The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 29, 1999


Guest Commentary

Cellular Towers Threaten Our Towns

Why are towns so eager to accommodate cellular phone companies at the expense of residents who oppose microwave towers?

These towers are appearing everywhere for two reasons: first, the newer PCS towers must be sited 2.8 miles apart. Second, the Federal Telecommunications Act (TCA) of 1996, which was essentially written by corporate interests, has virtually preempted local zoning regulations for towers. Towns can not prohibit towers, discriminate among carriers (if you let one in, you have to let the others in), or regulate siting based on environmental (i.e., health) concerns.

Cellular companies want to put up, and are putting up, tens of thousands of these towers all across the country, "the billboards of the '90s," as one person called them. Ms. Blake Levitt, author of Electromagnetic Fields: A Consumer's Guide to the Issues and How to Protect Ourselves, described the extent of the problem in a talk last year: "An estimated 100,000 new cellular towers utilizing the 800 to 900 MHz frequencies (the so-called 'old' system) are scheduled to go on-line across the country by the year 2000. An additional four new PCS carriers using the 1 to 3 GHz range were recently approved by the FCC for each area. That system will add many hundreds of thousands more. . . . The systems don't share frequencies, so they all need their own antennas. By law, we have to site all four. That's a lot of antennas."

Numerous medical studies show that microwave radiation can cause health problems. The World Health Organization, the European Parliament, the EPA, and the Food and Drug Administration have all issued statements about the adverse health effects of radio-frequency and microwave radiation. This is why cellular companies don't want health effects to figure in decisions on tower siting.

This is not just a theoretical issue. Kati Winchell, of the Lincoln-based Council on Wireless Technology Impact, stated in an article in the Lincoln Journal on March 5 of this year, "A couple . . . has been forced to flee their home in Sudbury after a WCF [wireless communications facility] was built within 350 feet of their house, causing them severe headaches, dizziness, and memory loss. They have moved to Maine, to a WCF-free zone, where their symptoms have disappeared. They cannot sell their house in Sudbury."

The question inevitably arises why the need for cell phones is so urgent as to justify siting these towers every 2.8 miles across the landscape. Cellular companies would have us believe they're a public utility. In Massachusetts they succeeded, last January, in having the state Department of Telecommunications and Energy rule that they are a public utility, although legislation will be filed this month to change their status. In fact, they are for-profit corporations that are creating a whole industry for which there is no pressing need.

These towers are by no means inevitable. As Blake Levitt noted in her talk, "Even the FCC admits they are surprised that no one has challenged this at the federal level yet, with an eye toward a Supreme Court case." In fact, various challenges are in progress at the federal level.

How did it happen that we suddenly have to defend our right not to have 100-foot or 200-foot towers dotting the landscape every few miles to "provide complete coverage" for something we not only didn't need or want in the first place but that is also hazardous and unsightly?

I am calling for a public meeting of those in Littleton and surrounding communities who oppose the proliferation of these towers. The meeting will be held in the Littleton High School auditorium on Thursday, February 4, at 7:30 p.m. Anyone interested in this issue who is unable to attend may call me at 486-3821.

Ed. note: Mark Lipsman is a Littleton resident. For more information on the February 4 meeting, see page 14.


I became certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) in 1972. At that time, board certification was for life. About ten years ago the ABIM decided that board certification would henceforth be limited to ten years and a recertifying exam would be required to maintain certification. All physicians certified prior to the initiation of limited certification were "grandfathered" and were not required to take additional exams. Thus, I remain board certified and have not had to take another exam.

The Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 rescinded teaching certificates that had been issued for life. It also mandated that all teachers prove they have accumulated 120 Professional Development Points (PDPs) every five years and pay $100 for recertification. All teachers with more than four years of experience must be recertified by June 17, 1999. If they fail to obtain certification renewal, they cannot continue to teach in Massachusetts.

Two senior teachers at the Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS), Wilson Flight and Elliot Lilien, have announced that they are going to challenge the law and will not apply for recertification. Mr. Lilien feels that the state had no right to rescind lifetime certification, and both he and Mr. Flight feel the law is insulting and degrading. According to them, many of the sessions which award PDPs are inane. They argue that even when programs are of excellent quality, mere attendance does not guarantee that the attendee has been enriched and that as a consequence the quality of their teaching will be improved. Between the two of them, they have earned 1,000 PDPs over the past five yearsso their opinions are certainly based on plenty of first-hand observation and evidence.

As a parent whose three children graduated from CCHS, and as a former member of the regional school committee, I know Mr. Flight and Mr. Lilien well. They are among the best teachers in the high school. It would be a profound loss to the school, its students and our communities to lose them as teachers. However, as Miss DiCicco, the principal of CCHS, points out, "the law is the law" and by law she is not allowed to employ anyone who does not have valid certification. This demonstrates a common problem with government regulations. It is nearly impossible to waive them, even if special circumstances exist to warrant an exception.

I personally agree with Mr. Lilien that teachers with lifetime certification should have been "grandfathered" rather than have their certifications rescinded. Certification is not the same as tenure; teachers can be dismissed as long as due process is followed. It is probable that modifications to the education reform act will be enacted later this year, but of course there is no guarantee that any changes would resolve the present conflict or in any case would happen in time to change the status of Mr. Flight and Mr. Lilien. It is ironic that a regulation intended to improve the quality of teaching in the public schools of Massachusetts may actually result in the loss of two of CCHS's most respected and effective teachers. One would hope that reason will prevail, and that somehow this impasse can be resolved before the June 17 deadline.


1999 The Carlisle Mosquito