Ruling goes against Pittsfield cell tower neighbors, but fight might continue (copy) (copy)

The Pittsfield Board of Health has asked Verizon Wireless to remove or relocate the cell tower at 877 South St. to a safer area that still meets cell service needs. Since the tower went into operation last summer, near Alma Street, neighbors have complained of various health problems, including an increase in cancer diagnoses.

PITTSFIELD — Remove the South Street cell tower, or relocate it.

The Pittsfield Board of Health personally has asked Verizon Wireless to dismantle the communications structure at 877 South St. because of a number of neighbors apparently getting sick, some seriously, from a variety of illnesses, cancer possibly being one of them.

After a meeting via Zoom with Verizon representatives last month to discuss the potential health risks of the tower, city health officials said residents shouldn’t get their hopes up that the tower will be gone.

“We flat out asked them, ‘Are you willing to consider removing the tower or relocating it?’” Andy Cambi, the city’s interim health director, said during the board’s monthly meeting Wednesday. Cambi and board member Brad Gordon, who both met with Verizon, said the communications giant will consider the request, but Gordon said “it was unlikely” it would be honored.

“We really pressed them to have an open mind and think about it, and they said that’s what they would do, but I don’t want to build false hope we’re moving forward in that manner,” Gordon said.

The board says it will give Verizon alternative sites for the tower to consider that meet cellphone service needs and are safely away from residents.

‘Sick in our own homes’

The cell tower was erected during summer 2020, on the southerly portion of 877 South St., putting it near the Oliver and Plumb streets neighborhood off Holmes Road. The structure was activated a year ago September and, shortly thereafter, according to residents, especially on Alma Street, which is the closest to the tower, the health problems kicked in.

The Gilardi family is among those residents who claim they started to suffer from headaches, nausea and ringing in the ears.

“For months after the cell tower started transmission, we were sick in our own homes. I watched my children vomit in their beds,” the mother, Courtney Gilardi, said before the board Wednesday evening.

Amelia Coco Gilardi speaks to Pittsfield BOH Oct. 6 2021

Amelia Coco Gilardi addresses the Pittsfield Board of Health on Wednesday, discussing her family being displaced by reported health issues affecting neighbors of the cell tower at 877 South St. 

Gilardi’s teenage daughter, Amelia Coco Gilardi, noted that the health problems persisted to the point that the family moved out of its home several months ago. Amelia wants her life back.

“After seven months of living out of a suitcase because I can’t live in my own home, I just want to go home and be safe in my room again,” she told the board.

The Gilardis said that since the tower was brought online, there has been an increase in the number of cancer cases among neighbors. While it’s unclear if the emissions from the tower are to blame, experts who have advised the board and residents caution that the exposure levels allowed by the Federal Communications Commission are dated and do not do enough, as wireless technology has advanced, to protect health.

As the city and residents seek an immediate solution to the claimed health effects of the cell tower, the Legislature on Monday took testimony on a bill to create an independent commission to study the health risks of wireless communications.

State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, who lives on Oliver Street, says the panel needs to have a balanced membership.

“It’s important the commission is not industry-controlled, but they should be represented. What we need are health experts on the commission,” she said.

Courtney Gilardi testified in support of the commission and took advantage of her trip to the Statehouse in Boston.

“We stayed at a nice hotel, and it was the first time in seven months we slept in real beds, not mattresses on the floor. It was the first time in seven months we took hot showers before going to sleep at night, as where we’re staying doesn’t have plumbing to do so,” she said.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com.