Town of Harvard Debates Tower Upgrades

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A recent request by AT&T to install new equipment on an existing cell tower at 60 Old Shirley Road in Harvard, MA has drawn the attention and ire of some local residents who claim the levels of RF coming from the site will prove to be unsafe. According to the Harvard Press, the proposal involves removing three old panels and radio units from the tower and replacing them with six newer ones. 

AT&T’s real estate specialist, Kristina Cottone, told representatives at the Planning Board meeting that the goal of the change is to improve the coverage and reliability of AT&T’s existing 4G LTE network, not install 5G. The permit application states that the new equipment would not significantly change the appearance of the tower nor generate noise or vibrations. Cottone said the new equipment could be installed in two-to-three weeks. 

Planning Board Chair Justin Brown, a nuclear scientist, made an effort to explain the electromagnetic radiation to board members and attendees by saying radiation has many different characteristics depending on the frequency. Higher frequencies carry more energy, Brown said. High-frequency radiation, or ionizing radiation, like that found in X-rays, can potentially cause cancer. Low-frequency radiation, emitted in radio waves, is considered non-ionizing radiation. Brown said it produces a low energy that is not conducive to causing cancer. 

One neighbor opposed AT&T’s plan, telling the Press, “When you say stronger, better coverage, all I hear is more radiation. The FCC approval [the Telecom Act of 1996] doesn’t mean anything because they aren’t doing any health studies, and if they are, they are swaying them in their favor.” 

Further hearings on the special use permit are scheduled for later this month.

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