Phone mast link to cancer is denied

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The Independent Online
A REPORT from the World Health Organisation, which says that mobile phone communications masts do not cause cancer, has been branded a "whitewash".

The as yet unpublished document, a copy of which has been obtained by The Independent on Sunday, claims there is no "tangible or proven scientific evidence" that emissions from base stations for mobile phones can cause cancer or other damage to health.

However, scientists and campaigners say the study, which took two years to complete, ignores independent research which has shown links between the masts and cancer.

They criticise the fact that the two scientists who produced the 42-page document, Electromagnetic Fields, are both employed by the National Radiological Protection Board, which is funded by a combination of government and private- sector money, some of which comes from mobile phone companies.

The report also refers to NRPB guidelines on safe emission levels, which are higher than those in mainland Europe.

Campaigners are concerned, too, that the report could mislead planning authorities, which have been sent a copy by the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions. The DETR has circulated the document as part of its own consultation exercise on the erection of masts for mobile phones, and intends to publish guidelines on the issue later this year.

The WHO report, written by Philip Chadwick and Zenon Sienkiewicz, says the possibility of health risks from electromagnetic fields is an area where attitudes can be based "more on beliefs and fears than on scientific fact and knowledge", although it concedes that more research needs to be carried out.

It also suggests that power and communications companies could be encouraged to sponsor initiatives to educate the public over the issue.

The siting of mobile phone masts has already provoked a number of protests across Britain. Mobile phone companies such as Orange have taken steps to disguise masts as trees to minimise the visual impact, but this has not quelled opposition from growing numbers of people who are more concerned about the possible effects on their health.

This has caused problems for planning authorities and some have declined permission for the masts to be sited near homes on the strength of public opinion.

Next month, there will be a judicial review in the High Court of a case brought by residents in Ballymacashen, Northern Ireland, who are objecting to the building of a mobile phone mast by Orange.

The families, who have already accused the DETR of failing to deal with their concerns, are backed by Northern Ireland Families Against Telecommunications Transmitters (Nifatt).

Nifatt wants to ensure that, in the future, phone masts are not erected within 300 to 500 metres of residential properties.

Margaret Dean, founder of Nifatt, claims people are being treated as guinea pigs and that the report is misleading. "It is a whitewash," she said. "We would have thought the WHO would have used European guidelines as their standard. This makes the report misleading. How long are they going to ignore the evidence?"

Her views are echoed by Roger Coghill, a biologist who has published his own research showing the effect of mobile phone emissions on the human immune system. "They are putting this document forward as a WHO document but it has been written by the NRPB," he said.

"There have been at least four studies which show there is a link between emissions and childhood leukaemia. The DETR should admit that there are health effects.

"If you had listened to the NRPB on the effects of X-rays, there would not be a single radiologist alive today. The report is totally biased and selective," he added.

Dr Michael Clarke, a spokesman for the NRPB, denied that the report was biased. "We were approached by the WHO because we are one of the only places with the right expertise," he said. "No one can be completely objective, but our scientists were acting independently and not representing the NRPB.

"We have nothing against anecdotal evidence but you have to look at the issue as a whole, and the whole shows there is no scientific evidence to prove there is a risk at guideline levels."

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