John Weier, MADACT
Jenny Quinn has no intention of backing down just because she's won: "We're still going to go speak; we're not going to let it die." Quinn is among a group of parents who opposed a planned cell phone tower at Gompers Elementary, which also houses Black Hawk Middle School. Last Friday, U.S. Cellular issued a statement saying it has decided to "withdraw its proposal...at this time" and look for "alternative solutions."
The 75-foot tower would have been sited about 400 feet from the school and brought about $2,000 a month into the district's coffers. The parents, alarmed by potential health risks, formed a group called MADACT (Moms and Dads Against Cell Towers) and began collecting signatures on a petition against the plan.
Quinn, whose daughter attends Gompers, says the plan amounted to wanting "to put a cancer-causing mechanism over the kids' heads." She remains concerned about cell towers at other Madison schools, all erected without controversy. That could change.
As Gompers parent Nicole Dougherty points out, Google "cell towers" and "schools" and you'll find all sorts of negative information. There's even a Facebook page devoted to the anti-cell-tower-near-schools movement.
One especially scary site is anticelltowerlawyers.com, which highlights "expert studies" purporting to show an increased incidence of cancer among those who live near cell towers. Other studies link these towers to cognitive disruption and headaches.
The Los Angeles school board banned towers on school grounds in May 2009, citing "growing scientific evidence that the electromagnetic radiation they emit, even at low levels, is dangerous to human health." Other school districts around the country, and even some nations, have also done so.
A lawsuit filed last month in Bayville, N.Y., alleges that a cell phone tower near a school there is responsible for high rates of illness, including three fatal cases of leukemia among students. And famed Australian physician Helen Caldicott has said these towers "will have deleterious medical effects to people within the near vicinity," especially children. "It is therefore criminal to place one of these aerials on or near a school."
Or, to quote Quinn, "Why put something that can damage a child's ability to learn in the very place they go to learn?" She says it's less unfair that adults who use cell phones be exposed to this risk: "At least we have a choice." (One message on this issue received by Isthmus from another parent bore the coda, "Sent from my U.S. Cellular Android phone.")
John Hausbeck of Public Health Madison & Dane County, who investigated this issue some years back, says the radiation given off by cell towers is "similar to signals from radios." He's unaware of any "plausible science" that establishes grounds for concern.
"From what we see right now," says Hausbeck, "the potential for health impact from cell phone towers is nonexistent." To which Quinn replies: "Back in the day, they told us asbestos and cigarettes and mercury and lead were all good to use, too."
There are existing cell phone towers at three Madison schools. Memorial High has a T-Mobile ground tower similar to what was proposed for Gompers-Black Hawk. West High has antennas attached to a chimney, and Franklin Elementary has a tower on its roof.
District officials were unable to say as of press time how much it is being paid for this access; U.S. Cellular, through a spokesperson, refused to answer this question for its existing structures.
Erik Kass, the district's assistant superintendent for business services, says Superintendent Dan Nerad has asked "a medical liaison we work with" to look into the issue of cell-phone-tower safety. But the district has nixed plans to discuss the issue at a March 14 operational support committee meeting.
Quinn plans to show up anyway, to urge the district to "make some kind of a law that these towers will not be put on school property."
Nursing home problems persist
Holly Gould, a spokeswoman for Willows Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Sun Prairie, insists there is nothing extraordinary about that facility being written up for "deficiencies" following a Jan. 12 inspection. "Any nursing home you go into you will find deficiencies," she says, and correcting them "is part of what we do every day."
But for Madison resident Michael Hansen, the inspection is more than that. It's his attempt to send a message over what he feels is the poor care received by one of his friends.
The friend, who has stage 4 prostate cancer, went into the Willows in mid-November after hurting his leg in a fall. During visits Hansen noticed - and complained about - what he felt were unsanitary conditions, including dried urine on the floor, feces underneath a toilet seat and a backed-up toilet that spewed waste.
Unhappy with the response, Hansen reported his concerns to the Division of Quality Assurance, part of the Department of Health Services, which promptly conducted a surprise inspection. It sampled six patients and issued three federal citations for multiple problems. These included "a nickel-sized piece of bowel movement stuck to the side of a toilet bowl" and a "black substance seeping out among the [floor] tiles."
The facility, according to the state's report, failed to provide "a safe, clean, comfortable and homelike environment for four resident rooms and two common areas."
Willows was mentioned in a recent Isthmus article (Watchdog, 1/21/11) because it paid more than $2 million last September to settle a lawsuit over the death of an older woman who received substandard care - the kind of suit that will be much harder to win under the "tort reform" enacted by Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP.
Isthmus' article drew on reporting by The Capital Times, which noted that the federal government flagged the Willows in late 2007 as being one of the worst in the nation. Willows officials were quoted as saying the facility was "now in compliance with all state and federal regulations."
Except, of course, for the ones it was just written up for violating.
UW brings in true monkey research foe
Last year, the UW-Madison beat back a Dane County Board resolution calling for an advisory panel to explore the ethics of primate research, much to the disappointment of local monkey defenders (see Rick Marolt's opinion column, 10/14/10). Instead, the university agreed to host a series of forums, which many predicted would be a bust.
But the first of those forums, set for Thursday, Feb. 17, at the new Institutes for Discovery, 7 p.m., presents a prominent critic of primate research. "I'm extremely pleased they have selected him," says local animal-rights activist Ann Emerson.
Dr. Lawrence Hansen, an eminent neuroscientist at UC-San Diego, finds much of the research being done on monkeys by institutions like the UW morally unjustifiable. Regarded as a leading Alzheimer's researcher, Hansen says most of the Alzheimer's research being done using primates is as pointless as it is cruel.
Last summer, Hansen wrote a letter in support (PDF) of the County Board resolution, saying this is an area in which the scientists involved are simply too biased to perform the necessary ethical assessment of their work.
Dr. Eric Sandgren, the UW's top overseer of animal research, says the panel that picked the speakers knows there aren't many "middle of the road" thinkers on this topic and thus is eager to present divergent views. "It's exactly what we wanted."
Dawn Crim, the UW's director of community relations, sent an email to County Board members touting the series, saying, "we hope you will come out and participate in the discussion."
Supv. Al Matano, the main sponsor of the failed resolution, notes the irony of that, since Hansen's speech Thursday conflicts with another event in his life: the regularly scheduled meeting of the Dane County Board.