PITTSFIELD — Residents contesting a Verizon Wireless cell tower have gained a statewide ally: the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards.
The nongovernmental group, which provides legal and technical direction to local boards of health, this week filed an amicus brief in Berkshire Superior Court asserting that the Pittsfield Board of Health was “coerced in an improper manner” into dropping an April 2022 emergency order against the Verizon Wireless, owner of the tower at 877 South St.
The emergency order found that the radio frequency radiation from the cell tower was making residents sick. At least 17 residents have reported suffering from ailments such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, insomnia, skin rashes, palpitations and tinnitus and other problems since the tower started operating in August 2020. The emergency order, issued on April 11, 2022, gave Verizon a week to show cause to the board why it shouldn’t issue a cease-and-desist order, a deadline Verizon missed.
Since July, nearby residents have been asking a judge to rule that alleged illegal and unethical actions by city leaders, primarily City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta, left the Board of Health with no option other than to drop an emergency order.
Six residents listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit have argued that order was properly based on solid facts and a deep understanding of the residents’ accusations that the cell tower has been making them sick. They want the court to reinstate the order against Verizon.
While writing in defense of the rights of the Pittsfield Board of Health, the brief by the state association of health boards takes a page from the residents’ arguments.
Cheryl Sbarra, the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards executive director and senior staff attorney, wrote to the court that health boards have the authority to make such orders to protect residents and that “neither the defendant mayor, nor the City Council, have the authority to intervene in or interfere with the operation of the board of health.”
Sbarra also writes that the association agrees with the local board’s initial order, which found evidence that the health complaints of residents living by the tower were connected to radio frequency radiation from the tower, was based on credible scientific evidence.
The filing came before attorneys for the residents and the defendants — Mayor Linda Tyer, Pagnotta, the Board of Health, Verizon Wireless and a local property owner — were to meet Tuesday in a Zoom hearing to argue over the Verizon’s motion to dismiss the case. That hearing has been rescheduled for April 6.
In late winter, attorneys for the city defendants asked the court to dismiss on the grounds that the plaintiffs had failed to take their claims of ethical breaches by Pagnotta and Tyer to the appropriate officials, in this case the state Board of Bar Overseers and the Ethics Commission.