Monitoring call for mobile phone masts

30 Jun 2005

The Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources have called on the Government to establish a non-statutory body within the remit of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) to monitor and analyse the threat to public health caused by non-ionising radiation emissions from mobile masts.

The report entitled Non-Ionising Radiation from Mobile Handsets and Masts calls for a number of measures by the Government to ensure not only can Ireland enjoy its maturity as a nation that has wholly embraced mobile technology but to ensure any perceived or potential health risks can be dealt with in an open and responsible manner both by industry, the authorities and the public.

Deriving much of its inspiration from the UK report by Sir William Stewart calling for mobile phones to be banned for under-eight-year-old children, the committee called for greater communication on the health issues from mobile operators and called for the operators to consider embossing information on mobile devices setting out the radiation levels emitted by various devices.

The committee revealed there are some 4,500 mobile phone masts dotted around Ireland and said a number of these masts have been installed without proper planning permission or public consultation. In one case, residents in an area of Dublin were astonished to discover that a construction resembling a chimney was in fact a major retransmission point belonging to a mobile network operator. In other cases mobile operators are sponsoring local football teams in order to use the land adjacent to the grounds in order to establish base stations, the committee claimed. “We have to realise kids younger than eight are using these facilities,” said Tommy Broughton TD.

Eamon Ryan TD warned the rollout of 3G by O2 and Vodafone as well as the new network being constructed by 3 would require a much denser network of masts and that the scientific issues should be understood.

The chairman of the committee, Noel O’Flynn TD, indicated it would be no problem for mobile operators to contribute to the creation of an online map setting out where all the base stations in the country are located and called for more dialogue between health organisations, mobile operators and concerned communities.

Such a map, hosted on the Department of Communications website and the websites of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) and the RPII, should carry the results of emission testing on masts and antennae.

O’Flynn said it was beyond the ability of ComReg to cope with the medical issues and called for the establishment of a non-statutory body under the remit of the RPII to monitor the issue and that the body be fully resourced in terms of staff and expertise.

O’Flynn also called for the creation of an independent board to review all published scientific data on the subject. The board chairperson should have a similar status as Sir Stewart has in the UK and the board should include representation from a statutory medical body and report to the Government.

The report also called for the banning of mobile phones in Ireland that fail to comply with the International Commission for Non-ionising Radiation Protection standard.

O’Flynn said Ireland has gone from a situation where the country has evolved from having 500,000 mobile phones in 1998 to 3.7 million phones in 2005 and that such progress should be embraced but that any health fears should be eradicated through understanding.

He said: “Just over 100 years ago a man walked in front of the motorcar and waved a red flag as a warning. Today the car is part of life, we have motorways and flyovers that 100 years ago were undreamed of; we have diesel, petrol, gas and hybrid cars. The same goes for the mobile phone — we have SMS, picture and video messaging and a whole new world with 3G.

“The man walking with the red flag in front is somewhere around and to banish him we need to have confidence in the technology.”

By John Kennedy