STARKS — As the town considers the possible construction of a telecommunications tower, some residents say they are concerned about the possibility that the tower would pose a threat to the health of them, their children and the area’s farmland.

Today, Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic doctor from Manchester, spoke to a group of residents about some potential health effects of wireless radiation.

Sulak said that there are not many studies related to the effect of cell towers on health, but thermal radiation can be traced to cellphones.

Thermal radiation, which is generated by the motion of charged particles of matter, can be absorbed by the body. Prolonged exposure to that radiation, as opposed to non-thermal, produces “heat shock proteins” to absorb the energy and causes the release of calcium ions from cell membranes, Sulak said.

The calcium acts as a metabolic stimulant which accelerates growth and healing but can also promote the growth of tumors and DNA membrane damage, he said.

He did say that children and pregnant mothers are more susceptible to the effects of radiation, even if cell carriers are adhering to federal laws limiting the frequency of radio waves in proximity to a tower.

“Whether it is a cell tower or something else, we have to be careful of what is in our environment,” said Sulak.

The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits municipalities from making decisions on the construction of a telecommunications tower based on health concerns.

“We’re not really able to legally consider health effects, but there are a lot of questions for us. I’d love to say its fine, but I have two children and we live 1,000 feet away,” said Elizabeth Smedberg, a resident of Abijah Hill Road, the site of the proposed tower.

Smedberg, who has lead opposition to the cellphone tower being proposed by Massachusetts-based Bay Communications II LLC, said today that the concerns she has heard from residents include infertility and cancer as well as small things like sleeplessness and anxiety.

The proposed tower has become a controversial issue in the town of about 650 people since the company filed a building application with the planning board on June 6. A vote on a cellphone tower moratorium ordinance that was proposed by 38 residents is scheduled to be voted on at a meeting Thursday.

Tuesday, electmen sent a notice to residents encouraging them to vote against the moratorium, saying that the town, including its public safety departments, could benefit from improved cellphone coverage.

Smedberg said that the meeting on health effects was held to inform voters who may base their decisions on those concerns, even if the town can’t.

The American Cancer Society states on its website that there is little information to support the idea that living, working or going to school near a cellphone tower increases the risk of cancer or other health problems.

The World Health Organization has taken a similar stance, saying that cellphones and cellphone towers pose little health risk, although it also say that more research needs to be done.

Vincent Granese, project manager for Bay Communications, said earlier today that while there has been research on both sides of the issue there are no proven health effects related to wireless radiation.

“The federal government found there to be no health effects and that’s why they wrote it into federal law,” said Granese.

The Federal Communications Commission sets regulations on the amount of radio frequency waves that are allowed to be transmitted from towers, he said. Anyone with a license is required to comply with the federal limits, which vary by location.

Northeast Wireless Network, the AT&T affiliate that Bay plans to contract with if and when the tower is built, will be required to comply with those limits, said Granese.

He said the company, which operates one tower in Prospect Harbor and is in the construction and permitting process with 12 others in Maine, has heard concerns about health effects at other locations.

“It usually comes up early from neighbors but once they have read on the issue they understand that the federal government had enough information on this issue that they wrote it into law,” he said.

He said the Abijah Hill Road location was selected for the proposed tower based on AT&T’s perceived need for more coverage in the surrounding area. Unlike many municipalities, Starks has no telecommunications ordinance that would regulate where structures can be built.

Planning board chair Kerry Hebert said today that if the moratorium passes it will give the town time to potentially put a telecommunications ordinance in place.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]