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February 15, 2006

Marsha Borenstein at (718) 773-3100

Citywide Coalition Forms to Pursue Regulation of
Cell Phone Antennae Sites

Elected officials and community groups cite potential health threat;
City Hall press conference to take place on Thursday, February 16, 11:00 am

Brooklyn, NY - U.S. Representative Major R. Owens is joining with New York State and municipal elected officials from across New York City, as well as with community groups and concerned individuals, to form the Coalition to Regulate Antennae Safety (CRAS) in response to the growing proliferation of cellular antennas and base stations in heavily residential areas.  The coalition is dedicated to creating legislation that protects the public from health risks that may result from long-term exposure to radiation from these antennae.

"We rely upon cellular phone service so much that we have overlooked potential dangers that may be created by the increased demand," said Congressman Owens.  "There is no scientific evidence to assure us that cell phone antennae and base stations when placed in clusters do not pose a threat to the health and well-being of people, particularly the young, the elderly and the frail.  It is far better to be safe than sorry, which is why I support and have joined this Coalition to Regulate Antennae Safety."

CRAS is pursuing new policies on wireless antenna placement that will mandate input from community groups and residents before any installations of cellular base stations are approved.  Groups from all five boroughs have joined the coalition, some of whom are already involved in legal action against multiple antennae either already on their roofs or currently planned for installation.

In addition to Congressman Owens (D-Brooklyn), CRAS includes New York State Senators Jeff Klein (Bronx) and Martin Golden (Brooklyn), New York State Assembly members Michael Gianaris (Queens) and Joan Millman (Brooklyn), and New York City Council members Peter Vallone, Jr., (Queens), Vincent Gentile (Brooklyn), Letitia James (Brooklyn), and Lewis Fidler (Brooklyn).  Along with numerous individuals, the Coalition has also received support from community activist Chris Owens of Brooklyn, as well as Joel Kupferman, Esq., an attorney with the New York Environmental Law & Justice Project.

"This coalition, with its diverse representation, will work tirelessly to ensure that common sense and public safety prevail in the placement of cellular phone antennae," says Councilmember Letitia James, who represents the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.  The Councilmember has received numerous complaints and inquiries regarding the clusters of antennae emerging within her district.

The Coalition's purpose is to ensure that legislation is created to regulate the placement and installation of these structures and to limit their density in residential districts and near schools.  "For years, the telecommunications industry has had carte blanche to place these antennae wherever they wanted, without respect to community concerns," adds Leonore Gordon, a member of the Park Slope group objecting to a T-Mobile cell tower siting.  "As a result, thousands of rooftops throughout the city are cluttered with cellular antennae, exacerbating the risk of health problems related to the radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted from the structures." 

A growing body of scientific evidence points to potential health risks presented by the low-dose RF radiation emitted from the antennae, particularly over the course of many years.  It is common for cellular phone antennae leases between landlords and carriers to have terms of 15 years or more and there has been little or no disclosure to residents.  Gordon has been receiving reports from New Yorkers in each of the five boroughs.  "Residents throughout our City are often completely unaware of the purpose or potential health threats posed by antennae already on their rooftops until they read about this issue in the newspaper," she said.  To make matters worse, some contracts between cell phone companies and landlords include provisions that allow the carrier to continue to increase size of their equipment during the period covered by the contract, or, at the sole discretion of the carrier, to even sell their equipment to another carrier.

"Right now, thanks to questionable public policy, it is too easy for a company and landlord to obtain a permit to construct these structures," says Evie Hantzopoulos from Astoria, another CRAS member.  Ms. Hantzopolous referred to a New York City Department of Buildings memorandum, issued in 1998, which exempted the cellular phone industry from more stringent permit application procedures, including public review.  "Our rights as residents and our safety have been erased in favor of big business interests," Hantzopoulos said. 

The City Council of New York is attempting to overturn the DOB exemption.  Councilmember Vallone has had legislation passed which requires the agency to maintain a separate public list of cellular antenna sites.  In addition, the Council as a whole passed a resolution calling for the New York City Department of Health to begin studies of antenna safety, particularly with regards to people living in close proximity to an antenna or cluster of antennae.

The Council has also wants to see the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 amended.  This Act contains a provision making it difficult for municipalities to protect their citizens from wireless antennae solely for health reasons.  CRAS maintains that this provision protects the wireless industry, but not the nation's citizens.  A similarly prohibitive provision is included within the "911 Act" of 1999, which prevents lawsuits against the industry based on illnesses caused by cell phone equipment.  In spite of this legislation, however, the U.S. Supreme Court recently determined that five class action suits alleging illnesses caused by cell phones could proceed.  Congressman Owens has now promised to bring the issue to the federal legislative branch as well.  "Now is the time to ask tough questions and engage in good planning, not after we have allowed people to get hurt or worse," said Owens.

The New York State Legislature is also reviewing legislation to regulate the siting of antennae, particularly near schools, while research continues regarding potential health dangers.  One bill has been written by Assemblymember Gianaris and co-sponsored by Assemblymember Millman.  Another has been sponsored by State Senator Jeff Klein.

Gordon pointed to the fact that there has been growing concern about radiation from cellular phone towers.  "Municipalities in California and Florida already have laws banning antennae near schools, as does the country of New Zealand," she said.  Research suggests that children's developing brains may be especially vulnerable to long-term radiation exposure.  "While the industry points to its own studies along with several others claiming that there is no radiation danger, enough questions have been raised from a vast body of research strongly disputing that conclusion to spur several international conferences on cell-tower siting," said attorney Joel Kupferman.

CRAS is seeking to expand its membership.  To contact CRAS, call or fax 888-767-8088, toll free or send an email to  CRAS has established its own website, containing information and tools for communities and residents to refer to and utilize when confronted with a cell phone tower issue.

A press conference will be held on the steps of City Hall at 11:00 am on Thursday, February 16.  Attendees will include elected officials, community groups and individuals who are members of CRAS.  For press conference information, please contact Ms. April Miller, Office of Assemblymember Michael Gianaris, at 718-545-3889 or 315-450-3268 (cell).


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