Another battle over cellphone antennas shaping up

An application to put more cellphone antennas on the Magnolia water tower has raised an alarm among some nearby residents who worry about the health effects of the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) generated by the equipment.

Although there is a debate in the scientific community about whether EMFs pose a health hazard, concerns about the issue come up practically every time plans to install new cellphone antennas are announced.

Magnolia was no different when the cellphone antennas first started appearing on the water tower almost a decade ago, said Andy Ryan, a spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities, which operates and maintains the water tower.

"The Magnolia community has been involved in the siting process," he said. But interest was minimal, which is par for the course, according to Ryan. The vast majority of neighborhood residents everywhere have expressed no interest in being involved in the process, he added.

Fran DeBruler doesn't count herself among that group, and neither does her son, Greg deBruler (he spells his last name differently). DeBruler said she's lived across the street from the water tower for 55 years, adding that she wasn't notified of any meetings about installing the antennas initially. "And all of a sudden, there was all these things popping up."

deBruler, who lives in Eastern Washington, said he's measured the EMF levels in his mother's house and around the neighborhood. Based on his research, deBruler maintains that the EMFs radiating off the water tower are dangerous-particularly so for children, he added.

He concedes that different scientific studies have come to different conclusions about potential danger from EMFs, but deBruler said it would be better to err on the side of caution.

deBruler said he also worries that the cellphone antennas could lower property values around the water tower because of the alleged health effects of EMFs. However, he said he thinks the deck is stacked in favor of the cellphone industry-at least for the moment. "When the politics catches up with the science, you know you could be sitting here with a liability."

Reached on his own cellphone for an interview, deBruler said there are both good and bad locations for cellphone-antenna arrays. For instance, schools don't want cellphone towers on their property because of the alleged health effects, he said.

But federal regulations govern placement of cellphone towers, and potential health effects are not a factor, according to Alan Justad, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Development. So when the city looks at the application to put up more cellphone antennas on the water tower, "we are not reviewing it for those (health) concerns," he said.

Ryan from Public Utilities agreed, saying that federal regulations prohibit a city from denying placement of cellphone antennas on the grounds of alleged EMF danger. And both federal and state laws prohibit discrimination that would favor one cellphone provider over another in placing the antennas, he said.

Ryan also brought up another point. The city has approved regulations encouraging the placement of the antennas on existing structures such as the Magnolia water tower to reduce the number of new cellphone towers going up, he said.

Ryan also said an Environmental Impact Study is not required before new antennas can be installed on the water tower. However, deBruler argued that an EIS is needed to stop what he describes as "the current fast-track process."

The comment period for the current Master Use Permit application to put up more cellphone antennas on the water tower was extended after complaints from Fran and Greg that neighborhood residents needed more time to voice their concerns. She and her son said they would also like to see the city set up a community meeting about the new antennas.

Justad from Planning and Development said a petition with at least 50 signatures is needed before such a meeting will be held. "That's the standard for that."

DeBruler said she has sent the city a petition with 62 signatures calling for a public meeting. "At least we can have a discussion over it and stop them from putting any more (antennas) up."

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at or 461-1309.[[In-content Ad]]