution on school grounds.

12.Cell Towers are a threat to medical helicopters.

13. Cell tower placement is an environmental justice issue.

14. The public school and Board of Education process for putting in place cell tower leasing contracts lacks transparency.

15. The Community did not have a voice in the decision making process.

16. Cell tower leasing companies are paying to engage BOE members and school decision makers outside of  public view.

17. Cell towers raise serious liability issues not covered in the current contracts.

18. Cell tower companies have not been paying property taxes.

19. Cell Tower Permits are being given without Special Exception Zoning Hearings.

20. The cell tower community notification process is flawed.

21. Communities are not fully informed of what a cell tower will bring to a neighborhood.

22. The stigma caused by cell towers depreciates residential property values adjacent to where the tower is located.

23. Some school system cell tower contracts lack Board of Education signature, which by MD law requires the land owner to approve and sign the contract thus making the executed contracts open to dispute.

24. Cell towers bring unscreened strangers to school playgrounds during school hours.

25. Cell Towers bring dangerous criminal activity to residential  areas. 

1. Schools should be in the business of education, not radiation. 

When schools lease space to a cell tower they are allowing an industrial commercial enterprise on space that should be 100% dedicated to our children’s education. With these leasing deals, the school system moves away from the goal of  supporting our children’s education to becoming a landlord for for-profit corporations who do not share these same goals. 

Under these leases, trees are removed,  nature is paved over by a concrete pad, diesel generators are brought in, fences with no trespassing signs are put up and 16 story cell towers are placed in our children’s view. Should the community decide to consider a new revenue stream involving a commercial entity, then we should consider all the commercial possibilities appropriate to a school setting before choosing the radiation emitting cell tower industry as a revenue stream. Why not a tutoring service, a farmers market or a health clinic? 

2. Cell Towers put hazardous materials, lead acid batteries and diesel fuel directly near children. 

Tower compounds  store hazardous materials on site as specifically noted in the leases.  These hazardous materials can include substantial quantities of lead acid batteries, diesel fuel, and more. Federal, State, and local agencies regulate, classify, and require the permitting of hazardous materials as Hazmat Areas. Regrettably, many of  our schools at which cell towers have already been constructed are  now classified Hazmat areas. 

Toxic materials should not be stored so close to children because accidents can happen and our children will be at risk.  What if a tree falls and damages the diesel fuel tanks or allowing the lead acid batteries to break open? Then our school land will be contaminated requiring a costly cleanup in addition to impacting the health of the children at the school.  What if the cell tower catches on fire and a piece breaks off and causes a fire in the equipment compound when it hits the diesel tanks? These are the risks the community enters into when bringing a cell tower to a school. 

3. Cell tower ground equipment emits carcinogenic diesel exhaust that children and staff will breath in increasing air pollution on school grounds. 

Cell Towers have diesel fuel generators that are regularly  turned on (usually about 45 minutes a week). This  puts diesel fuel exhaust into the air near the compound. Biocides are often added to the fuel to prevent microbial growth and fuel-filter plugging. These emissions from burning fossil fuels contain burnt hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, which add to air pollution and are  known carcinogens and teratogens. If the generator is not in good condition, it can also emit unburnt hydrocarbons, which are even worse for the environment. If each carrier has a generator and there are 5 carriers to a tower that means 5 generators putting diesel exhaust in the air. 

Diesel fuel exhaust is a classified carcinogen by the World Health Organization.  Many communities are working to decrease children’s exposure by putting special filters on school buses and changing out school buses to more environmentally friendly models. The EPA has an initiative to stop school bus idling stating on its webpage that : “Diesel exhaust from excessive idling can affect human health. Diesel exhaust contains significant levels of particles, known as fine particulate matter, which are so small that several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence. These fine particles pose a significant health risk because they can pass through the nose and throat and lodge in the lungs, causing lung damage and premature death. Particulate matter is responsible for thousands of premature deaths across the nation every year. 

The EPA has determined that diesel exhaust is a likely human carcinogen and can contribute to other acute and chronic health concerns (see EPA’s Health Assessment Document for Diesel Exhaust). “People with existing heart or lung disease, asthma, bronchitis or other respiratory problems are most sensitive to the health effects of fine particles. The elderly and children are also at risk. Children are more susceptible to air pollution than healthy adults because their respiratory systems are still developing and they have a faster breathing rate.” Most proposed cell towers are next to athletic fields, tennis courts and outdoor student lounges. 

4. Schools should not have three cell towers on each site. 

Several Counties (Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel) have master leasing agreements stating that a school site can have up to three cell tower compounds constructed in the enclosures. This could mean up to 15 diesel generators per school.

5. Schools green space is paved over with cement and trees are cut down for the cell tower. 

Cell tower compounds require a digging up a significant amount of space and building an access road. This industry takes away from space available to students on public school grounds.  Trees are often cut down  to construct the cell tower compound base and the road. Windows facing the cell tower will view the cell tower compound. Each enclosure results in more paved surfaces. 

6. Students and staff should not be made to be constantly exposed to cell tower microwave radiation and be put at risk from adverse effects from long term daily exposure. 

The World Health Organization classified cell tower radiation which is RF-EMF as a Possible Human Carcinogen in 2011 due to research showing increased brain cancer in those with highest cumulative exposure. Scientists are calling for “more research” to understand the long term effect of  daily exposure to cell tower microwave radiation.  

Many Doctors, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have stated that children are more at risk from this radiation and have called on the FCC to update current US exposure standards.  

RF radiation hazards from transmitting antennas can cause thermal and nonthermal and cognitive/psychological injuries. In addition, a 2012 GAO Report (GAO-12-771) recommended that the FCC update their current RF standards. The recent FCC submissions document Doctor’s statements that current US exposure standards are thousands of times too high to protect human health. Therefore, even if cell tower radiation regulations are met there could be a serious risk to our children’s health.

Children have smaller bodies with developing nervous and  immune systems and research has shown adverse effects on these systems after exposures.  FCC standards were not based on radiation absorption into children’s smaller bodies.  Cell towers increase the levels of RF-radiation children will be exposed to on a daily basis. Current FCC standards did not consider chronic exposure nor non thermal effects nor children’s vulnerabilities. The radiation levels from a tower are highest in the vicinity of the tower (meaning the school and nearby homes). 

A recent study detailed genetic damage in residents living in the vicinity of a tower adding to accumulated research showing that this radiation can cause damage to the nervous, immune and reproductive systems in addition to increased cancer risk.  The World Health Organization and respected medical organizations are all calling for more research. With the full magnitude of long term health effects still unknown we do not want to put our children’s future at risk. We want proof of safety. 

7. School zones should not be hard hat zones. Falling and wind-flung ice, equipment, and tools cause fatal injuries within cell towers’ fall zones.

In February 2014, OSHA issued an alert about cell tower deaths. In its message it indicated that within just the past few months, “tower workers have been injured and killed by falling objects, equipment failure, and the structural collapse of towers” declaring the tragedies to be “very real hazards to protect against.” Clearly, the threat of strikes to children, school staff, and members of the public by falling objects from cell towers at schools is exponentially greater than that to cell tower workers.

Debris or ice can fall or be wind‐flung from cell towers or their attachments and pose strike hazards. So concludes the experts ATC (Atlantic Technology Consultants), the firm retained by Loudoun County, Virginia, which issued recommendations concerning telecommunications towers for health, safety, and welfare of the public. ATC states that “all towers are dangerous for falling objects,” and goes on to discuss that when “an object such as an antenna, chunk of ice, equipment or tower appurtenances fall, that they may cause damage or injury to the public.”The formula for establishing the radius of the Danger Zone or Fall Zone is the height of the cell tower + 10%. Only a few workers tend to be on the ground, within the danger/fall zone, and exposed to strikes by falling tools or objects during tower and antenna work at any one time, and they are or should be wearing appropriate protective clothing. By contrast, cell towers at schools can be expected to have sizable numbers of people to be within the danger/fall zone and exposed to strike hazards during maintenance: at play, in or observing competitions, or gathered to watch workers’ activities. Those larger numbers of people could end up like proverbial sitting ducks. For an excellent example of far flung ice from a cell tower please see this video by a resident. Furthermore, by virtue of their frequent use of playgrounds and fields, their smaller body mass, and their incomplete brain development, young children would be expected to be among the most vulnerable to suffer a catastrophic strike.

8. Students should not be witness to tower worker deaths and accidents.

According to the US Labor Department, the  rate of cell tower worker accidents has sharply risen over the last few years as towers are being built at a rapid pace with minimal regulations and worker safeguards in place .  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  is currently investigating  the “alarming increase in preventable injuries and fatalities at communication tower work sites.” 

In 2013 the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers wrote the FCC in 2013 that “ensuring compliance with existing FCC RF human exposure limits by the FCC licensee is not effective and cannot/is not being enforced.” Concerned about the health of their workers they state “When there is a hazard, the hazard creator has a duty to warn others against the hazard.” 

The EM Radiation Policy Institute wrote the FCC in 2013 with documentation of Failure to Regulate Antennas and the Lack of FCC Monitoring of Compliance with FCC RF Safety Policies stating that “the FCC does not monitor compliance and does not take any effective enforcement action against violators.”  The cell tower industry has a poor track record for safety, compliance and safety, so  why would we place it on our school property?  Children will be witness to these industrial accidents when a cell tower is on school grounds. Even if they do not witness the actual event, they will witness the aftermath of ambulances, fire trucks and school upheaval.

9. Cell towers catch on fire putting students and staff at risk.

There are several reports around the country of towers catching on fire resulting in evacuations of the fall zone around towers. Dr. David Stupin, retired physicist from the Los Alamos National Lab compiled this list of of cell tower fires and collapses. Another list can be found here. 

10. Cell towers can collapse and schools and students are in the fall zone. 

There are reports around the country of towers or parts of towers falling or at risk of falling requiring evacuations around the fall zone. Children’s play space  and school buildings are in the “fall zone” of these towers. 

11. Cell towers increase noise pollution on school grounds. 

The diesel generators are noisy. While they are set to meet county noise ordinances, they still add to the cumulative noise exposure on school grounds. Some tower plans have these compounds located directly near athletic fields or outside classroom windows. There are no protections or stipulations in the leases that state the generators will be on during non school hours. They are often turned on remotely and so children may be playing sports or standing just a few feet away during the time they are on.

12. Cell Towers are a threat to medical helicopters.

School playing fields are often emergency landing locations for helicopters, but a cell tower on site makes these fields a potentially dangerous place to land. Recent reports on helicopter accidents show that the number of fatal flights has risen sharply due to obstacles such as cell towers and power lines.

13. Cell tower placement is an environmental justice issue.

Cell towers are disproportionately placed in neighborhoods with higher numbers of minorities and students needing free and reduced meals. In Montgomery County, for example, cell towers are overwhelmingly placed in schools referred to as “Red Zone” schools.  Superintendent Jerry Weast’s divided the county into the Red Zone and the Green Zone with the Red Zone schools having higher numbers of minorities, and high ESOL and FARMS rates.  The majority of cell towers on MCPS schools are on RED zone schools. Prince George’s County now has 73 schools as “available cell tower sites” with several quickly moving forward to the construction stage. 

14. The public school and Board of Education process for putting in place cell tower leasing contracts lacks transparency. 

We have several examples where the public was not provided information in a timely fashion to be able to comment.  Communities are often surprised to learn a tower is being constructed and at that point it is too late to voice concerns. For example, the public was unable to comment on the Prince George’s County Cell Tower agreement nor ascertain the terms of the cell tower leasing deal because the Board of Education did not release the proposed Master Lease prior to their vote on November 11, 2010.  The public was not informed that such an important decision was being made that would affect the community as a whole. That lease is still is unavailable to the public and we needed a Public Information request to get it. 

 As a second example, the Cell Tower at Julius West was defeated in 2006 with a petition (handwritten, not online) signed by 325 residents. Now in 2014 Verizon is again interested in having their tower installed, and despite Rockville residents stating their continued opposition, Montgomery County Schools seems to be moving forward with the cell tower.  Residents were the last to know. 

15. The Community did not have a voice in the decision making process.

Due to the lack of transparency, communities did not have a voice in the decision to bring cell towers to the schools.  They were not even aware such an issue was on the table. By the time they became informed, permits were already in place. Communities are stating they do not want a tower but it is too late. When such an important decision is being made, all stakeholders should have a place at the table. 

16. Cell tower leasing companies are paying to engage BOE members and school decision makers outside of the public view. 

As an example, Milestone is an  “affiliate” of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education  (MABE) which sponsors a conference every year that Board members use taxpayer money to attend.  MABE has been “partnering” with companies that have things to “sell” to Boards of Education. Milestone is listed under Partnership services as a “community friendly approach to wireless communications.”According to the MABE website, “Affiliates are able to reach key decision makers with information about products and services through our publications, website, sponsorships opportunities, and conference exhibit hall.”  We understand that Milestone attends the conference and sets up in the vendor room and even hosts “panel sessions” that BOE members attend. Does this sound like a paid commercial that the public cannot watch? 

Taxpayers fund the conference but don’t have access. Why do citizens get three minutes at a Board of Education meeting to air their concerns and cell tower companies get an entire weekend? MABE keeps the company name in our decision makers mind. When Counties sign leasing deals with Milestone, it is considered “news” such as in this MABE newsletter.  Why is this news? Does this “news” have anything to do with best practices in schools or training for effective and efficient governance?  We wonder how much money a corporation has to pay to gain such access. Why are cell tower companies considered by MABE to be appropriate “revenue streams“ for schools? Why not a fast food restaurant, a coal burning plant or gas station on schools as a revenue stream for schools? 

17. Cell towers raise serious liability issues not covered in the current contracts.

If children develop health issues from this long term exposure , what recourse do parents have? For example, the Prince George’s County master leasing agreement states that the cell tower company must hold a  minimum liability of One Million Dollars  per personal injury or death or per claim for any property damage and Two Million Dollars for personal injury or death of two or more persons in any one occurrence.  This is a small amount of money for hundreds of students.  If long term exposure results in increased cancers  and long term research confirms the link already established by the World Health Organizations there will be hundreds of court cases.  Liability cases could bankrupt the school system because schools have been served with information warning of serious harm and did not act. Where is the independent legal review? Where is the Independent engineering review?  Who is liable for future damages? Is the cell tower provider or the carriers or the signatories of the contract liable? 

Pre and Post measurements of  RF levels is essential to determine the health and environmental impact of the increased radiation. Measurements need to be done by independent RF engineers, not industry engineers. Regular annual monitoring (paid for by the carriers, not the school system)  should be required at all cell tower sites for liability protection. Annual proof of insurance by the carriers needs to be made as a contract clause. Failure to substantiate proof of liability protection should constitute revocation of any permit.

In February 2013, AM Best classified RF (radio frequency) radiation from wireless antennas as an “Emerging Technology-Based Risk.”  Typical site leases include a mutual indemnification clause, which would appear to protect the landlords from personal injuries that may be caused by the  commercial wireless service providers  antennas. However to enforce the indemnity provision, the landlords must demonstrate that the primary cause of injury was the fault of the  commercial wireless service providers.

Assuming that all of the liability issues are not defined clearly in cell tower contracts and addressed accordingly, this situation must be addressed and resolved by insurance coverage provided by the cell tower supplier to indemnify the school and all pupils, teachers, and any other persons who are exposed to the cell tower infrastructure risks. This situation or lack of attention to the full risk issues is a failure of the governmental body that accepted and signed the cell tower contract, lease or otherwise, as a full risk assessment and exposure analysis, if completed would have addressed insurance requirements, and the indemnification requirements before a cell tower contract would have been accepted.

18. Cell towers have not been paying property taxes.

Under Maryland’s tax code, cell towers located on public property are required to pay property taxes.  However, cell towers on public school playgrounds, like the Milestone cell tower on the Broadneck High School site in Anne Arundel County have been not paying property taxes.  Cell towers in Maryland can effectively hide in plain site on public school playgrounds by using the public school’s tax identification number on their building permits.  The State Department of Taxation and Assessments (SDAT)  is none the wiser and the towers can go years without paying property taxes.  That is exactly what happened in Montgomery County. Several  cell towers were able to hide on public school playgrounds for 10 years until they were  reported  to SDAT. By the time the towers were assigned their own property tax identification numbers and bills were issued 7 years of property taxes were lost. SDAT can only bill for 3 years of back property taxes and can never recover the 7 years of property taxes that went unpaid. 

19. Cell Tower Permits are failing to go through the  Special Exception Zoning Hearings despite meeting the Special Exception Criteria.

Cell Tower Permits are being granted without Public Notice and Public Hearings. As an example,  in Prince George’s County, cell towers are going up in residential zoned areas without a special exception hearing despite the code mandating it.  Prince George’s  County Code states  no special exception is needed if there are 4 or fewer visits to cell tower compound.  Yet, the leases for these towers state there will be a minimum of 4 visits per year.  If you add in the appropriate maintenance schedule one ends up with  well over 4 visits by workers a year. We certainly would not want heavy machinery on site that was not being properly maintained. 

Each carrier has its own maintenance team coming to work on the tower. Each carrier has it’s own back up generator. Add in the regular refueling of each diesel tank  and of course cell towers will have far more than 4 visits a year. Thus, they fall under the requirements for a Special Exception. Yet the special exception process  is being denied. Prince George’s County is failing to follow  it’s own code. Without the special exception process, communities have little  voice in tower placements in residential areas. 

20. The cell tower community notification process is flawed. 

The community is largely uninformed of the eminent construction of these towers .While legal requirements may have technically been followed, most citizens are still unaware of the fact that cell towers are coming to their school or neighborhood. As an example, the PGCPS Tasker School website   tower announcement was supposedly the method of communicating the tower plans to Tasker parents.  Yet the last time we looked at the website the announcement did not exist. Every parent we talked to  stated they were not aware of the tower. Residents in the Tasker area were not aware of the tower issue when Coalition members went knocking on doors.  This school’s story is repeated across the state. PTA’s are not even made aware of the issue in a timely fashion. Communities are not being properly informed. 

21. Communities are not fully informed of what a cell tower will bring to a neighborhood. 

Residents and community members are not informed that tower workers will have 24 hour access to the site and be pulling up in trucks to the site as needed. They are not informed that trees will be cut down and grass paved over. They are not informed that hazardous materials such as diesel generators would be on site and turned on regularly. They are not informed that these towers emit radiation that “needs more research.”

Communities have been given misleading presentations, for example the City of Bowie was told that wireless radiation has been “deemed safe” in a presentation. However, no medical organization states that wireless is “safe”. 

Here is what major organizations state:

“Scientists continue to study the effects of long-term exposure to low levels of RF.” 

EPA Webpage 8/20/14

“The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF radiation as a “possible human carcinogen.” (A carcinogen is an agent that causes cancer.) Scientists are continuing to study the possible health effects… For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently looking into how cell phones may affect: Some types of tumors, Our eyes, Sleep, Memory, Headaches, Acoustic Neuroma. –Centers for Disease Control Webpage 8/20/2014

“Being exposed to some kinds of EMF may have some bad effects on humans, but scientists do not know for sure. Because of this, NIEHS recommends that people learn practical ways of reducing exposures to EMFs.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Webpage Pollute/EMF

​“The electromagnetic radiation standards used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continue to be based on thermal heating, a criterion now nearly 30 years out of date and inapplicable today.” – The U.S. Department of Interior in a 2014 Letter stating that FCC RF guidelines are ‘not protective of wildlife’ and do not protect organisms from RF effects. The full text of the letter and citations are available at: http://1.usa.gov/1jn3CZg

Communities should be told this information so they can make an informed decision about this issue. 

22. The stigma caused by cell towers depreciates residential property values adjacent to where the tower is located. 

Across the entire United States, both real estate appraisers and real estate brokers have rendered professional opinions that support what common sense dictates.  When large cell towers are installed close to residential homes, such homes suffer material losses in value, which typically range anywhere from 5% to 20%. The stigma of a nearby cell tower decreases property value in the vicinity regardless of “proof” of harm.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires its appraisers to take cell towers into consideration when determining the value of a single family residential property and  HUD guidelines categorize cell towers with “hazards and nuisances.”  

23. Some school system cell tower contracts lack a Board of Education signature, which by MD law requires the land owner to approve and sign the contract thus making the executed contracts open to dispute. 

As an example, In Prince George’s County, CEO Kevin Maxwell’s recently signed  a cell tower lease for Flowers High School. However the Telecommunications Leasing Master Agreement dated Feb. 7 2011 that the Board voted on in 2010 was with MILESTONE COMMUNICATIONS MANAGEMENT llI, INC whereas, the individual leases currently being signed with PGCPS are with  MILESTONE TOWER LIMITED PARTNERSHIP. These are two different companies. The Board did not authorize this change.  Under Section 9.1 of the Telecommunications Leasing Master Agreement that assignment could not be made without prior consent of the School Board. Therefore, it is debatable as to whether CEO Kevin Maxwell is authorized to sign it.

24. Cell towers bring unscreened strangers to public school playgrounds during school hours.

Maintenance workers are allowed 24/7 access to the compound and can drive in with trucks at any time. We have several examples of white trucks pulling up on playgrounds with no process for checking in being followed. Parents and teachers have no way of knowing if these workers  are safe to be around children. 

25. Cell Towers bring dangerous criminal activity to residential  areas. 

There has been a sharp increase in cell tower component related thefts. These thefts then  lead to dangerous conditions around the tower because the machinery has been damaged. The electronic components used in cell phone towers are made out of copper.  Since the price of copper is  increasing,  so are the cases of thefts of copper ground wire.  When these copper pieces are taken, the tower is no longer properly grounded and if there is a lighting strike, the electronics “could fry” asstated by Johnson County (KA) district attorney Steve Howe  in 2014 after his District formed a  tri county task force due to the high number of cell tower copper thefts in the state.  With cell towers near schools, the area becomes a magnet for these thieves and could result in a potentially dangerous situation.


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