Oakville, Ont., resident Lisa Guglietti was in the midst of building her dream home when the mother of three noticed eight cellular network antennas strapped to the chimney of a Bell Canada building, a short distance from her son's bedroom.
"We were surprised that we weren't notified," she said. "We asked some of the neighbours. None of the neighbours had any clue that these cellular antenna had been put up."
Under federal regulations, cellphone companies must notify the municipality for towers at least 15 metres high, but many new installations are coming up short of the limit, at just 14.9 metres. Homeowners say the rule undermines their ability to weigh in on installations in the community.
Though the antennas are an eyesore, Guglietti's primary concern is possible health effects.
Experts disagree on the impact caused by cell towers. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, which are emitted by wireless phones and cell towers, as a possible human carcinogen.
Health Canada states that radiofrequency fields given off by cellphone towers are safe as long as the facility adheres to federal regulatory requirements limiting human exposure.
In an email to CBC News, a Bell spokesperson wrote that all its sites, including the Oakville, Ont., one near Guglietti's house, "meet or exceed all federal safety and other operating requirements."
City councillor struggles with issue
In June, construction began on a 14.9-metre cellphone tower in a Barrie, Ont. neighbourhood that triggered a backlash over potential health concerns for those living across the street and students walking to nearby schools.
"Telecommunications companies are able to come in and put these things basically wherever they want: as close to any residents, as close to any schools, and as close to any community centre they want," Barrie, Ont. city councillor John Brassard told CBC News.
"Why not make it 14.99 metres?" he asked.
Since the incident, the Barrie city councillor has begun working to change federal regulations to give Canadians a voice over the placement of cell towers in their neighbourhoods.
"Authority and a large part of that decision making should be made by the municipality and in consultation with Industry Canada. Not just Industry Canada alone."
Government, company response
CBC News requested government data on the number of towers under 15 metres erected across Canada, but Industry Canada said the department doesn't keep a database of that information.
In the last year, Ottawa has collected about $582 million in revenue from telecommunications companies rolling out their networks of cell towers.
Industry Canada told CBC News that companies are required to consult with the municipality and public before installing antenna towers, unless the towers fall within a certain height.
"Certain installations, including towers less than 15 metres, generally have minimal local impact and so may be excluded from municipal consultation," an Industry Canada spokesperson said in a written statement to CBC News.
After discovering the cell antennas on the large brick building next door to her new house, Guglietti contacted the federal agency.
An Industry Canada official responded in an email to Guglietti on June 8, 2012 that "given that the installation at the Bell central office building on Balsam Street complies with all procedural and technical requirements, Industry Canada is not in a position to order Bell to relocate the facility."
Guglietti also contacted Bell Canada, which owns the building next door, and says she was initially told it would try to find an alternative location. However, the eight cell antennas remain attached to the chimney next door.
'Don't want to be a guinea pig'
The scientific uncertainty over the health impact of cellphone towers doesn’t sit well with Guglietti.
“I'm supposed to be OK with that?" asked Guglietti. "I'm supposed to have my son exposed to these frequencies day in and day out and I have to wait. Maybe in 10 years from now I'm going to find out, 'Oh yeah there is, there can be health hazards in living so close to a cell tower.' "
"I don't want to be a guinea pig," said Guglietti.
A Bell spokesperson said in an email to CBC News that cellphone towers are being installed to meet customer demand.
Guglietti said she's certain other homeowners are dealing with similar concerns.
"I need to protect myself and I need to protect my family. I'm a mother and I'm sure anyone would do the same thing in our situation.”
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