One cell phone company is receiving a decidedly mixed reception at UCSB.
A temporary Cingular Wireless cell phone base station located on campus adjacent to the Campus Learning Assistance Services building has caused concern among members of the UCSB community who are concerned that there might be dangers associated with long-term exposure to long-wave radiation. Campus officials say there is no cause for concern, but they are trying to relocate the transmitter.
The temporary station was to be relocated, possibly to the top of Storke Tower, by March of this year. Instead, it has remained in its original spot for a little over a year, CLAS Director Carol Hiles said.
“When it was first put up, we were assured it was only a temporary thing,” Hiles said. “But now that deadline keeps getting extended, we’re starting to get the feeling that it’s just not going to be taken down anytime soon.”
An exact date and place for the relocation of the temporary cell station has not yet been finalized, Cingular representative Richard Gomes said.
In the meantime, employees in the vicinity of the cell station have nothing to worry about, Radiation Safety Officer Jim Casto said.
“It’s not a safety issue,” Casto said. “We’ve done measurements on the output of [the cell station], and a lot of it was lower than a microwatt. Even the highest possible level was 1,000 times lower than anything to cause a concern.”
Many people have misconceptions about the type of radiation cell stations give out, Casto said. The companies all have licenses from the FCC, and are required to fall within federally regulated levels of microwave production.
“The radiation given off by the cell station is not ionizing, and the only documented effect is that of heating up tissue,” Casto said. “When we do the testing, we do it at the maximum power level. In practice, they don’t even reach those levels, so there’s even a margin of safety built into that.”
Casto’s assurances are not enough to alleviate the concerns of some. Academic Skills Coordinator Jay Stemmle works behind the station and said that its close presence worries her.
“I’ve been underneath it for about a year now,” Stemmle said. “My concern is that the incidences of people who have exposure to low-level waves for long periods of time haven’t fully been studied.”
While the cell station does fully comply with all federal regulations, its relocation would make many people more comfortable, said Information Systems Manager Ira Gladnick, who works near the cell station.
“We were told it was moving, and I’m hoping that it will move,” Gladnick said. “As long as there’s a controversy, why risk it if it’s a human health issue?”
However, the question remains of where to relocate the cell station. Negotiations for a move to Storke Tower are under way, and the university is doing whatever it can to expedite the process, Assistant Director of Business Services Julie Sears said.
Without the temporary cell station, Cingular customers would have limited service while on campus.
“The students really want it,” Sears said. “They [would be] the ones not getting service.”
Currently, AT&T and Verizon Wireless both have cell stations located at the top of Storke Tower. Because of its height, the 10-story tower is possibly the safest place to put them, KCSB Adviser Elizabeth Robinson said.
“The height of the transmitter is important, and the official documentation says it’s safely below the regulated radio frequency levels,” Robinson said.
In the past, AT&T and Verizon have negotiated with the university to gain permission to rent space on top of Storke Tower for their cellular base stations. The contracts are renewed in periods of five years, and can be revised if necessary, Robinson said.
“If we weren’t fairly confident that we weren’t endangering people in the building, then we wouldn’t let it happen,” she said. “As for now, the preponderance of evidence says that it’s not dangerous.”
Cingular’s contract with the university provides money in exchange for the transmitter’s space. The funds are expected to be divided between Disabled Student Services, the Athletic Dept. and the organizations that lease space under Storke Tower, Robinson said.
“The money is important because it gets the [Storke Communications Building] repaired, and helps us to continue providing [radio] service for the community,” Robinson said. “We’ve been able to get big-ticket items with this money and that’s important to maintaining our infrastructure.”
While the money is beneficial, Stemmle said she is concerned the leasing of university property to private companies will eventually go too far.
“Do we have to do business with every company that wants to put up a cell station?” Stemmle said. “The question is, where does it stop?”