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

An aerial view of the 115-foot monopole that Verizon Wireless erected in a south Pittsfield neighborhood in 2020. The city’s health director says her department does not have the expertise to evaluate neighborhood complaints of health impacts from the tower.

PITTSFIELD — The city’s director of public health said her department is ill-equipped to fulfill the City Council’s request to investigate reports from neighbors who believe that cellular radiation emitted from the tower off South Street is causing health problems.

Director Gina Armstrong responded to the council’s investigation request in a brief letter for its Tuesday meeting, writing that the city’s Board of Health might consider making a referral to the state Department of Public Health, since the Pittsfield Health Department isn’t qualified to weigh in.

“The Health Department is not qualified and does not have the expertise to accurately assess the residents’ health concerns, nor is the Health Department qualified to assess the causes of the residents’ health concerns,” Armstrong said.

Experts told CNET that more research on the wavelengths used by 5G, or fifth-generation, cellular technology would be helpful, but that nothing to date suggests that people should be concerned. The World Health Organization says “no adverse health effect has been causally linked” to 5G or any other cellular frequency, but it supports additional research “into the possible long-term health impacts of all aspects of mobile-telecommunications.”

Some neighbors of the tower, located at the back of 877 South St., have voiced concerns about the 115-foot Verizon Wireless cell tower at multiple council meetings and in the courts. One of them is Courtney Gilardi of Alma Street, who says her daughter started experiencing headaches, dizziness and nausea in August, and later learned that her symptoms started the day that the tower went into service. According to Gilardi, her daughter wasn’t the only neighbor who reported “having a sudden onset of symptoms since the activation of the cell tower.”

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Armstrong’s letter was “disappointing,” given neighbors’ hopes “that we could work together with the city to be able to get some answers, and get some relief,” Gilardi said. She said she is considering running to succeed Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell, who is not seeking reelection. She said the city largely has been unresponsive to neighbors’ concerns about the tower, an experience that, she said, “has everything to do with” her interest in running for the council.

In January, the City Council voted unanimously to request that the Health Department investigate “health concerns that have been reported by some of the residents that live near the cell tower … since its activation and report back” findings and remedies. Armstrong, whose letter comes in response to the petition, didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday.

Connell filed the petition with Ward 5 Councilor Patrick Kavey, and said the Health Department should document the residents’ reports, at bottom, and hire an expert to guide a review if needed. Connell said the “city’s just trying to wash their hands of the whole situation, and I think it’s deplorable.”

Kavey noted that Pittsfield and other communities generally have limited authority over decisions about telecommunications, as regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. He said it’s unclear to him whether cellular radiation from the tower could be related to the neighbors’ reported health issues, and a Health Department review would have helped clarify the issue.

“If our Health Department is unable to look into the health concerns of our residents, then who is?” he said. “The bottom line is, we have been hearing about these health concerns for the last seven, eight months, and no one has looked into them.”

Amanda Burke can be reached at, on Twitter

@amandaburkec and 413-496-6296.

Amanda Burke covers Pittsfield City Hall for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise. Find her on Twitter at @amandaburkec.