After several childhood cancer cases at one school, parents question radiation from cell tower
Sprint shut down a cellphone tower on the campus of a California elementary school after some parents said it may be linked to several recent cases of childhood cancer. Those families at Weston Elementary School in Ripon claim the tower could have exposed their kids to harmful radiation. Sprint said the tower is safe and has operated well below federal safety limits, but the company turned it off anyway and plans to move it to a new location.
Kellie Prime's son, Kyle, was just 10 years old when he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2016.
"My son missed growing up with his friends. My son lost all of his hair," Prime said, choking up with emotion. "It's not something that I wish on anybody to watch their child go through what our children have gone through."
Five months later, Kyle's friend and classmate, Mason Ferrulli, developed brain cancer.
"Fourteen hours to get the tumor out and he had five weeks of inpatient rehabilitation. He had to learn to walk, talk, eat, everything all over again," said Mason's mother, Monica Ferrulli.
Two more kids at the school were diagnosed this year.
"At what point are you saying, we gotta take a close look at the school here?" CBS News correspondent Carter Evans asked.
"The moment that I found out that Mason had been diagnosed... it popped into my mind that something was not OK," Prime said.
The moms believe the recent increase in cancer cases could be caused by radiation from radio frequency, or RF, waves coming from a cell tower located on the elementary school campus.
"It is classified as a possible carcinogen. That tells us that there is some evidence out there," Ferrulli said. "We're not naive to the fact that there could be other components out there -- other environmental influences… but the bottom line that we feel in regards to this tower is it doesn't belong there... if there's any indications that its unsafe."
Ferrulli said it's "absolutely" not worth the risk.
The district hired engineers to measure the exposure and concluded the tower met "government and industry standards in all respects" and posed "no threat to student safety."
The parents hired their own investigator who found much higher RF levels than the district did, but still within government safety standards.
Sprint network project manager Dharma Nordell said three tests have shown the tower is operating 100 times below the federal limit.
"Does Sprint believe that tower could be causing cancer?" Evans asked her.
"Absolutely not," Nordell said. "It is not a safety concern to the community but we do hear the community's concerns, so we're quickly working to relocate the tower."
CBS News medical contributor and oncologist Dr. David Agus said the number of cases warrants further investigation.
"Whenever you hear of cases of cancer in a child obviously that itself is alarming. When there's several cases in one school… that's even more alarming," Agus said.
But he said people exposed to RF waves at normal levels have not been found to be at higher risk for developing cancer.
"The way to study this is to look at the incidents of cancer in proximity to these towers," Agus said. "We have to look at epidemiologic data… but the data today both in adults and children don't point to these causing cancer."
The American Cancer Society said there is "very little evidence" to support the idea that being near a cell tower might increase the risk of cancer, but they also said "very few human studies have focused specifically" on that risk.
"Do you believe the oncologists who say cell towers can't cause cancer?" Evans asked.
"I believe that everybody wants to believe our government," Prime said. "Technology is what it is and it's growing and it's growing out of control."
Ferruli's son's cancer has returned and he's now undergoing treatment. Prime's son, Kyle, is in remission, but still undergoes scans every three months.
"I've looked into his eyes and I've looked at the fear that he has as a 9-year-old facing something, asking me, 'Mom am I going to die?'" Prime said. "It would push you to fight as well. It would push any parent to fight. I won't stop until it's done, until that thing is gone."
The school district tells CBS News it has been in touch with the California Department of Health and has tested the school's soil and water. It is waiting for the results of those tests.
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