Simcoe cellphone tower to be moved; Neighbours complaint of illness

Simcoe cellphone tower to be moved; Neighbours complaint of illness Cheryl Bauslaugh

Wednesday, June 07, 2006 - 01:00

Local News - Norfolk councillors have decided to get rid of a cellphone tower in the centre of Simcoe that residents say is a health risk.

After hearing from more than 20 people in an often emotional five-hour debate Tuesday, council voted to move recently installed Rogers Wireless Inc. antennae on the Simcoe water tower - even though it could cost the county an estimated $300,000.

"I'm proud to be a resident of Norfolk County," said Dan Currie, who first raised the issue in February, shortly after the antennae were installed.

"Council was receptive and concerned about the welfare of its citizens," said Currie, who has been unable to live in his century home on Union Street because of symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fatigue and dizziness that he says are caused by the cell tower.

"I was fine before the antennae went up and I'm fine when I'm not at home," he told council.

Students in the senior law class at Simcoe Composite School did a survey of residents in the area - which is close to Elgin Avenue School and Norfolk General Hospital - and discovered several more residents with similar symptoms.

To date, 17 people have reported recurring illnesses since the cell tower was installed.

No evidence

Staff said there's no conclusive evidence linking radio frequency waves with illness. And they noted that the cell tower meets federal health and safety regulations in regard to exposure levels.

But Mayor Rita Kalmbach said she'd rather err on the side of caution when it comes to people's health.

"When I hear people say they only get sick at home, when they're close to the tower, I have to believe there's something to this," she said.

"I believe we have to do what is right and good. But it is going to cost all the people of Norfolk County considerable money."

Just how much money isn't clear. When Kalmbach asked a Rogers representative about the possibility of getting out of the lease before the March 31, 2008, expiry date, Jack Hills said that will be up to the company's lawyers to decide.

He was also non-committal about the possibility that Rogers might voluntarily move its cell tower to another site.

"It's not our policy," he said, adding that the tower is operating within guidelines set by Health Canada and Industry Canada.

"The alleged fear can be mitigated by the guidelines."

Hills also noted that Rogers has many other telecommunications towers that are close to hospitals and schools. Some, in fact, are on top of schools.

However, Magna Havas, an environmental scientist at Trent University, told council that Canada's guidelines aren't as stringent as those in other countries. She cited studies that show an increased risk of cancer, as well as symptoms such as headaches, insomnia and nausea, when people live within 400 metres of a cell tower.

"I think there's enough evidence to cause a concern. I recommend not allowing antennae within 400 metres of schools, homes or buildings where people work."

Havas said she is particularly concerned about the risk to students at Elgin because children are more vulnerable to developing cancer than adults.

Council directed staff to begin negotiating a way out of the lease agreement as soon as possible. County manager Bill Allcock said that process will begin this week but he's not sure how long it will take before the cell tower finds a new home - or what the cost will be to taxpayers. He said Rogers will have to find an alternate location before the antennae can be removed.

Coun. Roger Geysens voted in favour of moving the cell tower but he warned that this might be the start of similar requests from other county residents who live near cell towers.

"I certainly don't want to put children at risk but there's not very many places in Norfolk County where you're not gong to be within 400 metres of some residents.

"I think we're asking for some very difficult times." ID- 62763


Cell Towers in The Air?

Paul Korzeniowski Tue Jun 6, 7:00 PM ET

Americans' appetite for cell phone service appears insatiable. But expanding cellular coverage with new cell towers can be a problem. The towers are big, expensive and often seen as a blight on the landscape.

A startup firm named Space Data is working on a creative solution to the problem. The company is putting cell towers in weather balloons stationed in the stratosphere.

While the technology is in a nascent stage, it has the potential to help carriers extend cell phone coverage -- without the hassles of conventional towers.

"Cell coverage is still not ubiquitous because it can be difficult to deploy cell towers in some areas," said Allen Nogee, an analyst at In-Stat/MDR. "Approaches such as using weather balloons may help them reach more areas."

Looking Beyond Towers

Building a conventional cell tower can be problematic for a couple of reasons.

Cell towers are expensive, costing from $100,000 to more than $1 million to set up. They also present logistical problems, such as clearing local regulations and finding suitable placement.

Space Data uses standard weather balloons, which cost about $50 each, to carry special purpose cell towers. These towers are small -- 10 cubic inches -- and light -- less than 12 pounds. The balloons travel 20 miles above the earth, well above commercial airliner pathways. Because of their highflying position, the devices cover a larger area -- from 50 miles to 500 miles -- than traditional cell towers.

So far, Space Data has concentrated on the oil industry. It's launched balloons in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and New Mexico that help companies track their vehicles and monitor the production of their oil wells and pipelines. In addition, the company is working with the U.S. military on potential strategic uses of the technology.

Using the balloons for regular cell service could be a harder sell. But it might make sense in certain areas, analysts say.

"Now that carriers have deployed cell stations throughout metropolitan areas, they are searching for ways to reach more remote locations, like Montana, as well as camp sites and parks," said Neil Strother, an analyst at market research firm NPD Group.

While the new approach should be less expensive and eliminate many of the zoning hoops carriers face, it raises new logistical issues. There are questions about how well the systems will perform in bad weather and how effectively carriers can track the balloons and ensure that they stay on track.

"The biggest problem is keeping the cell tower aloft," said Ira Brodsky, president of market research firm Datacomm Research.

After they're launched, the balloons swell from six feet to 30 feet in diameter as they gain altitude. The balloons eventually rise so high that they are out of transmission range. Later on, they disintegrate in the atmosphere.

Before that happens, the cellular carrier wants to salvage the cell tower. So the balloons are equipped with a mechanism to jettison the cell tower and have it fall slowly and safely to earth via a parachute.

Tracking Them Down

Each tower is outfitted with a global positioning system so the flight can be tracked. After the towers land, the carriers send runners to retrieve them so they can be used again. How many of the cell towers will be lost or damaged during their balloon rides is unknown.

There are other challenges, such as the battery life of the devices. The current systems are outfitted with batteries that last eight to 10 hours.

The upshot: Carriers would need to be constantly launching and recovering their cell towers. This represents a large ongoing expense. It's estimated that a firm would have to spend $100,000 to $300,000 annually to support this service.

The approach is expected to take root first in areas that are far off main highways or away from cities.

"The areas that still lack cell coverage are spread out and sparsely populated," said In-Stat's Nogee.