An 84-foot cell phone tower in southwest Bend, expected to be built next to housing developments and Elk Meadow Elementary School, has some people in the community confused and upset by alleged health hazards associated with the structure.

According to documents from the city of Bend, the city approved a conditional use permit in September 2017 for Verizon to build the tower on an undeveloped 1.7-acre plot of land directly south of Elk Meadow. Construction on the tower began very recently, according to Verizon spokesperson Jeannine Braggs. It will provide 4G cell service in a few months, she said.

Experts say there’s no evidence of a health impact. Gretchen Groves, spokesperson for the Oregon branch of the American Cancer Society, said although high levels of radio frequency waves can heat up body tissue, the level of radio waves used by cellphones and towers is much lower.

“Obviously, we understand that people have expressed concern, especially if it’s going near a school,” she said. “But at this time, there’s very little evidence that would support the idea that it is a concern.”

But Deb Hancock, who said she lives very close to the new tower’s location, said she’s heard conflicting reports from city employees, as well as her neighbors about whether or not the cell tower’s radiation would increase the risk of cancer for those nearby.

“I don’t know who to believe,” she said. “I think we should be alarmed about it, but I don’t know what we should do.”

Ally Sexton, the director of Toddles Preschool off of Brookswood Boulevard near Elk Meadow, had multiple concerns about the proposed tower. She believes that the tower’s radio frequencies would be a health hazard, it would lower property values, and strong winds or fires could cause the tower to collapse and potentially fall on children, she said.

“I don’t feel that this is a safe place for it,” Sexton said. “There are better places where it won’t affect people.”

On Tuesday afternoon, a woman named Mary Elizabeth posted on Facebook about the proposed tower, telling parents that “if you don’t know the health dangers and cancer risks of this you need to look it up and act now!” Elizabeth’s post garnered 144 comments, many concerned about the tower, and was shared 140 times.

The post referenced an elementary school in Ripon, California, where multiple people developed cancer after a cell tower was installed nearby. According to the Modesto Bee, four students and three teachers were diagnosed with different forms of cancer in a three-year timespan. Although Sprint and Ripon Unified School District said the tower met safety standards, the cell tower was turned off in March.

Elizabeth did not respond when asked for comment.

Although Elizabeth’s post said the proposed tower would provide 5G cell service, Braggs confirmed that the tower will provide 4G cell service.

Julianne Repman, a spokeswoman for Bend-La Pine Schools, which operates Elk Meadow, said the school district had not received complaints about the proposed cell tower. She said the district was not for or against the tower being built.

“We don’t take a position on construction on property that’s not ours,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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