Ripon school parents want cell tower removed over cancer fear
The Ripon Unified School District said it is talking with a telecommunications company about moving a cellular phone tower from Weston Elementary School because of a public uproar over cancer cases at the campus.
A fourth child who attends the school was diagnosed with cancer Friday. Some parents pulled their children from school, and many came out in force to a Ripon school board meeting Monday evening to demand action.
In a prepared statement, board president Kit Oase said tests done on the tower found it was operating normally within safety standards.
Monica Ferrulli, whose son was treated for brain cancer in 2017, said RUSD has cited an obsolete American Cancer Society study in keeping the tower in place since the controversy erupted two years ago. “It is just denial,” Ferrulli told the board. She vowed that parents will continue to fight and keep their children out of the school.
About 200 parents packed the meeting, held in the Ripon City Council chambers. People who want the tower removed say four students and three teachers at Weston have been stricken with cancer. The kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on Stanley Drive has 400 students.
Richard Rex, whose family lives across the street from Weston School, said a bump appeared on his 11-year-old son’s abdomen a month ago. He said his son’s classroom is near the tower.
The parents first thought it was a skating injury. Instead of going to science camp, 11-year-old Brad was taken to doctors for examinations and tests that found a tumor wrapped around his liver. The boy now has a portal for starting cancer treatment, the parents said.
Richard Rex said he’s hearing different options for treating the cancer. “They said they can shrink it and cut it out. They’re also talking liver transplant. It is very scary,” Rex said.
In the statement, Oase said the school district sympathized with the families. The statement said the district has no out clause in the 25-year lease agreement with Sprint, the tower’s owner. The district and Sprint will have to mutually agree to relocation of the tower.
RUSD receives a negligible amount of revenue from providing campus space for the tower, the statement said.
Adrienne Norton, representing Sprint, said the company’s goal is providing wireless service that keeps businesses and residents connected in Ripon.
“When it comes to the deployment of network infrastructure, we always strive to achieve a win/win process with local municipalities and residents,” Norton wrote in an email. “We have been working with the community in Ripon to address their concerns.”
Potential health effects from electromagnetic fields emitted by transmission lines or cell towers have been debated for years. The National Cancer Institute cites studies that EMFs are a possible human carcinogen based on research looking at childhood leukemia. According to the institute’s website, however, no increased risks of brain tumors or other cancers were revealed by epidemiological studies in Europe.
Oase said he would talk with a San Joaquin County epidemiologist about the situation at Weston School. County Health Officer Kismet Baldwin said Tuesday the county does no surveillance on new cancer diagnoses. That’s the responsibility of the cancer registry with the California Department of Public Health.
“We have not received anything from the cancer registry,” Baldwin said. “We don’t know how many newly diagnosed cancer cases there were before the cell tower was installed and how many since it was installed.”
According to notices posted by RUSD, the school district hired engineers for an evaluation in 2018 on the cell tower’s compliance with guidelines for limiting human exposure to electromagnetic radiation. The testing found exposure levels for people nearby were below the federal standard, the notices says.
Hammett & Edison Inc. was hired to perform the testing.
Ferrulli, who watched her son’s cancer relapse last year, countered that parents arranged for testing that showed much higher readings. The Cochran law firm of Los Angeles has been hired to look at health effects of the cell tower and water contamination as a possible source. “We are not so naive as to rule out other environmental factors,” Ferrulli said.
Richard Rex wants to see the tower moved away from the schoolchildren.
“It is a terrible thing,” he said. “How many children with cancer will it take?”