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A new trend has sprouted on rooftops across the city that is making landlords rich – but may also be making people sick.
Cellular antennas and related equipment have flooded the cityscape, as cell phone companies scramble to keep up with the constant surge in mobile phone use.
The federal government and company officials insist the technology is safe and that any radiation emitted is far below the accepted exposure levels.
But a growing chorus of community groups and elected officials across the city – and the country – charge the long-term health effects even at low levels are unknown, and are pushing for more regulation.
“It’s like the Wild West out there,” said Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), who introduced legislation that would create a siting board and ban antennas from within 500 feet of schools. “No one is watching.”
Advocates point to one Brooklyn apartment building on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights as an extreme example – with at least 27 antennas from three companies.
Panicked residents, most of them Orthodox Jews, charge that since the bulk of the antennas arrived, they suffer from headaches, dizziness, lethargy and other ailments.
“It’s scary,” said one resident, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. “It seems like everyone has something.”
Company officials insist the levels are safe except when standing directly in front of the panels for extended periods. But not all experts are convinced.
“Part of the problem is there is very little research on this,” said Dr. David Carpenter, director of the University at Albany’s Institute for Health and the Environment.
Ground Zero may be the Eastern Parkway building.
An ominous sign hangs from the door to the roof. It reads, “Radio Frequency emissions may exceed FCC standards for general exposure,” and “Do not stop in front of antennas.”
“Twenty-seven cell towers is too much for any one building,” said City Councilwoman Letitia James (Working Families Party-Brooklyn).
The building’s owners, Serhof Realty Corp., declined to discuss how much they receive for the towers. But a man who answered the phone at their Long Island office insisted they were “complying with the laws.”
City code allows landlords to install a cell antenna after filing an application with the Buildings Department and getting an alteration permit, similar to one needed to add a wall.
However, a surge of community protests from Astoria to Bay Ridge has prompted elected officials from both sides of the aisle and from city, state and federal government to form a coalition to push for stricter laws. The group plans to hold a news conference today at City Hall.
In the meantime, some Eastern Parkway residents said they plan to move.
“Even if there’s only a small percent chance that it’s dangerous, how can you make money at the expense of other people?” asked another resident.