Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie is one of the first Prince George’s County schools scheduled to have a cell phone tower constructed on its grounds. Eight other locations have also been selected to receive towers, based on a 2011 agreement between the county board of education and Reston, Va- based company Milestone Communications. Milestone and the county determined approximately 75 school locations that could accommodate cell towers and the nine sites currently being developed were chosen based on wireless carriers’ desire to increase service in those areas, said Maureen Smith, Milestone project manager.
“In the Tasker area, there is a monopole located on the adjacent property, but that tower could not accommodate any additional users and there were no other viable existing structures in the area, and [Verizon] needed coverage in the area,” Smith said.
Smith said Milestone has submitted permit applications to Bowie and Prince George’s County for the project and expects construction of the Tasker tower to begin this fall.
The county school system will receive approximately $25,000 for the Tasker tower, which is currently set to be deposited into a general fund, said school system spokesman Max Pugh. But some Bowie parents say a cell phone tower on Tasker’s grounds poses several risks, including radiation and damage to property values.
Eric Martin of Bowie is a board member of Mothers Raising Sons and Daughters — a Bowie-based organization dedicated to informing and unifying Prince George’s County parents — that is planning a petition drive to protest the 151-foot Tasker tower.
“The jury is still out on the long-term effects of radiation,” Martin said. “The damage from cell phones is not like cigarette smoke where you can see it. But just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it won’t affect you.”
Martin and other parents opposing the tower cite several case studies and research papers on the health risks of radiation, including a 2014 report co-authored by Santosh Kesari, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, titled “Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults: the consequences.”
The study states that children absorb more microwave radiation from wireless devices, which has been labeled a possible human carcinogen.
Deborah Lumpkins of Bowie, the director of Mothers Raising Sons and Daughters, said her three grandchildren attend Tasker and that she doesn’t think Tasker families were properly informed about the tower installation.
“I haven’t seen anything [from the school] about it,” she said. “Our goal [with the petition] is to get the families and the community involved in the decision process of what’s going on.”
Tasker principal Ingrid Johnson said parents were adequately informed about the tower installation by Milestone outreach efforts. She said the school did not send material about the tower home with students, but that the information was provided through a link on the school’s website. Johnson said she does not believe the tower poses a risk to students, but that the project is ultimately a county decision.
“I’ve read the research and I understand there are no real health issues,” she said. “[The tower] is on Tasker’s site, but it’s a school board decision. The county has already made the decision.”