Hospital defiant over phone masts

Environmental Health News

Tuesday, May 31 2005

Addenbrooke’s Hospital now has around 30 masts on the roof of its main ward block. Departments in close proximity to the masts include the maternity and breast units and the oncology centre. The masts, or base stations, are used for mobile phones, pagers, and the Tetra police radio system, which has also been linked to ill health.

Campaigners are outraged. Mast Sanity spokesperson Karen Barratt argued that the hospital should be looking to find ways to have masts removed from its premises, especially so given its responsibility to patients.

‘I find it extraordinary at a time when everyone is so worried about MRSA that a hospital should be opting to have all these masts on its roof. It is putting not only patients at risk but the surrounding population too,’ she said.

However an Addenbrooke Hospital spokesperson played down the masts, saying: ‘Like many other hospitals and organisations with high buildings, we accommodate masts for mobile phones and other devices on our roof. There are a total of 30 masts on the roof, four of which are used by the BBC, and the remainder by two mobile phone operators.’

She added: ‘We have seen no evidence to suggest that this practice is unsafe. But to ensure the safety of our patients, staff and visitors, we follow government regulations for health and safety and conform with the International Commission on Non-ionising Radiation Protection public exposure guidelines. ‘This includes,’ she said, ‘compelling any company which uses the space for a mast to have a survey done to demonstrate that it will not be exposing the public to risk as a result. ‘A report by the Radiocommunications Agency has shown that, at most, we are 45,000 times below the ICNIRP limit for radio-frequency emissions at the hospital.’

Tom Long, radio communications and planning officer at Cambridge City Council, who oversaw the phone companies’ applications for planning permission, said: ‘If anyone is concerned about emissions from the masts erected near the hospital we can arrange for an independent specialist to use a radiation monitoring meter there.’

However Dr Grahame Blackwell, an independent scientist who advises Mast Sanity, said: ‘The ICNIRP guidelines take no account of possible long-term non-thermal risks on the grounds that no such risks had at the time been officially “established”. But for how many years had smoking been widely recognised as a risk to health before that risk was officially “established”? Every one of the six studies to date on masts shows serious health effects.’ He added that a four-year seven nation EU-funded Reflex study, published last November, stated categorically that cancer-producing effects, at levels within ICNIRP guidelines, were ‘hard facts’. Dr Blackwell said: ‘It’s no longer true to claim that there are no known mechanisms by which such radiation could cause ill health.’

At Essex University , Prof Elaine Fox is carrying out research into the effects of masts. She said: ‘We simply don’t know at this stage what damage, if any, mobile phone masts cause but a precautionary approach has been recommended. In the meantime I am deeply concerned that a hospital should have not just one mast but 30.’

Dr Stacy Eltiti, senior research officer at the university, is also engaged in the research. She said: ‘Previous research into masts has been poorly conducted and has often resulted in inconsistent findings. Current research aims to correct this by testing a large number of individuals in well controlled studies. ‘However, these findings will not be available for some time. In the meantime, we should aim to minimise the general public’s levels of exposure to the masts.’

Around 45,000 mast sites have already been established around Britain and another 12,000 applications for sites are expected, to accommodate the new 3G technology. As Karen Barratt points out, ‘each site could have up to 20 masts on it’.


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