New cell tower goes up next to Folsom day care. Parents worry about risk to their kids

A new cell tower is scheduled to go live at the Palladio mall in Folsom this month – and a day care center just yards away says families are leaving in droves because they fear possible health risks.

The 80-foot tower, owned by Verizon, was approved for construction in 2013. Kids Inc. owner Kelli Vaccaro opened her day care business in 2017 but said she wasn’t made aware of the planned tower until several months later.

“I saw the construction beginning, and I emailed management,” she said. “I even joked and asked if it’s a playground being built and they said, no, it’s a cell tower going up.”

Since then, parents have been contacting the Palladio management with their concerns.

“Their response has been passive, and they have referred to us to Verizon, who says there are no risk factors,” Vaccaro said.

The day care business, which has two locations in Folsom, serves 54 children from as young as 6 weeks to 12 years old at Palladio. Many are at the center for eight to 10 hours a day.

Already, more than 10 families have left Kids Inc. at Palladio, with 24 more informing Vaccaro that they plan to leave, because they are concerned for their children’s health.

“The day care can’t go up against big companies like the Palladio or Verizon,” said Stacy Williams, who has three children at Kids Inc. She plans to remove her children once the tower goes live.

Williams said she has repeatedly reached out to Folsom officials, Palladio management and Verizon, because she is concerned for her children and for Vaccaro’s business.

The jury is still out on whether cell towers pose a health risk. Some laboratory studies have supported the idea that radiofrequency waves from cell towers don’t have enough energy to damage DNA or help cancerous tumors grow, while other studies have suggested the opposite or still require more research, according to the American Cancer Society.

While radiofrequency emissions are dangerous at high levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, scientists are still studying the effects of long-term exposure to low levels, including on the developing brains and bodies of children. Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit their children’s use of cellphones.

Vaccaro said even if cancer concerns are ruled out, little to no research done has been done on whether cell towers cause developmental delays in children, “especially when they are this close to a school.”

She said that at the least, Palladio management should have informed her of their plans to place a cell tower so close, so she could have opted for another location.

Vacarro said national headlines earlier this year about a Central Valley cell tower and its possible link to cancer diagnoses caused concern among many Folsom parents.

Sprint turned off a cell tower at an elementary school campus in Ripon after parents suspected it was the cause of cancer for four students and three teachers. Parents had spent two years urging the Ripon Unified School District to relocate the tower. Since then, officials have suspected that chemicals in Ripon’s groundwater linked to a former Nestle plant could be causing cancer.

In Folsom, Verizon proposed other locations for its tower at the large Palladio outdoor shopping plaza, but management denied them.

Parents began an online petition asking Palladio management to move the tower, which also was denied. They said they were told relocating it would ruin the aesthetics of the plaza.

Verizon said it follows all regulations and holds Federal Communications Commission licenses for the frequencies used by all its towers, including the one built in Folsom. While every wireless company is working to build its own 5G network and install new equipment throughout the U.S., Verizon officials said the Palladio tower is 4G.

“We fully comply with all zoning and permitting requirements,” Verizon spokeswoman Heidi Flato said it a statement to The Sacramento Bee. “Potential antenna locations must meet all local state and federal regulations.”

Verizon would not disclose how much it is paying Palladio to permanently station its tower on the site. Average estimates for landowner leases to wireless companies range between $1,500 and $5,000 a month.

Vaccaro said her real estate agent asked Palladio management if they could move across the street to the Broadstone Marketplace, which is also owned by Palladio owner Stephen Hemington. He is also vice president of Elliot Homes — a large residential and commercial builder in California and Arizona.

“They basically told my real estate agent to stay out of it,” Vacarro said.

Hemington, Palladio management and Elliot Homes did not return The Bee’s requests for comment.

Vacarro said she learned that Verizon was working on construction of the tower without a valid permit. The area was taped off, and construction stopped for about a week, but Verizon obtained a new permit from the city and resumed construction in recent months. On Monday, the finishing touches of the cell tower – faux leaves that resemble a palm tree – were added to make it blend with the Palladio’s line of palm trees.

Kaiser Permanente, which has an office just across the street from the tower, said that it has requested more information.

“These kids are like my own children,” Vaccaro said. “My five kids are grown, and these babies are my babies. To have to go through something like this its devastating.”

In a last attempt for a resolution, Vaccaro hired an attorney and requested that Palladio management allow Kids Inc. to break its lease early so that she can find a new location. Kids Inc. has more than two years left on its current lease. Vaccaro said she has not heard back from Palladio management.

Vaccaro said she is concerned about what the dozens of families will do as many of them debate whether to stay at Kids Inc. or find other day cares.

“The families are being torn,” she said. “They go to birthday parties together and this is all the families talk about.”

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.