New 5G antennas draw health concerns

Feb 25, 2019

With the 5G and data-driven future on the horizon, cell phone companies are building new infrastructure to support it. But that new technology has neighbors worried about health and home values.

A request by Verizon Wireless to build a new “small cell” 5G antenna near 19 Faunce Corner Road faced questions from officials and the public at a Feb. 25 Select Board meeting. Ultimately, the board decided not to hold a vote to approve the project.

Small cell systems are used in dense areas with a specific need for more bandwidth. Unlike cell towers and antenna installations on rooftops, the “small cells” are smaller and provide direct coverage to a specific, short range. Normal antennas usually cover between two and 2.5 miles, while small cell sites service a 0.8 mile area.

Two years ago, Verizon installed seven small cells on telephone poles around the Dartmouth Mall and Route 6 to improve service around the mall.

“The need for the seven that were approved in 2017 was because of exponential growth of data usage, not just in Dartmouth, but nationwide,” said attorney John Weaver, representing Verizon. “It went up 400 percent from 2014 to 2017, and that growth continued.”

The “small cell” systems, unlike larger antennas, are also much smaller. The canister antenna is about one foot across and three feet tall in height.

The proposed antenna’s location, which is near the Champion Terrace neighborhood, drew comments from neighbors concerned about the effects of radiation from the devices.

Dr. Donald Hayes, a consultant working with Verizon, said testing he conducted using theoretical data showed the small site would be well within FCC and Department of Public Health radiation exposure rules.

The answer, however, still unnerved residents, who worried if that could change if more antennas are installed. Despite concerns, however, it might not be possible to say no.

FCC regulations passed last year significantly limit local input on small cell installations, so long as they abide by federal rules. The town also has 60 days from the date of the application to render its decision.

“To put it bluntly, our hands are literally tied with this,” said Select Board Chairman Shawn McDonald. “As long as Verizon meets the requirements, its going in. Unless we have any significant problems with the location or how they’re going to do it, our hands are tied.”

After a failed attempt to bring the installation up for a vote, McDonald said the board will take up the request again at its March 11 meeting, which is the deadline to make a decision. McDonald asked Verizon’s lawyer to come to the meeting with data on small cell sites already installed.