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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 21, 2006


Dialing Danger"

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — The debate has raged since the days of mammoth-sized cell phones in the 1980’s, and continues today as sleek, modern palm-sized phones make their way into the hands of millions of Americans each year.

Are cellular telephones dangerous"

Whether cell phones are dangerous or not, one local expert says that preventative measures are the proper recourse when it comes to personal health and safety.

"When you can make some very simple adjustments, then why not do it if the alternative may be harmful"" asked Daniel Driscoll of Knox. "Until we know more about this, certainly with my own daughters, I advise simple precautions."

Driscoll, whose Ph. D thesis was on electrical currents in the brain, studied the possible health effects of power-line electric and magnetic fields as part of his work for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Public Service Commission.

Like many common electrical devices such as radios, television, or remote controls, cellular telephones use radio-frequency energy which emits electromagnetic radiation. In the electromagnetic spectrum, cell phones fall between televisions and microwave ovens, all of which use low frequencies,

Driscoll told The Enterprise using a "flip-phone" or "clamshell" mobile telephone, incorporating an "ear bud" or "hands-free" set, or using the speaker-phone feature will all decrease the proximity of microwaves to the user’s head.

Mobile telephones that are more rectangular in shape and have no external antenna are placed close to the head when in use. With external antennas, the concentration of electromagnetic fields (IMFs") being transmitted and received are held an inch or two away from the head, which produces one-tenth as much EMF in the brain, said Driscoll.

Simply put, the closer the antenna, the greater the exposure.

With either type of design, Driscoll added, conversations lasting more than a few seconds should be continued using either a land-line telephone, a speaker phone, or an ear-bud device. But, he warns, the mobile phone should not rest on the user’s lap — to avoid potentially damaging exposure to genitalia.

The less you use a cellular phone, the less you will be exposed to any potential harm, he said.

Driscoll, who is a professional engineer and has a Ph. D in electrical engineering, retired in 1999 from New York State as a specialist in the environmental aspects of noise and power line electric and magnetic fields. He has also served on a National Academy of Science Committee on health effects of electromagnetic fields.

Driscoll wrote to The Enterprise editor in response to a recent article. (See opinion pages.)

The Federal Comminations Commission (FCC) has maintained that there is no scientific evidence proving microwaves from cellular telephones are harmful to humans.

"I don’t recall the FCC saying that cell phones are safe," Driscoll said. "They may have said there is no proof that cell phones are dangerous."

The FCC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are the lead regulatory agencies in matters concerning radio frequency from cell phone towers.

The FDA has also regularly maintained that there is no scientific proof of cell phones producing negative affects on humans.

According to the New York State Department of Health, cell-phone users are not in any danger.

"Common scientific evidence show no negative health effects from electromagnetic energy emitted from cell phones," said Marc Carey, spokesman for DOH.

Studies show

With so many studies on the potential harm or safety of wireless technology, what is the public to believe"

Driscoll said that consumers need to look at where each study gets its funding and at the selection size and variables used in each study.

Previously, many studies have shown no correlation between cancer and cell phones, like the study published in the American Academy of Neurology scientific journal, which said there was no link. The study found "no increased risk for brain tumors related to cell phone use, frequency of use, or number of years of use."

The study’s author did concede, "We won’t be able to make any firm conclusions until we can confirm these results with studies with more long-term and heavy cell phone users."

The new studies, however, have indicated a correlation between mobile-telephones use and brain tumors on the side of the head where the phone is held. Driscoll brought a German study to the attention of The Enterprise, and, in April of this year, the Swedish National Institute for Working Life issued a report with similar findings.

"The German study showed people getting tumors on the same side of the head that they use cell phones on," said Driscoll.

The study Driscoll referred to was part of the 13-nation Interphone Study, which was sanctioned by the World Health Organization to assess possible health risks from cell-phone radiation. The study was also published by the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study showed an increased risk of glioma, a deadly type of brain cancer, for cell-phone users. However, the research sample was small and has been deemed "statistically insignificant," by mobile technology advocates.

The German study compared a group of 749 brain-tumor patients with 1,494 similar patients who did not use cell phones. The findings revealed a risk rate that doubled with extensive cell-phone use.

The Swedish study, which had a similar study group, found an increase for acoustic neuromas, non-cancerous brain tumors, after 10 years of cell phone use, but not for glioma.

Microwaves like those found in cell phones heat up tissue just as a microwave oven heats food. Scientist conducting these studies say that the heat can alter cellular DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, which can cause tumors.

According to the National Brain Tumor Foundation, approximately 190,000 people in the United States and 10,000 in Canada will be diagnosed annually with a primary or metastatic brain tumor. Brain tumors are the leading cause of solid tumor death in children under the age of 20, which now surpasses acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Presently, brain tumors are treated by surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, or some combination of those.

There are over 120 different types of brain tumors that make effective treatment complicated, according to the foundation.

What to do"

Reminding The Enterprise throughout his interview that current studies are short on statistical significance, Driscoll said that cellular technology is relatively new and time is needed for more substantial studies.

In many of the 10-year studies, few people have considered themselves heavy or long-time cell-phone users because of how new they are.

Louis Slesin agrees.

Slesin is the publisher of Microwave News, on on-line news agency that has been reporting on the potential health and environmental impacts of electromagnetic fields and radiation for the past 25 years.

"It’s too early. You don’t have the data," Slesin told The Enterprise. "Everyone loves their phones; they don’t want to believe there’s anything wrong with them, but we need to look at this."

Previous studies have been one-sided and funded by the interests of the mobile-phone industry, according to Slesin.

"There’s nothing going on for these studies — nothing. The cell phone industry owns the discussion," he said. "The FDA is in bed with the cell-phone industry and none of the other organizations have the money."

Advocating for more research, Slesin, said the "jury’s still out." He added, though, "Children under the age of 12 should be actively discouraged from using cell phones."

Having a bad signal can be worse than just poor reception.

When a signal is low on the mobile device, cellular towers increase the energy sent to that device in order to accommodate the difference, said Slesin.

"Seventy percent of the radiation from a phone is absorbed by the user"How and where you use the phone is very important," he said. "Everyone’s concerned about the cell towers, but the phones are the real issue. They are a thousand times worse."

Driscoll said there are other problems, too.

"There are other effects besides health issues when it comes to intensity," said Driscoll. He referred to the radio towers with blinking red lights that dot the top of the Helderberg escarpment and told a story to illustrate his point.

As a long-time member of Kiwanais, Driscoll was attending an event at Camp Pinnacle, located in the Helderbergs near some of the towers when he encountered a problem trying to open the trunk of his car.

"I had to walk right up in front of my car with the remote to open it," said Driscoll, this was because of the large amounts of radio frequency interference in the area, he said. Interference from these types of towers can disrupt everything from radios to remote car devices, and, of course cell phones.

He suggested that local governments insist on maps detailing the intensity of electromagnetic radiation before they allow companies to put up towers.

As for the cell-phone debate, both Driscoll and Slesin say more time and money are needed for concrete research studies.

"We have two billion users in the world right now," said Slesin. "I don’t know of any other technology that is so pervasive with so many unanswered questions."


Partying with a purpose
Freshmen connect at GHS

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Energy, like electricity, surged through the halls of Guilderland High School last Tuesday night.

Newbies — ninth-graders — were on their home turf.

"People were nice, telling us about the clubs," said one of them, Brendan Connelly, who had just come from a party in the gym, where freshmen could learn about school activities.

He thinks he may join the Spanish Club. "They go out to dinner and they might go to Costa Rica, which sounds cool," said Connelly.

Jack Taylor, who was munching from a paper cone filled with popcorn, said he liked the music played by the DJ at the party.

Connelly and Taylor and some of their friends threw themselves into goofy poses when faced with a reporter asking to take their picture. The party, they said, was "chill" and they were "psyched" for the year ahead.

"We wanted to make people feel welcome," said Lisa Patierne, the dean who worked with a transition committee to create the "Welcome to High School Celebration."

In its inaugural year, Patierne estimated, the celebration attracted about a quarter of the 490 students in the Class of 2010. Parents were invited, too.

After the party, which featured food and music as well as club pitches — Patierne has dubbed it "the freshman rush" — about 230 parents and students assembled in the auditorium. There, Patierne gave a PowerPoint presentation and students shared their experiences at the school.

After that, parents met with the guidance counselor assigned to their child, while the students met in groups for an unusual scavenger hunt. Teams of kids were given disposable cameras, purchased by the PTA; they had to find certain places in the school and take pictures of themselves there. The pictures will be assembled into montages.

Colleen O’Connell, describing herself as a "first-time ninth-grade parent," told her fellow school board members on Tuesday that the program was "outstanding."

"We believe this has a lot to do with students’ feeling comfortable in school and leading to their success in the program," said Superintendent Gregory Aidala.

A disciplinarian and an advocate

Patierne, who started working at Guilderland in August of 2004, oversees the freshmen and the Focus program for struggling students.

In April of last year, she shared with the school board comparisons of ninth-graders from the year before and from 2005. The number of discipline incidents had decreased by 5 percent from 437 to 415. The number of students failing courses had also decreased — by 22 percent, from 316 (out of 3,386 enrolled) to 247 (out of 3,763 enrolled).

Patierne stressed then the importance of a smooth transition from the child-centered middle school, where students are sheltered in one of four schools-within-a school, to the wide open and more competitive high school.

"If you lose a student in ninth grade, they can be lost forever," Patierne told The Enterprise this week. "Those are the ones most likely to drop out. You have to get them connected to the high school so no one slips through the cracks, no one is unknown, no one is a wallflower."

Patierne led last Tuesday’s celebration with the gusto of a camp counselor. She used to be one.

"From the time I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to be a teacher," she told The Enterprise. "My friends would tell me they got sick of playing school."

She started working as a camp counselor — at the Tippee Canoe Camp, through the YMCA — when she was just 12.

"Kids were always comfortable with me," said Patierne.

She married at age 20 and worked her way through school at The College of Saint Rose. "We had bills to pay and a house to take care of. We had a couple of kids," she said. "I worked two jobs while going to school full-time and my husband worked two jobs, too."

Patierne taught sixth grade for a decade at Shenendehowa and loved it. "I said I would never be an administrator," she recalled. But the superintendent was recruiting teachers to train as administrators because of a shortage.

"Somebody nominated me...I took one course and was hooked." Now, said Patierne, "I love what I’m doing. This is the perfect job for me....I have a lot of contact with kids. I feel like I can make a difference."

Patierne describes herself both as a disciplinarian and a student advocate.

She credits those who work with her for her success at Guilderland. Patierne singled out her secretary, Dawn Wier, for praise and went on, "The reason these programs are successful is the hard work of the teachers and parents. We’re all a team and we all work hard to make it a success."

"Big on connections"

Patierne stressed at last Tuesday’s assembly the importance of parental involvement in high school and the need for students to make connections — both key elements to improve academic success.

"We’re very big on connections," Patierne told the crowd. "Kids need to get hooked in their first year of high school."

She went on, "Research shows establishing relationships leads to higher academic achievement."

Guilderland started a program last year where upperclassmen are matched with freshmen as student advisors. A teacher oversees each advisory group. The student advisors are known as ATPs. The physics teacher on the transition committee likes the acronym, said Patierne, "because ATPs have energy."

"The ATPs work with the freshmen on team-building activities," said Patierne. For example, they’re currently planning a "dress-code fashion show," featuring both ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s.

The ATPs are selected by the advisory teachers for their leadership skills and enthusiasm, said Patierne.

"They come in for training over the summer," she said. "This year, the kids came up with the activities."

At Tuesday’s assembly, several young women who were ninth-graders last year shared, with poise and sincerity, their experiences in the new advisory program.

"We got to know each other more as the year progressed," said Martha Mahoney. She said it was "really fun" at the end of the year when the advisory teams played each other in kickball.

Hannah Kinisky said she came to the high school without knowing anyone. "It helps to know an older person," she said of the ATPs. The program, she said, "helps build a sense of community."

Sara Korman said when her grades dipped, her ATP was helpful. "We could talk to them about school or home issues," she said.

Next, the microphone was passed to students who had served as ATPs.

"It helped me be a better student and a better friend," said Alix Saba, who will be an ATP for a second year. "I’ve seen a lot of people grow and pass their classes."

Jaclyn Brauth said teaching study habits helped her learn.

Heather Thomas told the assembled parents, "We’re here not only to be a friend to your child but a role model as well."

Q & A

The assembly program concluded with a panel of four upperclasswomen, answering questions from the audience. One mother asked the girls what had been their most negative experience as ninth-graders.

Brooke Kolcow said it was going to lunch and not knowing who to sit with.

"ATPs help you become more comfortable with people you wouldn’t usually sit with," she said.

She added that she never had trouble with upperclassmen sending her to the third floor or the pool — neither of which exist.

Laura Santacrose answered, "The sheer fact I didn’t know anyone."

She ended up, she said, joining clubs and making new friends while also staying in touch with old friends.

"Go after that," she concluded.

Liz Sherman said she had had a really, really negative middle-school experience.

"In high school," she said, "you get so integrated with so many people. I was terrified there’d be cliques like in the middle school," she said, naming the popular kids, the Goths, the outcasts.

"There’s nothing like that in high school," she said.

Sherman advised students to pay attention to announcements so they wouldn’t miss opportunities, such as theater try-outs.

"Help your children find their niche; that will get them through high school," advised Santacrose.

She then offered to answer questions about teachers and classes "you’ve heard that are horrible."

"No," said Patierne with a smile as she took back the microphone, "we’re not going there."

Patierne’s parting advice to parents was to stay involved with their children, support the school’s programs, and to ask questions.

"They pretend they don’t want you to ask questions," she said, "but they really do."


Hawes Road plan approved despite neighbors’ objections

By Jo E. Prout

GUILDERLAND — Neighbors came out last week to protest subdivision plans for a steep lot near Altamont, but the planning board approved the owner’s concept proposal.

Robert Loden wants to sell an 11-acre parcel of 92.8 vacant acres on Hawes Road near Route 146. Loden said that he inherited the land from his father five years ago, and that the 11 acres is under contract to be sold. A National Grid power line bisects the property, he said. The privately-owned Mynderse Lane is on the property.

"The topography’s tough," said Planning Board Chairman Stephen Feeney. He said that the new owner might have difficulty placing a new home and septic system on the property. Feeney also said that, because of the slope and possible traffic accidents, access from Hawes Road may not be a good plan.

One neighbor wrote, and others spoke, about their concerns about the effect another home would have on water drainage and their wells.

Beatrice Smith, who lives on an adjacent farm, said that she told two potential buyers that neighbors on Mynderse Lane have had difficulty putting in wells. In addition to water woes, Smith was worried about losing access to Mynderse Lane. She said that she and another neighbor have maintained the lane without help from Loden or his late father.

"He doesn’t use it. He wouldn’t maintain it," said board member Thomas Robert, with agreement from board member Michael Cleary.

Smith’s neighbor Carolyn Fowler read a prepared statement asking the town to protect local wetlands and the public water supply. She commented on overdevelopment and its contribution to erosion, seepage from the Hawes Road cemetery and possible contamination of the water supply, and the possible effects of septic leech fields on lower-lying properties.

"As far as the litany of information," Feeney said, "this is a one-lot subdivision. Obviously, they can’t build in a wetlands area." He said that builders need a minimum setback of 40 to 50 feet from a federal wetlands area. A septic system would need almost a half-acre, he said.

Loden must bring back to the board a topographical description with a proposed house site for the 11 acres, and its septic and well locations, driveway, and shared and legal access information.

Loden said that he may reforest and add a pond to the remaining 82 acres, but that he has no formal plan to leave the land forever undeveloped.

Horse farm

The board approved a request by Martha Masters to use about 60 acres on Route 158 to board horses. Masters currently runs a horse farm on 2.5 acres on Rapp Road. Much of the land, she said, would be used for haying. Masters said that, until a barn were built, she would use run-in sheds for the horses.

To the board’s questions about housing animals without barns, Masters said, "They’re really just better off with land to graze."

Board member Lindsay Childs suggested that Masters enroll in the county agricultural district to protect herself from complaints from neighbors about noise or odor issues.

Town planner Jan Weston said that a stream running through the property is a tributary to the reservoir used by the town. Feeney said that Masters should use "best management practices." He said that the boarding facility is a good use of the property, which is zoned Rural Agriculture 3.

The board told Masters that she must present to the zoning board a nutrient-management plan for how she will store grain, a manure-storage or placement plan, and proposed fencing locations because of the proximity to the watershed.

Feeney said that unrestrained access to the stream is not recommended.

Other business

In other business, the planning board:

— Approved a site plan for Lou Lansing’s proposal to provide lectures and piano lessons for seniors at 1736A Western Ave. The business would employ four people and serve up to 16 students in group and couples classes;

— Approved a request by Jennifer McClaine to open Poiema Salon and Day Spa at 2093 Western Ave. McClaine’s husband, Steven, said that they are buying the building that was previously used as a medical office. Currently, Poiema will rent the top floor, and the McClaines will sublet the bottom floor to another, as yet unknown, renter. The board said that, as a condition of approval, the owners must build adequate pedestrian access to their facility if a sidewalk is ever constructed to the east of the property;

— Approved the subdivision of 54 acres on Depot Road into two lots. Maurice McCormick said that 41 acres are currently vacant, and 12.83 acres have a house and barn. The board said that a note of the barn’s historical value must be made on the plat;

— Agreed to amend a lot line at 3455 East Lydius Street, owned by Megan and David Orsini. Megan Orsini said that, with her neighbor’s permission, she wants to push the line back 10 feet in order to repair a retaining wall and add a privacy buffer;

— Approved the concept of a separation of one parcel into two at 4278 Western Ave. Mary Schultz, representing Edgar and Freda Hartmann, said that each lot is already separate with a home on each. The lots fall under zoning that requires lots to be three acres, but one is 2.1 acres. The homes had been combined into one parcel previously. Weston said that the parcel was already subdivided when the deed was filed; and

— Approved the concept of a two-lot subdivision of a parcel at 3149 East Lydius Street. There are two homes on the property. Owner John Raucci wants an irregular lot shape, so that he retains ownership of a garage, and so that he can further develop the parcels in the future.


Dingman runs Altamont Sunoco
New management for old store

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — The Altamont Sunoco, once called Ketchum’s, is settling into new hands.

As of Oct. 1, Michael Dingman will officially take over the 10-year lease and manage the gas station and convenience store in the center of the village.

"We felt it was best for the store and best for the town," said James Metz, president of GRGH, the Connecticut company that bought the store in July for $787,500. GRGH still owns the property, but it has changed the lessee.

The previous lessee, David Singh, had been with GRGH for 20 years and had been part of the "transition team" for three months before the sale, according to GRGH’s lawyer, Matthew Sgambettera. Singh could not be reached for comment.

Yesterday, Metz said that Dave Singh’s son was actually the lessee, though he declined to give his name; Singh will no longer be overseeing the Altamont location.

"Honestly, I think it was a little bit of people being prejudiced and a lot of the way Dave was with customers," said Dingman of why he thought Singh left and GRGH offered Dingman oversight of the store.

In an Aug. 31 editorial, "Respect Diversity," The Enterprise wrote about its coverage of the Ketchum’s sale, "What we haven’t run are the rumors and innuendo we’ve heard in recent weeks that have racist overtones."

Dingman had managed another GRGH store that Singh leased off of the Northway, in Clifton Park. He was moved to the Altamont store in July where he has been working since the sale.

The Fort Hunter native has been in the convenience store business for 10 years, he said, and he’s ready to have his own business now. With his first baby due in March, he’s looking to settle in the area and run the shop.

"I know it’s a good store," he said. "It just needs to be built back up again."

The store had been owned by Tom and Sally Ketchum for 33 years; it served as a village hang-out and general store.

Dingman estimated that business had dropped off about 30 percent after the sale this summer when Singh was in charge. Regulars who objected to Singh had stopped coming in.

"The community just didn’t want him," long-time employee Stacy Delligan told The Enterprise earlier.

She’ll be coming back to work at the store again in October along with the other old employees, said Dingman.

Business is slowly picking up again, said Dingman; the regulars have begun coming back now, he said.


Subway rolls into Altamont

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALTAMONT — A chain sandwich shop will soon join the mix of locally-owned restaurants in the village.

With 26,465 stores in 85 countries, Subway is one of the largest fast food chains; McDonald’s has roughly 30,000 stores in 119 countries. The Subway that is to open in October in Jeff Thomas’s Victorian-styled mini-mall, Altamont Corners, is owned by Larry Jasenski, who owns 12 other subway restaurants in the Capital Region.

"I was looking for another food option," said Thomas of filling the last available space in the mall, which has been empty for over a year. The mall was built around a long-time tenant, Paisano’s Pizza, then a spa was added and, finally, an exercise center.

Initially, Thomas had hoped for a smaller scale café, but, he said, "It was time to get somebody in there."

Thomas got several offers from people who wanted to open a Laundromat in that space, but he didn’t think that was a good fit, although he thinks that Altamont needs a Laundromat, he said.

The new "Tuscany" look and outdoor seating that subway has is a better option for the mini-mall, Thomas said.

"Altamont has great demographics for Subway," said Jasenski, when asked why he chose this location. Jasenski is the president of Draper Development, which he founded to handle the subway restaurants; it also does construction, he said.

Both Thomas and Jasenski said that they expect Subway will bring in more business to Altamont and won’t be too much competition for the other village restaurants.

"There’s enough business for everyone," said Cindy Pollard, who is expanding the Home Front Café, the World War II-themed restaurant across the street from Altamont Corners. She expressed disapproval at being asked about her reaction to the arrival of a chain restaurant, but said, "Every town should rejoice when a new business wants to come in."

Jean Conklin, owner of Hungerford Market, the bagel shop at the corner of Main and Maple, did not return calls for comment.

"We don’t see them as a competitor," said Dan Leone, owner of Paisano’s Pizza Villa at the other end of the Altamont Corners plaza. Paisano’s hand rolls the meatballs for its subs and makes its own pizza dough everyday. "That’s a distinction to be made between what they do and what we do," he said of Subway.

"Many of our customers have been inquisitive with respect to what appears to them to be an encroachment of our lease. Legally, such is not the case," said Leone.

In 2001, he said, Paisano’s entered into a 25-year lease with the Stewart’s Corporation, which owned the building at the time. Stewart’s had Paisano’s draw up the lease, which specified that no other tenant could sell pizza or pizza-related products, said Leone.

"At that time, one other tenant occupied the remaining space. The tenant sold sub sandwiches," Leone said, so he did not include sub sandwiches with the pizza restriction in the lease. That lease was transferred to Thomas when he bought the building, said Leone.

"Reality is, competition is what it is," said Leone. "Competition is the spice of life."


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