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Wrong Number: Residents Clash With T-Mobile

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In a heated and tense exchange, outraged Marine Park residents squared off with T-Mobile reps about the company’s controversial installation of a cell phone tower in the quiet Brooklyn neighborhood. Before locals aired their complaints and concerns at a Marine Park Civic Association meeting about the construction of a tower on the rooftop of a two-story building at 3524 Avenue S, the organization’s president, Greg Borruso, warned the T-Mobile officials, “It’s caused quite a stir.” Boy, was he right. For more than one hour, emotions ran high as residents passionately voiced their opposition to the tower. While many insisted the structure was not aesthetically pleasing – “It’s an eyesore,” said one local – residents mainly cited fears that it will emit cancer-causing radiation. “Can you honestly tell us that this is good for the customers? Come on, who are you kidding?” asserted Milagros Tantoco-Lay. Cell phone towers only emit radio waves – the same as those produced by cordless phones and baby monitors, said Daniel J. Collins, chief technical officer for Pinnacle Telecom Group, which serves as a consulting firm to T-Mobile. A refrigerator motor actually causes more exposure to radiation than a cell phone tower, he asserted. However, residents remain skeptical. “We don’t believe that and there are a lot of residents who don’t believe it either,” said Marie Figueroa. “Twenty years or 15 years down the line, what will we hear? ‘Oops, sorry.’” “How can we trust you?” Tantoco-Lay questioned. “Twenty years ago, people said smoking was good.” According to the American Cancer Society, cell phone antennas may not be as harmful as many people think. As noted on the organization’s website, www.cancer.org, “Several theoretical considerations suggest that cellular phone towers are unlikely to cause cancer. First, the energy level of radio waves is relatively low…A second issue has to do with wavelength. Radio waves have a wavelength of approximately one foot in air, and about two inches in body tissue. As a result, RF [radiofrequency] radiation can only be concentrated to about an inch or two in size. This makes it unlikely that the energy from radio waves could be concentrated on a small bit of tissue, affecting individual cells…A third issue has to do with the magnitude of exposure. Measurements taken around typical cellular phone towers show ground level power densities well below the recommended limits. Moreover, public exposure near cell phone towers is not significantly different than background levels of RF radiation in urban areas from other sources, such as radio and television broadcast stations. For these reasons, cell phone antennas or towers are unlikely to cause cancer.” In spite of reassurances that the tower is safe, several times during the civic meeting, numerous residents demanded that the structure be removed. “You want to make us happy? Cancel the whole project,” said Brenda Guariglia. However, the chances of having the tower taken down are slim, as it was installed to appease T-Mobile customers who complained about poor service in the area. “We don’t build sites without customer complaints,” said Adam Kauffman, development manager for T-Mobile. The complaints were made by people who live in Marine Park and not just those driving through, said Russ Stromberg, T-Mobile’s senior manager of development. “Because I have the customer complaints,” Stromberg said, “it’s not coming down.” As many residents criticized the tower for being too large – one local estimated it to be 18 feet tall – Stromberg explained that it would be ineffective if it failed to exceed the height of nearby trees. “Because there are trees in the area, we have to get additional height,” he said. “The antennas have to be just high enough so they are not overly obstructed by buildings and trees,” Collins said. “If the antennas were tree-high, you’re not going to get any coverage.” Coverage was also a problem when the tower was being erected. The construction company installing the device failed to appropriately secure the area and, instead, allowed the public to walk on the sidewalk while cranes worked overhead. “Those cranes could have hurt people who were passing by,” insisted local resident Bob Solowitz. “Bricks fell off, which could have hit children.” Kauffman said T-Mobile is now in the process of “terminating our agreement” with Preferred Builders, which is headquartered at 649 Van Sinderen Avenue. If the tower is not removed, Marine Park residents will consider staging a boycott of T-Mobile, Borruso said. “This is our first attempt,” he said. “Our next attempt is to reach out and see if people want to boycott and not use T-Mobile.” That sentiment was echoed by Alan Maisel, who is expected to fill the seat vacated by his former boss, Frank Seddio, on the State Assembly. “I’m actually sorry I don’t have T-Mobile because I would cancel it,” he said. “The reality is if they don’t have customers, they don’t need the tower.” There was some good news for Marine Park residents – the tower on Avenue S might be the only one installed by T-Mobile in the community. Said Kauffman, “We don’t intend on putting another site nearby.”

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