Swindon wakes up to the dangers of mobile phone masts.
Mobile phone transmitter masts have popped up all over the country, but there is widespread uncertainly about the health effects of radiation. Whilst campaign groups in other parts of the country have been vigorous in their opposition to masts – with sites being blocked and in one instance protesters pulling one down – there has been little public debate about them in Swindon, until now.
Four years ago, there were 5 million mobile phones in use across Britain. Now there are more than 50 million. And to connect them and the new generation of video enabled phones, some 50,000 masts and transmitter base stations will have been erected by 2007.
We all want to stay in touch, but is the price of making calls becoming too high? A war of words rages between campaigners concerned with the health and environmental effects of radio traffic, and an industry that profits every time a call is made.
The benefits of the cordless revolution are immense, but how safe is the technology? The anti-mast campaigners claim that radio frequency (RF) radiation from transmitters pose a serious threat, especially to children, and want masts sited away from schools, hospitals and houses.
Lisa Oldham, founder of Mast Sanity, one of the largest groups campaigning against masts, says, "we?ve found all sorts of cancer clusters around masts – leukaemia, Hodgkin?s, breast cancer – as well as reports of dizziness, headaches and nosebleeds. The scientists say there is no conclusive evidence but what did they say about asbestos or smoking?"
The communications industry dismisses health fears as irrational scaremongering. Given the vast investment in mobile phone technologies, including paying the Government ?22.5 billion for third-generation (3G) licences, such scares are bad for business.
Forecasts see the value of the UK mobile phone market doubling between 2003 and 2007, from ?864m to ?1.6 billion. The UK?s Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation, part of the National Radiological Protection Board recently produced an update to the government-commissioned Stewart report on mobiles in 2000.
"Health Effects from Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields," concluded that much of the research so far had been inadequate. It states: ?The weight of evidence now available does not suggest that there are adverse health effects from exposure to RF fields below guideline levels, but the published research on RF exposures and health has limitations, and mobile phones have been in use for only a relatively short time.'
?The possibility therefore remains open that there could be health effects from exposure to RF fields below guideline SAR (specific absorption rate) levels.?
SAR is a measurement of the emissions when a phone is used. Put simply: they don?t know how safe phone masts are.
The issue that angers campaigners most is the ease with which telecom operators are able to site masts, often close to schools. Masts under 15 metres only need notification to the local authority; unless there is objection, it can be erected. Masts above 15 metres need full planning permission.
The Government granted operators legal rights to use public-highway land for telecoms development in 2001 and planning guidance states that the planning system is not the place for determining health safeguards. If a proposed development meets recognised radiation protection guidelines for public exposure, local planners cannot consider the science.
Many communities, especially those near schools, feel powerless to stop the march of the masts. Last year the All-Party Parliamentary Mobile Group highlighted a ?lack of trust? between communities, government, the communications industry and local authorities.
In Swindon there have been sporadic objections to masts, but the loudest so far took place in April when petitioners against the sudden appearance of an 02 mast on Akers Way protested at the Civic Offices. The company is to consider re-siting it away from houses and a green space where children play.
Campaigner Karen Kelly from Manor Crescent, who has set up Mothers Against the Mast said she discovered the mast had permission before her family moved into her house. "I was horrified to see it go up just 45 metres from our front door. I?m particularly worried for the health of my daughter and my son Morgan who has alopecia and other complaints."
"Until a few weeks ago I knew nothing about the health implications of radio frequency radiation, but there are many many concerns about the radiation given off from masts and mobile phones."
"In Australia and New Zealand there are directives that mobile phone masts should not be placed within 500 metres of residential areas. We just do not know the long term health effects."
News has just come through that another mast is being proposed for Grange Park in West Swindon, close to Tregoze School. If you have a concern about masts, please copy and paste this address and mail:
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