John Ryans Mast Misery

Last year, dairy farmers John and Rosie Ryan of Dangan, Co Tipperary, gave permission to Vodaphone to erect a telephone mast on their farm. However, the couple claim that since the mast became operational their lives have been turned upside down. Since Vodafone erected a mast on his land, John Ryan claims he has suffered from blinding headaches and burning sensations. These are so bad that he cannot carry out his farming activities to an optimal standard, and he can no longer sleep in his home. The family claim these problems are directly related to emissions from the telephone mast that was erected on their farm in March 2003. They claim they had no unusual health problems before the mast became operational. "As soon as the mast went up in March, I started to feel the effects of it. After putting serious pressure on Vodaphone, it was switched off for three weeks and everything was fine, but the minute it was switched back on my symptoms returned. I'm no longer able to sleep at home and can only stay on the farm for a few hours at a time,'' said John. Rosie Ryan said there had been a complete upheaval in family life since that mast started working. "John cannot live here. At the moment we are trying to calve nearly 100 cows and heifers and it's impossible. I spend my nights watching the cameras, and if there's any trouble with a cow I have to ring him to come back and deal with it,'' she said.

IFA call for mast to be shut down In a letter to Vodaphone on 23 January, Jim Devlin, executive secretary of the IFA Industrial committee, called on the company "to cease radio signal transmissions from the mast immediately''. He stated that the IFA was very concerned for Mr Ryan's health. "He is unable to stay in his home and on his farming premises due to the impact this transmission mast is having on his well-being. His farming is being neglected, with dairy cows going unmilked. I must insist that you address this matter without further delay.'' In their response on 30 January, Vodaphone insisted that health and safety issues were extremely important to the company. "Vodaphone acknowledges that some people are concerned about radio frequency electromagnetic fields, from mobile phones and their base stations. Based on current scientific research, there is no evidence of an impact on human health when exposure levels are below internationally recognised guidelines. Mobile phones and their base stations are designed and operated so that people are not exposed above these guideline levels.''

Neighbours back the Ryans The health problems suffered by John Ryan are endorsed by at least six other neighbours and individuals who have cause to work on the farm. Walter Cleary is one of these people. "I do a bit of welding for John and I was here during the summer making gates when I suddenly got this tingling feeling and a violent headache. I left the place and recovered, but as soon as I returned the headache started again. Now I'll only come here when he is badly stuck.'' Tom Hally cuts the hedges and he also says he had to leave the farm as a result of blinding headaches. He claims these disappeared when he went a distance from the mast, but as soon as he returned to the farm they returned. "I didn't imagine it could happen; I don't get headaches and it makes me believe everything John, Rosie and the others are saying.'' Tim Ryan (no relation) also farms nearby and he has noticed that he is getting an increasing number of slight headaches. "I came up here one day to help John out, and after a while I got two right darts in the head. Then I knew exactly what John was complaining about.'' Tom Prendergast's farm lies beneath the mast and he lives within 500m of it. He too insists that his health has suffered since the mast became operational. "I've brought ComReg (Commission for Communications Regulation) here to test the mast three times, because since it arrived life has become unbearable. Most of my house is unusable, especially where it is in view of the mast. We've had to screen the house with radiation-proof material in order to remain living there. I've written countless letters and made phone calls about the problem, but no one is listening,'' he said. Despite having the mast tested three times, Tom Prendergast is unhappy about the way the results were presented. "The first test was invalid and ComReg have agreed it was. We claim the second test was invalid because it is our belief that the power levels were turned down. We say this because there was no mobile reception in the area at the time.'' As for the third test, which took place on 24 October last, this was called off halfway through, but ComReg stood over its findings even though it was incomplete.''

Shut it down John Ryan wants the mast shut down and has offered to return the €10,000 he received for providing a site for it. However, Vodaphone did not accept his offer. "This was never about money. Long before we leased the site for the mast I was worried about the health implications, but I was assured that the mast would give out no more emissions than a hand-held mobile phone.'' John Ryan said he was promised that if there was any trouble the mast would be gone within a year. "I've now discovered that opt-out is only available to the company that owns the mast. As it is, unless Vodaphone voluntarily removes or deactivates it I cannot have it removed for another four years.'' However, Vodaphone said that John Ryan had approached them to secure the company as a tenant on his site. "Negotiations were entered into and independent legal advice was sought and received by Mr Ryan. After a period of weeks a contract was negotiated between the parties. '' Should the mast be decommissioned, Vodaphone estimate it would cost them approximately €50,000. Both John Ryan and Tom Prendergast feel isolated by the phone company. "They keep telling us it's the same mast as all the others around the country and that there are no complaints about them. They tell us they are working within the WHO guidelines, but as far as we are concerned that is all theory. We are left with the reality,'' said Tom Prendergast.

ComReg response ComReg is the regulatory body charged with overseeing the telecoms industry in Ireland. Currently it is conducting a comprehensive monitoring programme at 400 mast sites throughout the country. ComReg has hired Masons Communications Ltd to conduct the measurements. In a statement, it said: "As part of this work, the Dangan site was measured. Measurements there indicate emission levels well within the International guideline limits set down by ICNIRP - the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. This is the first time ComReg has conducted such an extensive survey. In previous years they have audited the procedures adopted by licensees to ensure compliance to the ICNIRP guideline limits and made measurements at 30 sites on each occasion. In addition, 40 people contacted us regarding 48 sites. They are currently been surveyed and so far they have all complied. With regard to the issue of health, ComReg would like to clarify that it does not have any remit or expertise in this area. In this regard, it looks to national, international and EU policy for guidance. Currently the guideline limits adopted are the ICNIRP guideline limits and these are used internationally.'' Additional statement by Vodaphone "Vodaphone Ireland meets ICNIRP radio frequency exposure guidelines in the rollout of its mobile phone network. Emissions are independently monitored by ComReg, and Vodaphone's 100% record in this regard can be verified by the Commission. In order to provide a high level of protection for the general public, standards for limiting exposure to radio frequency fields have been developed, which incorporate substantial safety margins. Indeed, in practice, levels many times below the ICNIRP guidelines normally exist through the adoption of best contemporary practice, including not raising signal strengths beyond those necessary to achieve service objectives. In the case of Mr Ryan, the signal strength in our infrastructure has been reduced, and is currently operating at a below-optimum level. Vodaphone encourages and supports open, independent, quality scientific research, reviews the results of research on radio frequency fields being performed throughout the world and takes the advice of recognised expert scientific review panels and health authorities for assessments on mobile phone technology and health. From 1999 until 2007, Vodaphone have committed over €8million to research programmes on radio frequency fields and projects. Where research funding is involved, important measures have been implemented to ensure the complete independence of this research.''

Mairead Lavery reports




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September 2005

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