Melbourne office closes floors after mobile phone cancer scare

Thu May 11, 8:49 PM ET

The top two floors of a Melbourne building have been closed after seven office workers were diagnosed with brain tumors some fear may be linked to mobile phone transmitters on the roof, officials said.

The floors housing offices of a technical university were ordered evacuated Thursday after four staff members were found to have brain tumors over the past two weeks.

Those tumors were in addition to three other cases among staff working on the floors, the first dating back to 2001, according to officials of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU).

A spokesman for the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Steve Somogyi, said telecommunications transmitters on the roof of the building had raised concerns in the past, but a 2001 study found no link between them and the first cancer cases.

But he said the university was not ruling anything out and would ensure further studies were carried out.

"Clearly we're very concerned with the health and safety of our staff. Therefore we have taken a number of key actions to ensure that our staff can continue to work in a healthy framework," he said.

NTEU secretary Matthew McGowan said the concentration of brain tumor cases among staff working together "would appear to be much more than coincidence".

"What we know at this stage is that five of the cases occurred on the top floor and that's a highly unusual concentration," he said on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

"What we also know is that a majority of those people are long-term employees, they've been there for more than 10 years," he said.

Five of those affected were academic staff and the other two administrative workers.

McGowan said it was not believed that students would have been affected because "they are in and out of the building" rather than working in the area long-term.

He said at least five of the brain tumor cases were not malignant, but there were unconfirmed reports of "a couple of other people who've also had similar injuries" and possibly one person who died of their illness.

Australia's biggest telephone company, Telstra, maintains mobile phone towers on the building and issued a statement saying the equipment complied with health and safety standards and was regularly tested.

"The standards are set by Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency and based on strict World Health Organisation guidelines," it said.

But the company pledged to cooperate with RMIT's investigation "to address any staff concerns."

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