In Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where author Herman Melville penned Moby Dick while peacefully contemplating the pristine rolling Berkshire Hills, residents have been fighting an imposing cell tower affecting residents health for over 2 years. They argue the cell tower was not permitted properly and has caused severe symptoms in 17 nearby residents in the town. After careful deliberation the Pittsfield Board of Health agreed with the later and unanimously voted on February 2, 2022 to send to Verizon a cease and desist order to resolve the issue of RF emissions from the large 116-foot monopole antenna complex which abuts a residential neighborhood. This story, however, has taken many turns and twists. It is still not over.
Feb 23, 2022– The Pittsfield Board of Health reaffirmed their intention to move forward with the order on Feb 23, 2022 emphasizing “it is their duty to do everything they can to protect the health of residents.” On Feb 28, 2022 an educational expert forum was presented on wireless radiation to the citizens of Pittsfield by resident Courtney Gilardi highlighting policy changes needed to protect citizens. On April 6, 2022 the Board of Health formally ordered the cease and desist order to be sent April 8, however, it was conditioned on city funds to be released. On April 11, 2022 a formal Emergency Cease and Desist Order was sent to Verizon and Farley White South Street LLC, the owners of the property where the cell tower is located. Verizon and Farley White SS LLC will have 7 days from the Order to request a hearing and Show Cause.
April 11, 2022- Pittsfield, Massachusetts Board of Health Cease and Desist Order issued. the Order states that “The Verizon Wireless 877 South Street wireless facility operated by Verizon Wireless is a public nuisance, a cause of sickness, and a trade which may result in a nuisance or be dangerous to the public health for purposes of G.L. ch. 111 ss 122-125, 127B, 127C, 143-150 and 152.” and further, “The Verizon Wireless 877 South Street wireless facility operated on the premises creates an access barrier that directly causes harm to certain individuals, and renders dwellings Unfit for Human Habitation or constitutes a Condition Which May Endanger or Materially Impair the Health or Safety and Well-Being of an Occupant as defined in State Sanitary Code 410.020 and 410.750(P).”
It is the first time in the United States that a Board of Health has made the courageous determination that cell towers could cause adverse health effects and should be turned off and relocated. It is not the first time, however, residents have experienced health effects from cell towers, hundreds have reported symptoms near cell towers including in California- Sacramento, Sonoma, Long Beach, Silicon Valley, Canada, Cape Cod and Italy. A school board in Ripon, California did terminate its cell tower agreement on school grounds due to concerns of a cancer cluster.
On May 10, 2022 Verizon Wireless filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, in an attempt to block an emergency order from the Pittsfield Board of Health. This was the same day a vote was to occur by the Pittsfield City Council to obtain funding for legal expensesand which never materialized. Verizon’s lawsuit argues that the Board of Health’s order violates the Telecommunications Act of 1996, specifically in Section 332, which states that “no state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate that placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the purported environmental effects of radio frequency emissions” as long as the facility is operating within the Federal Communications Commission’s regulations on those emissions. Through prior court determinations environmental effects include human health effects.
May 25, 2022 Children’s Health Defense filed intervention papers in support of the residents of Pittsfield. CHD attorney Mary Holland stated, “We will explain to the Court that the Board’s order is lawful and is not preempted by federal law, but first we will move to dismiss the matter at the outset because the cell company’s legal contentions are premature and invalid.”
On June 1, 2022 the Pittsfield Board of Health voted to pull its Cease-and-Desist Order for the Verizon Cell Tower with Verizon removing its lawsuit against them the following day. Board Chair Bobbie Orsi stated, “When we issued the cease-and-desist order, we did that as a strategy to have a conversation with Verizon. I felt in my heart that we really wanted them to come talk to us about this. It is notable that the residents and the City have tried diligently to resolve this issue with two commercial land owners coming forward with alternative sites for the tower which were rejected. As reported in the Berkshire Eagle article June 6, 2022, “Board members said they’d continue to work with the City Council and state representatives on “collaborative discussion” around changing state law around the process and standards for placing and citing cell towers. On June 16, 2022 the Pittsfield City Council did however adopt a resolution recognizing June 16 as World Electrosensitivity Day.
In a July 2022 article in the Hill Country Oberver, The cost of connectivity? Cell tower dispute puts Pittsfield at center of a national debate, Tracy Frisch interviews those affected and documents the frustration and confusion about why the cell tower has not yet been turned off. The Gilardi family still pleads with the Pittsfield City Council after 710 days of being sick asking, “Please, Do Not Cell Us Out!”
July 29, 2022 a group of Pittsfield residents opposing the cell tower filed a legal action challenging the June 1, 2022 Board of Health decision to remove it’s Cease and Desist order on the Verizon cell tower. This now goes to the Berkshire Superior Court to review the administrative process and decision by the Board to drop the order, with the hope that this can be corrected and the order reinstated. Residents claim unethical and illegal aspects of the decision that need to be addressed, including interference by the Pittsfield mayor, as well as a conflict of interest by City Solicitor Pagnotta who is representing the City of Pittsfield in a separate abutter lawsuit by several residents claiming the permit for the Verizon tower violated the city process and should not have been approved. Pagnotta is also a managing partner at Donovan O’Connor & Dodig, LLP, The law firm representing Verizon Wireless in a North Adams-based lawsuit from 2016 to 2020. Attorney Scott McCollough stated, “The goal here is to let the board make that decision with the resources that it needs, including independent counsel, a lawyer that can give them fair and objective advice and does not have a conflict,” . Courtney Gilardi and Scott McCollough voice their frustration in a Spectrum News Report. The Pittsfield Civil Action Complaint is here Pittsfield Civil Action Complaint 7-28-22
***A new short 2022 Italian film, ELETTRA, stars an actress who is electrosensitive and also portrays a woman who develops electrosensitivty(EHS). Elettra is a powerful and beautifully produced film that demonstrates what it is like to have EHS and the frustration of not being believed. It has had nominations by 5 green cinema festivals in Italy and abroad. It can now be seen on vimeo– Elettra.
Updated July 30, 2022