EZZELL – Greta Henke walked in front of the Ezzell School as she looked up at the tall gray cell tower that remained unfinished Thursday morning.
Though the cell tower is more than 300 feet from the small historic school on Farm-to-Market Road 531, near Hallettsville, Henke worries about the possible long-term implications of having the tower in close proximity to children.
“I don’t care to stick around and wait to see if something happens to my children because of this tower,” Henke said, as a nearby cow mooed. “It’s a small school, but it’s an amazing school. We shouldn’t have kids, and teachers, so close to this tower.”
Henke is one of the parents of the Ezzell school district who are fighting to have an AT&T cell tower moved away from the rural school because of possible health risks.
The petition was started by Jessica Rosas, whose child attends the school. Rosas said she and other parents, like Henke, are concerned about the radiation emitted from the cell tower from radiofrequency signals.
“Being in a place with wide-open spaces, they (AT&T) could have selected any where to put the tower,” she said.
The Federal Communications Commission has said that radiofrequency emissions from antennas used for cellular transmissions are typically “thousands of times” below safety limits:
“Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students.”
According to the American Cancer Society, at this time, ”there is very little evidence” to support the idea that living, working, or attending a school near a cell phone tower might increase the risk of cancer or other health issues.
The society also said, though, that very few human studies have focused specifically on cellphone towers and cancer risk, according to a statement on the organization’s website.
But that uncertainty is worrisome, Rosas said.
When Henke learned about the tower, she found news articles online about four California children who were diagnosed with cancer after a cellphone tower was built near the school.
“It is a major concern and I think it is important for people to know about the possibility,” Henke said.
The school district has also filed a temporary restraining order against any further construction on the tower.
Superintendent Lisa Berckenhoff said the school district was not notified about the construction of the cell tower. She said she found out about the tower when she saw people working on the tower’s foundation in May, and decided to ask what the construction was for.
Berckenhoff learned that AT&T posted an advertisement about the cell tower in the Hallettsville newspaper, but notification was never sent to Berckenhoff or the Ezzell school board.
The tower is not located on school property, but on privately owned land. According to court documents, the land the tower is being built is owned by Frances Elaine Heinemann of Cuero. Calls to Heinemann were not returned.
Berckenhoff contacted the school district’s attorney to issue a temporary restraining order to halt any more construction on the tower in May. Lavaca County 25th District Court Judge Jessica Richard Crawford granted the school district’s petition on May 24, and a hearing for temporary injunction is scheduled for June 12.
AT&T declined to comment on how the company determines where a cell tower is built or whether the company had notified the Ezzell school district about the construction of a cell tower close to the school. The company also declined to comment on the temporary restraining order filed against the company.
Instead it issued the following statement:
“This proposed new cell site, which we plan to place our equipment on, is part of our ongoing investment in the Lavaca County area to significantly improve cell phone coverage and provide broadband service. This coverage is critical for public safety, both for the residents in the area as well as the school. The location of the site was chosen to best meet our customers’ needs. We follow all state and local guidelines, including providing the required public notice, and did so in this case. We’ll continue to work to provide the best experience for our customers in this community.”
Berckenhoff said the district is using the time before the hearing to gather signatures for a petition to bring before the judge. The school district is petitioning to have the tower moved at least 1,500 feet away from the school, which has a Texas historical marker.
One of Berckenhoff’s concern is that parents will pull their children out of the small school district. The school, which houses prekindergarten through eighth grade, had 88 students in May when school ended for the year.
The school board also plans to discuss its next move during a meeting on June 11, but supporters of the petition plan to fight the giant company to have the tower moved.
“We are very cautious to spend money – everyone’s school budgets are tight and we do not want to spend any excess money, but we want to protect our kids,” Berckenhoff said. “We are doing this to protect our livelihood.”