South Africa’s policies and guidelines on electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) are flawed, say two researchers in the field.
James Lech, 32, from Edgemead, is doing his post-graduate research at Rhodes University with the Department of Information Systems. For his research he is investigating the phenomenon of the incidence of technological systems in social systems.
“You might be able to eat spicy, hot chilli but I can’t handle a mild curry but that is what’s happening now. We are all being made to eat spicy, hot chilli,” says Mr Lech.
The “spicy, hot chilli” he is referring to is EMF from cell towers.
“I am aiming to model and compare the various international radiation exposure guidelines on the study area of Cape Town,” he says.
In his research, Mr Lech has found that there is not enough regulation on EMF exposure guidelines. “There is a basic difference of scientific views of radiation exposure globally and as a result countries have adopted different radiation exposure guidelines. In South Africa there is no enforced or man-datory radiation exposure guideline, the Department of Health recommends the voluntary adoption of the USA ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) guidelines of 1998 which permit one of the highest exposure levels. Thereby, companies and private bodies may choose to follow an honour code in adopting it which may lead to their transmission levels being above or below it. There is no independent body or government organisation that has a database, survey or monitoring systems of the related EMF radiation in South Africa.
“Even if the recommended ICNIRP guidelines were followed, the guidelines clearly state that for simultaneous exposure to multiple frequency fields, the sum of all the radiation must be taken into consideration.
“However, in South Africa, implementation has only applied this limit to an individual carrier, resulting in the radiation level to exceed by several times than even prescribed by ICNIRP guidelines.
“The guidelines themselves recommend enforced lowered exposure limits to vulnerable members of the population (children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and chronically ill) and even this may not be enough to stop an effect to their intolerance levels. This too is not followed in South Africa.”
According to Muna Lakhani, the Cape Town branch co-ordinator of Earthlife Africa, and a Wynberg resident, the City revised its cell mast policy in 2015.
Mr Lakhani, on behalf of Earthlife Africa, assisted Healthfield residents with their lobby against a mast that was put up in a resident’s yard (“Cell mast concern on the rise”, Southern Mail, Wednesday May 18).
Sub-council has not yet made a decision on the application for this mast in Fourth Road but another application for a mast in Galway Road, Heathfield, was declined at the Sub-council 20 meeting on Wednesday June 15.
At the same meeting, an application for a mast on the rooftop of a Plumstead block of flats – about 200m away from another mast – was approved
Earthlife plans on challenging the City on its policy because they have found that the residents concerns are the same city-wide.
“We keep hearing communities are up in arms about poor public participation, no consultation, no guarantees of safety, the same story that we’ve gone through, seems to be everywhere in the city. And, of course, as part of our research we looked at the policy and it was slightly modified in 2015, however, even the existing policy is not ap-plied. So that is quite problematic.”
Mr Lakhani says there are several problems that Earthlife have with the City’s policy, such as not implementing the precautionary principle, not measuring the cumulative EMF and not encouraging industry to share masts.
“So they say things like, the precautionary principal, which is embodied in our law, which basically states that if we are not sure of the effect, we may not proceed. So that doesn’t happen and the other thing the policy says is, they are supposed to measure cumulative EMF and nobody I have come across has ever known that to have happened.
“The City also says they will encourage the rationalising of masts, and tell people not to build many of them and rather share, that clearly hasn’t happened.
“So it sounds like the only correct way forward would be to change the policy.”
A working group of Earthlife voluntary researchers are putting together policy alternatives.
“You know it’s all very well to say ‘you’ve got a k*k policy’ and know the next question is going to be ‘so what do you want?’ So we want to be able to put into draft form, a working document that references all these studies
“All the research we do, obviously it’s not some new agey, quartz crystal thing, it’s peer reviewed, normal scientific journal. So the data is there but what happens is, when people like the City get a consultant in, that consultant’s business relies on this. So MTN would be their customer as well as the City council, so they are highly unlikely to produce reports that would be against getting future business. So they can’t be considered independent.
“The problem starts coming in when we allow ourselves to be regulated by outside interests.
“So they say ‘Oh, the international body for non-ionising radiation sets the standard, neglecting to inform people that that’s an industry body.”
Sub-council’s decision on the mast in Plumstead had originally been postponed pending analysis of EMF readings in the area. The Southern Mail asked the City for a copy of the analysis.
Siyabulela Mamkeli, Mayoral committee member for health, said: “These tests are conducted by an independent certified expert in the field on behalf of the service provider. For access to such results, please liaise directly with the service provider.
“It must be noted that the City may take its own measurements, but this is only for the purposes of providing a guide as to whether the City should call for a full electromagnetic frequency survey.”
When asked who the service provider was, the City said: “Telkom.”
The Southern Mail asked Telkom for a copy of the study on Thursday June 23. Pynee Chetty, Telkom’s spokesperson, contacted us on Monday June 27 to say that they were sourcing it but at the time of going to press they had not yet sent it.
Mr Mamkeli added that all applications for masts are assessed in accordance with the City’s Telecommunication Infrastructure Policy.
“In line with all other aspects, the policy requires compliance with the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) Guidelines, which have been adopted by the National Department of Health as guidelines for the country.
“This assessment either includes requesting simulated EMF emissions from the applicant, or conduction screening of EMF measurements, or both, as circumstances dictate.
“It is not for City Health to comment on the need for an applicant to co-locate with other infrastructure. It should further be noted that the National Department of Health, Radiation Protection Directorate is the competent authority for all radiation-related matters, including non-ionising radiation installations such as cell mast infrastructure.”