Area Couple's Status: Cell Tower Refugees

Dr. Brad Harding and Meg McMorrow. Photo by Walter Kidd.

KENT–The darkened office window still has the name Progressive Medicine etched into it.

For five years, in a small but otherwise bustling business complex near Kent’s charming town center, the comprehensive natural treatment center stood as an active and viable part of the economic community.

A Dream and Static

Until this past October, this was where Brad Harding, M.D., and his wife, Meg McMorrow, a licensed acupuncturist, practiced their professions, promoting health and wellness through Eastern and Western philosophical and medical traditions and techniques.

Over the course of a half-a-decade, it was their dream realized. It wasn’t an effortless one however. Before opening their doors, it took them just as much time to develop the business.

Then, about a year-and-a-half ago, the telecommunications giant Verizon Wireless constructed a 150-foot monopole cell tower nearby, just across Maple Street.

Slowly, various adverse health symptoms—such as insomnia, cognitive complications, heart irregularities and memory lapse—affected the husband-and-wife team. It became so overwhelming, they say, that it affected their ability to practice markedly.

As a result, this past fall they moved the operation to Litchfield. And now, particularly for Ms. McMorrow, they have trouble just being in the Kent parking lot for any extended duration without feeling overcome by a certain malaise.

“I’m about 80 percent better,” said Ms. McMorrow, while outside her old office. “But just standing here, I can feel this.”

She described dizziness, a “torque” in her chest, and mild nausea not unlike altitude sickness. Her sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation has become so acute that she takes the back roads to her mother’s home in White Plains, N.Y., just to avoid the frequencies wafting all over highway 684.

The problem is that on the record there is little official information concerning the health risks associated with telecommunication towers.

Off the record, Dr. Harding and Ms. McMorrow can cite endless information on the potential dangers of living near a cell tower.

“We went from 0 to 100 percent exposure, and we went through it together,” said Dr. Harding. “When we started noticing it, we were able to talk and share.”

The Connecticut Siting Council, the agency that oversees and ultimately approves cell towers, in December 2007 issued a report describing the best management practices concerning electric and magnetic fields (EMF.)

The report focuses on “electric transmission facilities or other sources,” and says that the state Department of Public Health produced an EMF Health Concerns Fact Sheet in May 2007 that incorporates the conclusions of national and international health panels. The fact sheet states that while “the current scientific evidence provides no definitive answers as to whether EMF exposure can increase health risks, there is enough uncertainty that some people may want to reduce their exposure to EMF.”

So that’s what Dr. Harding and Ms. McMorrow did. Still, they’re unsatisfied with the lack of information, and are ready to make this matter public. In their Litchfield practice they treat people with symptoms similar to the ones they overcame, as such, are naturally better prepared to handle the problems.

At night, turn off the home’s wireless router, and be careful of those newfangled tablets now so big on the gadget scene. They are like portable cell towers, perhaps worse, and they emit electromagnetic radiation.

Dr. Harding and Ms. McMorrow wonder aloud about the spike in prescription sleep aids and mood stabilizing medications; perhaps it has something to do with the spike in EMF, they say. And as they explained to the Washington Board of Selectmen recently, living within a half-mile of a cell tower is living in a red zone.

Like many Litchfield County towns, Washington is in the midst of a couple cell tower brouhahas. The town of Washington wants Verizon Wireless to place one at the old town garage in Washington Depot, and a private landowner may have AT&T install one on Warren Road.

Washington First Selectman Mark Lyon later told the Litchfield County Times that the selectmen are aware of health concerns associated with cell towers. However, the potential Washington Depot tower placement comes at the advice of a hired consultant, and to limit the frequency coming off the tower the town, which would hold the lease, will limit the number of providers to co-locate.

Plus, by using a half-mile radius would severely limit the number of cell towers anywhere.

“If we start using a half-mile setback, there will be no cell service. If you start drawing circles with a mile circumference in the Northwest corner, there would be no cell towers,” said Mr. Lyon. “Drive on any road for a mile in Litchfield County, tell me if you don’t go by a residence.”

Dr. Harding and Ms. McMorrow found the Washington selectmen thoughtful and receptive. And of course the medical practitioners admit not being opposed to technology, just opposed to unfettered “electromagnetic smog,” to use a burgeoning term from Europe.

“It’s going to be done, these towers will blanket the country, it’s how it is done that’s most important,” said Dr. Harding. “It has to be done sensibly.”

Still, watching Ms. McMorrow outside her old workplace struggling to make it safely down a staircase makes one reconsider the cost of better service. One morning, about three months after making their great egress from Kent, they awoke feeling markedly better. On the exact same day, they said, their health significantly improved.

Then, coming back to the office for but a brief period, her rebound so rapidly diminished. At a point, she had to position herself between a building and the cell tower just to somewhat blunt the frequency. But her cell signal was excellent.