Health fear over rise in new phone mast sites

Technology advances blamed by opponents

By Michael McHugh

Belfast Telegraph

30 May 2005

The number of mobile phone masts in Northern Ireland may increase dramatically following the introduction of new technology, industry representatives have warned.

Some experts anticipate a three or four-fold rise in the number of sites, but the phone companies' trade body insists that sites across the UK will increase by only around a tenth.

There has been widespread opposition across the province to the encroachment of the structures with some reports warning that the so-called Third Generation Technology (3G) which allows photos to be sent via cell phone could endanger health.

Peter Jones from ACTIX, which develops new wireless technology for mobile companies, warned at a recent conference that the number of masts could increase by three or four times their present number and this has sparked concerns about the health impact on people living near the sites.

Newry and Mourne Sinn Fein councillor Pat McGinn, a prominent anti-mobile phone campaigner, said: "These people who are telling me that they need these mobile masts because they have no coverage are now saying they need them to send photos of themselves to their friends.

"There's still a major concern about the whole health issue surrounding these mobile masts among many respected academics and until these are addressed these masts will be met with opposition."

Dutch scientists have found, in a study of 72 volunteers, significant levels of nausea, headaches and tingling sensations when the subjects were exposed to signals which mimicked the third generation mobile networks.

The Mobile Operators' Association estimates that by 2007 there will be 50,000 masts across the UK - a 5,000 increase on present levels - but adds that this complies with the Government licence conditions imposed to ensure that 80% of the population have coverage.

"There are now well over a million mobile phone subscribers in Northern Ireland," a spokeswoman said. "Without a network of base stations in place where people want to use their phones, they simply will not work.

"Any new base stations are subject to full planning in Northern Ireland."

Some mast sharing may help reduce the number of new sites needed but 3G technology is in its infancy and operators anticipate a substantial increase in the number of people using it.

The mobile companies' spokeswoman added that the advice from the National Radiological Protection Board found - drawing on the weight of scientific advice - that mobile technologies operating within the health and safety guidelines didn't cause illness.



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