Florida Parents Raise Concerns about 5G Tower Near School

The parents of students attending Ponte Vedra school district have pointed to a report from California about children developing cancer at a school with a telecommunications tower on its property.

by Stuart Korfhage, The St. Augustine Record / June 5, 2019
Shutterstock/kriangphrom

(TNS) — While they know it's too early to be sure about the effects, some parents in Ponte Vedra Beach say the risks are too high to allow a new 5G telecommunications tower to operate near a school.

Several mothers who have children at The Bolles School Lower School Ponte Vedra Beach Campus spoke to the St. Johns County Commission Tuesday about their concerns after a new tower went up next to the school.

Although the tower has not yet been activated, some parents have said they would consider pulling their children out of the school because of the chance of overexposure to radiation that comes from the emissions of such towers.

"It hasn't had a lot of research, officially, to see if it's safe to be near humans," said Dr. Laila Samiian, who is a surgical oncologist for Baptist Health.

Samiian has two children who attend Bolles in Ponte Vedra and is concerned about what could happen to students if the tower is allowed to function there.

"We have no idea what that's going to do to them over the next 10-20 years," Samiian said. "If the tower is right next to the school or right on top of the school, the kids are getting exposed every single day."

One of the reasons parents are so worried is a story this year out of California in which several students at Weston Elementary School were diagnosed with cancer. The elementary school has a telecommunications tower on its campus.

While no clear conclusions have been drawn, a story from CBS News said Sprint shut down the tower.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there is no proof that cellphone use or cell towers lead to cancer.

On its website, ACS says radiofrequency waves emitted from cell towers are a form of non-ionizing radiation. "This means they do not directly damage the DNA inside cells, which is how stronger (ionizing) types of radiation such as x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet light are thought to be able to cause cancer."

So far, the organization says research doesn't show any reason for serious concern: "Some people have expressed concern that living, working, or going to school near a cell phone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems. At this time, there is very little evidence to support this idea."

But that isn't enough to comfort Samiian and other parents in Ponte Vedra.

"We don't want to be guinea pigs," Samiian said. "We don't want to wait to find out 20 years later that a whole generation of our children have developed health problems because of this exposure.

"We think there should be more research before they extend this kind of technology all over the country. They shouldn't be at school. They should be at least 1,500 feet away."

The tower worrying the Ponte Vedra parents is not on the Bolles campus but on property owned by the PGA Tour.

Although it was not an agenda item Tuesday, the Commission and members of the administration did discuss the issue.

Their conclusion was that the county has little control over the placement of telecommunications towers.

"It has been federal law since 1996 that those radio frequency emissions and potential hazards thereto under the jurisdiction of the federal government and that the state and local governments as I read this are preempted from regulating on that basis," County Attorney Patrick McCormack said. "I'm not saying there are no remedies to the concerns that were brought up today, but it is my sense from this language that the remedy would be at the federal level."

County Administrator Michael Wanchick said both the county and the PGA Tour would like to resolve the issue.

"We have limited ability under federal law to regulate towers of that nature," he said. "However, I have talked to the PGA Tour. I know the Commission is sensitive to the issue. The PGA Tour is sensitive to the issue. They have indicated to me that they have suspended installation of the tower temporarily. They are examining all of the options available."

©2019 The St. Augustine Record, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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