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Will cell phone towers hurt monarchs?

By KELLY NIX

Published: August 23, 2013

A PAIR of cell phone antennas disguised as hotel chimneys got the go-ahead from the Pacific Grove City Council Wednesday after a group of activists argued that radio signals from the devices could harm the city’s monarch butterflies.

The council rejected a request by Nina Beety to continue a public hearing to consider an appeal of the city planning commission’s July 18 approval of the antennas. Beety is among more than 10 people — many of whom said they don’t live in P.G. — who spoke out Wednesday night against AT&T’s plan to install the antennas.

“The butterflies will be long gone if we don’t do something about this,” according to a change.org petition organized by Augustina Ursino that had received about 400 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.
Numerous people at the council meeting also spoke in favor of the antennas, which some said are necessary for emergency phone calls.

AT&T wants to place the antennas inside faux chimney enclosures at The Wilkies Inn at 1038 Lighthouse Ave. While the 27-foot antennas are expected to greatly improve cellular phone signal in that neighborhood, opponents believe they will emit radio signals that are harmful to adults, children and even the migrating monarch butterflies.

“Microwave radiation from cell towers and wireless devices harms all life by damaging DNA, the immune system, reproduction and fertility, cells and cellular membranes, and causing cancer and tumors,” according to an anonymous flyer distributed in P.G. this week.

The council, however, voted 5-1 in favor of AT&T’s proposal. Councilman Dan Miller dissented and Ken Cuneo recused himself because he said he owns AT&T stock.

Beety and Ursino contend AT&T provided misinformation about the antennas and omitted information about potential harm to the city’s monarchs, habitat and the insects’ sanctuary off of Lighthouse Avenue.

“We know that radiation from cell phone antennas disrupts the butterflies’ immune system, behavior, development and senses,” according to a “Save P.G. Butterflies” Facebook page created to spread the word about the antennas.

The activists contend an environmental impact report should have been prepared. However, the initial study for the project found that the amount of radio frequency electromagnetic fields produced by the antennas would comply with standards for limiting public exposure to RF energy “and would not cause a significant impact on humans and the environment.”

The study also found that the only potentially significant impacts to humans would occur during construction and would involve “short-term increases in ambient noise levels.”

The chimney antennas will replace a mobile cell antenna that AT&T set up at the city’s cemetery.