PITTSFIELD — A report due next week will disclose whether a New Jersey company’s field team detected higher-than-allowed electromagnetic radiation from a new Pittsfield cell tower.
Gina Armstrong, the city’s health director, said V-COMM Telecommunications Engineering, of Edison, N.J., tested frequency levels at 12 locations in the area of the 877 South St. tower last Thursday.
Since the 115-foot Verizon Wireless tower went live in September, residents in the Alma Street area have complained of nausea, dizziness and headaches.
Armstrong said V-COMM was asked, in a job that will cost the city $3,725, to see if the tower exceeds standards on emissions.
“The bottom line is, we’re looking to see if the tower is operating in compliance with the FCC regulations,” Armstrong said Tuesday.
The company’s report will be presented to the Board of Health when it next meets July 7. Armstrong said V-COMM might join that session to help officials interpret its findings.
Courtney Gilardi, an Alma Street resident who has helped to air neighborhood concerns about the tower, said residents were surprised to see a V-COMM vehicle in the area last week, after hearing a health board member ask to be notified about the company’s survey plan.
“The guy was driving around with his antenna out the window,” Gilardi said.
Armstrong said she asked V-COMM about the timing of the emissions tests, in light of cautions voiced at a June 2 health board meeting that telecom companies might reduce their operations to stay within the Federal Communications Commission limits, if they know a survey is underway.
“I was informed that was not a concern,” Armstrong said. “In their experience, they have not had any of the telecommunications vendors operate in that way.”
She said the New Jersey company was recommended by a member of one of the groups that has tried to advise the city on how to respond to concerns about whether the tower is making people sick.
“This company was recommended, and after an interview, we decided to go with them,” Armstrong said.
The health board decided June 2 not to try to conduct an epidemiological study of the tower’s impact, after hearing several experts say the sample size would be too small.
Meantime, the board is expected to continue to refine its plan to discuss the issue of the tower’s operation in the neighborhood with Verizon Wireless itself.
Armstrong said the board is shaping its approach to a meeting of that kind.
“We have to discuss that further and flesh that out a little bit,” she said. “To see if we can open up a line of communication and make them aware of the concerns and what our involvement is.”
She said one topic could be the ability of the company to adjust the tower’s operation, in case adjustments in the levels of electromagnetic radiation used for communications would lessen any documented adverse health effects.
When asked, Armstrong acknowledged delays in the city’s response to neighborhood concerns.
“Ideally, we could have addressed this sooner,” she said. “As we said at several of the meetings, this is a learning process for us. This is not something a local board of health deals with. There’s a lot to learn. This is very complicated. We heard the concerns, but we had to gather information and figure out what the best response plan would be.”
Gilardi said members of her family are taking steps to limit their exposure to the towers. And some neighbors have been sleeping away from their homes for the same reason.
She said she is grateful to the health board for allowing experts in the field to speak at length at the panel’s June 2 meeting. But, she said Tuesday that neighbors should not have had to wait months for city officials to test emissions levels and to hear from experts — especially because children have been identified as among those reporting nausea and headaches, including her own.
An attempt by the city this spring to involve the state Department of Public Health came up short, when that agency declined to run an epidemiological study.
“It has been a learning curve for us as well,” Gilardi said. “We were in the dark. The entire neighborhood.”