This is Exeter

12:00 - 26 May 2005

Cities and nations around the world are banning mobile phone masts or reducing their power near schools - while more go up in Britain. That's the claim of anti-mast campaigners frustrated at what they believe is the industry's failure to adopt the "precautionary approach" recommended in a 2001 report from an independent commission chaired by Sir William Stewart.

Now, Green Euro MP Caroline Jackson is pushing the UK Government to follow the example set by other countries.

Earlier this year, the Express & Echo revealed how the number of masts in Britain had more than doubled to at least 45,000 since 2000. They are allowed on schools, hospitals and other public buildings, as long as they emit at less than limits set out by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection.

However, as the Echo has discovered, many communities and countries favour a harder line.

Both Australia and New Zealand have outlawed masts from within 500m of state schools and in New South Wales, structures are also banned within 500m of child care centres, hospitals and nursery homes.

Italy, Sweden, Luxembourg and, most recently, the Austrian province of Salzburg have adopted lower output limits - Salzburg's 10,000 times less than that set out by the ICNIRP guidelines followed by Britain.

Salzburg's public health officer for environmental medicine Gerd Oberfeld said: "Greater caution should be taken in siting cell towers near places where children spend considerable amounts of time."

Emissions are also controversial in North America. Authorities in Toronto, Canada, have imposed a limit.

And education chiefs in Vancouver have voted to ban any more transmitters at their hundred-plus schools.

School board officials recommended: "There should be global caution exercised on the effects of electromagnetism, until it is conclusively proven to be harmless."

Although the United States has adopted similar guidelines to those of ICNIRP, its own National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement recommended the maximum permitted personal exposure to electro-magnetic waves be reduced by a factor of 500.

Dr Jackson has been pushing the European Commission to enforce a legally binding framework on emissions.

She said: "Without it, the result has been fear and uncertainty as mobile phone masts have sprung up - often requiring no planning permission or even advance warning - on schools, hospitals and in densely populated areas."

However, mobile phone operators insist there is no scientific basis for lowering the ICNIRP limits or a ban on masts near schools.

A spokeswoman for the Mobile Operators' Association said: "Professor Stewart said there were no scientific grounds for setting guidelines below the levels set by ICNIRP.

"Even the highest radio wave emissions from a base station will always be small fractions of the ICNIRP guidelines. Since 2000, Ofcom has undertaken more than 360 random audits of base stations near schools and hospitals. The measurements from these audits show that emissions levels from base stations are typically small fractions of the ICNIRP international health and safety exposure guidelines."

She said parents should be comforted by a National Radiological Protection Board Report in January, which said measurements showed there was no scientific basis for establishing minimal distances between base stations and areas of public occupancy.

The Echo's Shockwaves campaign is calling for more research into the effects of phone masts.


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