“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

 – Schopenhauer

On 12 Aug 2011 a Cellphone Tower Awareness Campaign was held in Constantia calling for an awareness of policy and legislation governing the erection of cellphone towers close to homes and schools. This is not only our concern, but a global one in a striving to find more balance between technology and the responsible implementation for health and environment.

Cape Town’s policy regarding the placement of cellphone towers has not been updated since 2002 and the protest helped to bring this to the attention of the community. The City of Cape Town is however currently bolstering this oversight and have invited the public to comment on the Draft Telecommunication Infrastructure Policy by 30 September 2011. (This deadline was extended [source]).

Still of concern though is the fact that the new draft policy is still based on ICNIRP guidelines from 1998 which doesn’t consider the non-thermal biological effects of radio frequency radiation as recommended now by PACE.

In August 2011, our Environment Minister Edna Molewa apparently said she had no immediate plans to consider “buffer zones” or other new action to regulate cellphone masts or base stations in response to questions from Gareth Morgan, the DA spokesman on environmental affairs in Parliament. She had based her concerns on a letter received from the Department of Health in March indicating that it was “satisfied that the health of the general public is not being compromised” by exposure to cellphone base stations. However this letter was written prior to the WHO’s reclassification of radio frequency radiation[source].

And as a result of new regulations passed on 2 August 2010, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is no longer required for cellphone towers less than 15m in height in all properties zoned for Business, Commercial, Industrial, Agricultural Industry, Public and Private Open Space, Authority Use and Public parking / Transport use – even when such properties are immediately adjacent to homes and schools in residential areas. Consequently there is no longer an objection process immediately affected parties can follow. [source]

We’ve been told that cellphones are quite safe for children, that electrosensitivity doesn’t exist, that there’s no evidence demonstrating a possible connection between radio frequency radiation and increased cancer risk and that other health concerns in this regard are probably psychological. We’ve been told that living less than 50m from a cellphone tower in a residential area poses no potential health risk and is “for the greater good”misleading?

However the picture’s rapidly changing. In France the Lyon City Council has actively discouraged children from using cellphones in an advertising campaign and in May 2011, the World Health Organisation reclassified radio frequency radiation as a Class 2B carcinogen which has now placed it in the same category as lead and DDT.

As Time Magazine pointed out, the reclassification “is notable because until now, the WHO had reported that ‘no adverse health effects have been established for mobile-phone use.'” [source]

According to Dr Jonathan Samet, Chairman of the Working Group for the WHO/International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification. The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.”

One cited study of cellphone use “showed a 40% increased risk for gliomas in the highest category of heavy users (reported average: 30 minutes per day over a 10-year period)”. Christopher Wild, Director of the IARC is not alone in advising people to“take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure.” [source]

Dr Samet clarified further for reporter Kristy Kirkup, “The classification covers radio frequency electromagnetic radiation, which would include wireless.” Which incorporates “Wi-Fi, wireless baby monitors, wireless smart meters, cell phone antennas, broadcast antennas, radar antennas, weather antennas, satellite communications, and other wireless devices that use radio frequency radiation to transmit information,” according to Dr Havas, a professor and researcher at Trent University. [source]

Also in May 2011, the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe (PACE) recommended that its member states “reconsider the scientific basis for the present electromagnetic fields exposure standards set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)” and “put in place information and awareness-raising campaigns on the risks of potentially harmful long-term biological effects on the environment and on human health, especially targeting children, teenagers and young people of reproductive age”. In the same report they urged townplanners to introduce town planning measures to keep relay antenna base stations “at a safe distance from dwellings” and requested that member states “pay heed to and protect ‘early warning’ scientists”. [source]

Recently published research from Brazil has further raised cancer cluster concerns as they confirm the results of earlier Austrian, German and Israeli studies.

The study was conducted by scientists at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) in Brazil and examined the mortality rates of people who died in Belo Horizonte from specific types of cancer between 1996 and 2006 in relation to their distance from cell phone antennas in the city. (Dode AC, et al, Mortality by neoplasia and cellular telephone base stations in the Belo Horizonte municipality, Minas Gerais state, Brazil, Sci Total Environ (2011), doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2011.05.051)

What they discovered was that those living within 100m of a base station have a crude neoplasmia mortality rate of 0.43% (ie. 434 per 100,000 people) which represents a relative risk difference of 35% for those within 100m of a base station compared to those at 1km.

Further timeconsuming research could have explored in more detail the relationship between risk and hazard at an individual level to take into account genetic characteristics, individual behaviours and so on in each household but right now we don’t have that luxury. Who will volunteer their children for the next peer reviewed study?

What these figures also don’t show are the number of people fighting cancer who haven’t yet died, those who haven’t been diagnosed yet, those with autism, Alzheimers, sterility problems which a growing number of scientists suspect could be related to the increased and growing amount of radio frequency radiation in modern life.

Another key point raised in the report is the proliferation of this type of radiation in more recent years. In the last 3 years of the study alone, the number of cellphone base stations in the Belo Horizonte municipality increased from 474 to 856 and besides others since then there are also concerns about the rollout of smart-metres and proliferation of new wireless base stations for television as well as telephony. It’s all accumulative.

Most importantly though, the mobile phones of today are far more data-intensive than in the past as they’re used to retrieve emails, surf the internet and download music and movies. All of this obviously leads to increased traffic and radiation levels – so much so that the Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister of Environmental Protection has warned that passengers on public transport are now being exposed to noise and radiation that exceeds acceptable levels and has recommended that a team be established to recommend ways of reducing this [source].

And as an extension to this, increased data traffic is resulting in increased radiation density around cellphone towers. Even Swisscom warned as far back as 2004 that “the risk of damage to health through electrosmog has also become better understood as a result of more recent and improved studies.” On the first couple of pages in a patent application they plainly speak about clear damage to hereditary material, increased cancer risk, damage to DNA and genetic material going on to say, “In particular, it could also be shown that this destruction is not dependent upon temperature increases, ie is non-thermal.”[source]

Besides the scientific studies, numerous anecdotal stories about cancer clusters abound worldwide like in Spain where according to a news report 100 cases of cancer have been reported in a triangle formed by three masts placed 200m apart.[source]

The key point though in all of this is that people currently have a choice about whether or not they want to use a cellphone but there’s no choice for children forced to live or study near one or more cellphone towers emitting an ever-increasing amount of radiation 24/7 in an environment where this type of exposure isn’t adequately monitored.

The Seletun Scientific Statement published in the scientific journal “Reviews on Environmental Health” (source) urges governments to “take decisive action now to protect biological function as well as the health of future generations”. The warnings strongly emphasize the global population is at risk, and that there is serious disruption to a number of important biological systems involved.

For over a decade scientists have said that the potential damage from this type of radiation is irreversable with little children being most affected. Why then are cellmasts still being installed in school playgrounds, like the one erected at Rondebosch East Primary in July 2011? source

Who will guarantee the safety of our children and why does the burden of proof lie on us, ordinary citizens, parents and the neighbours to cellmast locations in our communities?

Officials involved in the authorisation of cellphone masts have indemnified themselves against any potential health claims but proof should lie with the authorities and telecom industry to demonstrate that they’re not harming us or our environment through the rapid expansion of new technology and uncontrolled proliferation of radiation.

We oppose this breach of everyone’s right to an environment “that is not harmful to their health or well-being”, as enshrined in Section 24 of the Constitution, as well as “administrative action that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair” as stated in Section 33. Article 24 further recognises the rights of future generations in the context of sustainable development “to have the environment protected, for the benefit of present and future generations, through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation.” [source]

We therefore respectfully appeal to Edna Molewa, our Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, to please reconsider changing the legislation so that all in the predicament of living in such close proximity to cellphone towers and power lines can be better protected.

We are neighbours, parents, children, teachers, friends, family, fellow citizens and we all need to be aware of our own involvement in the ever-increasing radiation levels which new telecommunication technology is bringing.

How can we now start addressing our own “EMR footprint”, what practical solutions could we explore for ourselves and our children? What safer implementations can be found?

We are a community. We are in this together.

EMRSA Neighbourhood Action Group
September 2011

The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes
Severn Suzuki at the UN Earth Summit in 1992. A twelve year old child telling the world enough is enough…

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