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Avella, parents decry St. Mel’s cellular towers

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City Councilmen Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) joined forces on the parents' behalf to ask the companies to "quit dragging their feet" and take the towers down."The parents at this school are very concerned that there are 23 cell phone towers at this school," said Avella. "It's unfortunate they have been dragging their feet even though the parish has now said to remove them. They had a meeting with T-Mobile on Tuesday, and their basic response was 'go ahead and sue us. We've got a contract.'"The school, located at 154-24 26th Ave., originally had eight antennas, called wireless sites by Sprint/Nextel on the roof, and recently leased out the remaining space to the cell companies to allow the antennas to broadcast.The pastor, the Rev. Christopher Turczany, said the school makes about $5,600 per year off the stations. The contract is for five years.Both T-Mobile and Sprint/Nextel spokesmen said neither company planned on removing the antennas, which handle around 20,000 calls per day, calling the parents' fears unfounded due to several existing studies on cell tower safety. Turczany said when the companies began installing the stations, previously unaware parents nevertheless became outraged, and after several conversations, the parish decided to ask the companies to remove the stations.Turczany did not participate in the protest last Thursday, but said he is trying to work with the cell companies."We're still working things out," he said. "It's going to take some time, though."On Thursday, parents chanted "Take them down," between speakers and erupted into shouts of approval at the words of the elected officials taking up their cause."We don't know enough yet about the health effects of these towers," said Vallone, who attended the rally with his two nieces who are students at the school. "We were told asbestos was safe. We were told lead paint was safe. They weren't. Now we're being told cell phone towers are safe. I hope to God they are, but they may not be."Until they are, we cannot let our children be used as guinea pigs in this ongoing technological experiment."Vallone has introduced legislation calling on the Health Department to study the health effects of such stations and he has asked for a zoning resolution that would allow the City Council the right to monitor tower placement.Fear of the possible side effects from cell phone towers has run rampant throughout the borough in recent years as phone companies continue to pay landlords and land owners for the space, often without any notification to the residents.On Northern Boulevard, Lucy Cho, a co-owner of Gatecom U.S.A., discovered a cell antenna on her building last year and sought help from elected officials. Some tried to help, she said, but nothing ever coalesced.Cho lives above the store with her husband Stephen. She is recovering from a bout with cancer, and says a cell phone tower on her roof is the last thing she wants to see."I'm still worried," she said. "But we don't know where to go or what to do."In downtown Flushing, more towers are being considered for the roof of a six-story, 64-unit co-op at 41-34 Frame Place one block off Main Street.One resident said four of the five co-op board members are considering approval, and the one dissenter, former Green Party City Council candidate Evergreen Chou, is informing residents who would not otherwise know of the plan in order to rally support to his side.The issue is nothing short of controversial for resident Jean Wang."I am not going to be bribed," she said. "There's a potential link between cell towers and cancer and other problems and possible radiation exposure. There's hundreds of thousands of visitors to Flushing. Once they put these up, they will have more reason to put them elsewhere."Chou said he is doing what he can to convince the board members that cell towers have not been studied enough. He has been in contact with the Astoria Neighborhood Association who have fought similar battles in the past."They told me to start the fight now because once T-Mobile puts them up, it's going to be eight times harder to get them to take them down," he said.Reach reporter Scott Sieber by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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