Glastonbury's environmental community is fighting back against the phone companies.
non-thermal radiation - on which the current controversy over such transmitters is focused. In other words, they believed that Orange were deliberately missing the point.
This whole episode is being mirrored throughout the country as awareness of this issue grows. Assurances given by mobile phone companies and the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), the government body responsible for monitoring radiation, contradict increasing evidence regarding the effect of non-thermal or non-ionising radiation: something that the industry and the government doesn't even seem to be considering. Even in the discussion over thermal radiation - the preferred area of debate among industry representatives differences in policy exist between the UK and other countries worldwide. Levels of thermal radiation over the surface area of the body are expressed in Watts per Kilogram (W/Kg), termed the 'Specific Energy Absorption Rate' or SAR. According to a report produced by Friends of the Earth (Scotland), the NRPB favours a maximum SAR of lOW/Kg whereas in the US the level is set much lower at 1.6W/Kg.' Six years ago, according to Friends of the Earth, the NRPB informed concerned citizens that there was no risk associated with transmitters: yet last year it launched an investigation into possible occupational hazards - a considerable shift in policy.
The NRPB's reluctance to examine the evidence concerning the non-thermal effects of base station transmitters arises from the lack of categorical proof. But as Friends of the Earth points out, and as any scientist knows, such proof may not arise for some time, i f ever. In the inter
im, according to growing numbers of concerned people it is best to adopt a precautionary principle based on the evidence available so far.
It is the lack of this precautionary principle that sets the UK apart from other countries, which are already adopting a policy of 'prudent avoidance' whereby transmitters are sited away from urban areas until further information on their effects becomes available. In New Zealand, for example, legislation
Because of their smaller size, children tend to absorb higher levels of radiation and so they effectively act as aerials. It's hardly surprising, then, that the Glastonbury parents are so concerned. now prevents transmitters being located near to schools. This is particularly important since, because of their smaller size, children tend to absorb higher levels of radiation and so they effectively act as aerials. It's hardly surprising, then, that the Glastonbury parents are so concerned.
Such policy decisions implemented by foreign nations merely increase the concerns already felt in the UK. With the growth of the mobile phone market, currently worth £14 billion, the number of transmitters will inevitably increase. According to the BBC News website, there could soon be as many as 14,500 transmitters erected across the country in order to cope with the burgeoning market, which will mean these health con
cerns will inevitably affect millions of people.2
A similar campaign to that being fought in Glastonbury has recently emerged in Manchester, where the same network operator, Orange, has managed to site a transmitter on the roof of St Margaret's Church of England Primary School which, like the unfortunate Parish Committee in Glastonbury, is tied into a long-term contract. The agreement with the company means that i f the school considered pulling out of the deal, it would have to pay a heavy financial penalty in order to do so.3 Because these transmitters fall under the category of 'Permitted Development', which enables operators to apply considerable pressure for their transmitters to be erected in particular locations, even local authorities find themselves in an awkward position when faced with planning applications. This situation is not likely to change under a government that essentially favours the mobile phone market and wishes to see maximum national coverage.
It seems that while other countries around the world recognise the possible risks of base station transmitter radiation, and take action accordingly, the UK is content to remain ignorant of the issue. In the US the former Executive Secretary of the New York Power Lines Project, now employed as the Dean of the State of New York School of Public Health has commented:
"In my view, it is totally irresponsible to position a cellular antenna near a site where children spend significant periods of time. While I am not saying that the association between these exposures and childhood cancer is proven beyond any shadow of a doubt, I do see evidence to be suggestive."4
There is already enough evidence available to justify implementing a precautionary principle preventing the location of transmitters within and around urban areas. So why isn't the UK acting on such evidence? The only real question remaining seems to be how long it will take for the UK to sit up and take notice. •
Robin Whitlock is a full-time researcher/writer. He lives in Somerset.
References: 1. Blot on the Horizon or Health Threat? Friends of the
Earth (Scotland), April 1999. 2. BBC On-Line News
Phone Transmitter HealthFears>, 21st April, 1999. 3. Ibid. 4. Dr. David Carpenter, as quoted in Bridlewood
Electromagnetic Fields Information Service, 15th May 1999.
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 5, August/September 1999