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 Inside Out - West Midlands: Monday September 13, 2004

PHONE MASTS - A HEALTH RISK?

Text message on a mobile phone
Mobile phone masts - eyesore or potential health risk?

It is not surprising that a 60 foot metal tower should cause anger amongst local residents forced to live with the eyesore, but is there more at risk than just spoiling the view? Inside Out investigates claims that phone masts are a danger.

Fifteen years since the birth of the mobile phone there are over 35,000 masts and base stations in Britain.

With three out of four people owning a mobile and the rapid advancements in phone technology - this figure could be set to double.

There have always been objections to the erecting of phone masts, not least because of their unsightly bulk.

Many residents living, quite literally, in the shadow of a mast, are far more concerned with the risk they say it poses to their health.

Health under threat

Eileen O'Connor
Eileen O'Connor believes her ill health was caused by a nearby phone mast

Wishaw resident, Eileen O'Connor, claims that the mast, erected in the village over a decade ago, brought with it a variety of health complaints from many local residents ranging from nosebleeds to headaches.

But for Eileen, it was worse - breast cancer.

"I have gone through so many emotions," explains Eileen. "It's complete shock and anger that this has been allowed to happen."

Although there is no statistical evidence to support the claim of a cancer cluster in Wishaw, Eileen firmly believes that the two are linked and set up local campaign group SCRAM - Sutton Coldfield Residents Against Masts.

Sound check

SCRAM is not the only group making a stand against phone masts.

Phone mast
Phone masts emit pulsing microwaves

Alasdair Philips of the campaign group "Powerwatch" has invented a device to detect mast emissions by converting microwaves to sound.

Alasdair insists that pulsing microwaves constantly bombarding the body are responsible for complaints of ill health.

"It's like a pneumatic drill going outside your house," he explains.

"You can't hear it but your body cells are being impacted by this pulsing microwave radiation."

Campaigners claim that the pulsing waves from the masts interfere with electrical signals in the body, damaging the immune system.

Testing, testing ...

The Department of Health and the Mobile Operators Association insist that British masts conform to international safety standards.

In fact Ofcom found they were using just a tiny fraction of thier permitted output.

But these safety standards focus largely on measuring thermal emissions - whether the microwaves heat up whatever they come into contact with.

Molecular toxicologist Dr David de Pomerai is researching the alternative effects of the masts by exposing microscopic worms to microwaves.

"Research is going on abroad and they have all come to the same conclusion - there is no evidence of harm."
Michael Clark of the National Radiological Protection Board

Like the 23 other research projects in the UK, Dr de Pomerai and his team have so far been unable to find any evidence to connect cancer or any other illness with proximity to phone masts.

Timber!

Despite the lack of evidence proving any link between phone masts and ill health, the residents of Wishaw finally get what they have been fighting for.

The mast's removal comes not from the tireless campaigning of SCRAM however, but a group of vandals who pull down the 60 foot mast under the cover of darkness.

"It was a shock when the mast came down, because we had been campaigning for two years… Pursuing legal angles and suddenly the mast was gone," explains Eileen.

Wishaw mast on the ground
Vandals pulled down the 60 foot mast in Wishaw

Similar acts of vandalism have occurred throughout the country.

Acts of vandalism against masts are not only illegal, but according to the Mobile Operators Association, they cost the consumer tens of thousands of pounds and reduce mobile coverage.

With the Wishaw mast's untimely removal, Eileen O'Connor believes she has all the proof she needs.

"Straight away people started reporting that their headaches had stopped, the dizziness stopped, rashes cleared up," says Eileen.

Despite the health improvements reported in Wishaw, and reports of cancer clusters and ill health in many other communities living with a mast, there is still no evidence of a direct link.

But whilst research into these claims continues to grow, so does the number of masts.

See also ...

On bbc.co.uk
News - Protesters highlight mast danger

On the rest of the web
Mobile Operators Association
National Radiological Protection Board
Ofcom - Office of Communications
Department of Health

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Des Adams
Just because there is "no evidence" of any harm from these mast emmissions does not mean to say there is none. Evidence has either been swept under the carpet or they are looking for evidence in the wrong way. There are now 3 masts within 100 yards of my house and my headaches have increased but the big question is, how do I prove its them?

Brian
We all like using mobiles, so we shall have to accept the masts as well.

Ann Mobley (w-a-r-t)
w-a-r-t suggests that you research more. Try the links on our web site: - www.w-a-r-t.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk One of the links on our web site is to "Starweave". have a look at the many articles concerning adverse health effects being experienced by hundreds of people all over the UK. This IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM and should not be treated in a light hearted way. People are dying from the effects of these microwaves. You try and prove otherwise.

Mark
I guess these are the same sort of feeble minded fools who were burning women at the stake for being witches 400 years ago....

Ken Reeves
Having been involved in the mobile radio industry and a licensed radio amateur, I have watched the radio waves argument develop from the mid 70’s. Those who target ‘mobile phone’ masts appear caught up in the general hysteria. The objectors interviewed lack technical prowess and act devoid of empirical evidence supporting their argument. There is in fact more evidence regarding induced psychosomatic symptoms and effects of stress, caused through campaigning. I could not help but think of the wealth of valid research on group theory where a small number have influenced a large group into believing they are suffering some adverse effect. In this respect, the campaign is particularly interesting. Having an engineering background I would not venture say there is no danger from 900 & 1800 MHz radiation, simply because there is no conclusive evidence supporting either argument. I would say having worked with equipment within the radio spectrum the danger to me has been burns and electric shock. However, I suggest campaigners also be made aware that overhead high voltage power lines, television screens and microwave ovens are all under suspicion. My final though is how many of the protestors use mobile phones?

Mike
The fact that there is no "scientific evidence" against mobile phones or masts doesn't really prove anything, as most of the research is being carried out by the industry (with a vested interest in the status quo), the government (who gain revenue from mobile operators) or at snail-pace by academics. Some of us can actually feel pain even when putting mobiles to our ears, let alone next to a mast! If they're perfectly safe, how come the mobile companies can also sell us "radiation guards"? Frankly the only thing more annoying than mobile phones and masts are the hypocrites who won't allow masts to be built near their homes but make constant use of the mobiles themselves. How we've been convinced that we can't live without these things is beyond me. Get rid of them, I say.

Alex Neill
The simple answer is for the telecommunications companies to install a 'placebo mast' near a protest area. If a mast were to be erected and never switched on, would these ill effects continue to be observed?



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