When frustrated DeKalb County residents gather in a small meeting room in downtown Atlanta this morning to listen to a hearing about cell phone towers on school grounds, they'll have a significant new ally – the state representative who organized the meeting.
Months after groups of parents organized to protest a DeKalb County School System plan to put cell phone towers on a number of school sites across the county, Rep. Karla Drenner, District 86, has come out in the last week against the proposal between the school system and T-Mobile, breathing new life into the controversial issue.
"The long term effects of exposure to the type of radiation produced by cell phone towers are not fully known, but initial data indicates cause for concern," Drenner said in a statement last week. "Placing cell towers on school property unnecessarily places our children in potential danger and could even be viewed as experimenting with our children’s health. I am strongly committed to stopping these efforts to put cell phone towers on school property."
In an interview with North Druid Hills-Briarcliff Patch, Drenner said she is introducing two bills into the state legislature. The first bill would prevent cell phone towers from being built on school property anywhere in Georgia. Her second bill would only ban the practice in DeKalb County.
The DeKalb County Board of Education approved in July towers at several schools in the county, including Lakeside High School, Briarlake Elementary School and Margaret Harris Comprehensive School. Residents surrounding the defunct Medlock Elementary School were able to get a tower there removed from the proposal. Since then, parents near Margaret Harris and Briarlake Elementary have been publicly fighting the proposal, but board members and school system officials have essentially turned their backs, saying the T-Mobile contract is binding.
Drenner, however, has a background in radiation physics and said she believes the school system didn't act with necessary caution approving the deal. She said she has a bachelor's of science in radiation physics from West Virginia State University and a master's and a doctorate in environmental science. She also said she has worked as a radiation safety officer in California and calculated radiation exposure at a uranium enrichment facility in Ohio.
"I'm pro-nuclear, but I'm not pro-cell phone towers around schools," Drenner said. "We're used to seeing cell phone towers. However, the placement with regard to schools is an issue because, again, children... they're growing. As a parent myself, I would not want my child in a school where a cell phone tower is active."
Drenner said she admits there is legitimate research that says cell phone towers cause no adverse health effects, but with so many factors to consider, she said she believes it's hard to say for sure. The American Cancer Society says scientists agree it is unlikely that cell phone antennas and towers cause cancer. The organization also says there have been few human studies.
Regardless, Drenner said it's best for school system to avoid cell towers and not welcome cell phone companies like T-Mobile to construct them on school grounds.
"I'm not disputing cell phone towers. I'm disputing where they're being placed right now," she said. "The cell phone tower companies are going to say the distance... minimizes the exposure to the children. That's a valid argument, but they don't talk about the magnetic fields being created when the tower is being used. ... The chances of creating chromosomal aberrations [in children] increases."
Drenner's hearing will begin at 11:30am today in Room 415 of the Coverdell Legislative Office Building, which is located across the street from the Georgia State Capitol. Check back to North Druid Hills-Briarcliff Patch for live coverage.