Over the past few months a battle between certain concerned Craigavon residents and iBurst reached fever pitch, with residents demanding that iBurst move a tower that was erected in Fourways Memorial Park on 12 August 2009.
A ‘Craigavon Task Force’ was established shortly after the erection of the tower, partly because some residents in the area complained about ailments which they attributed to the tower. They staged a protest a few weeks after the tower went live, handing out flyers with the message: “iBurst subjects a residential community filled with children to uninvited microwaves from their tower”.
In an email one Craigavon Task Force member, Tracey-Lee Dorny, describes the affected community’s symptoms: “several rash cases were presented in person and by photos from people who could not attend [a meeting with iBurst]. Headaches, nausea, tinnitus, dry burning itchy skins, gastric imbalances and totally disrupted sleep patterns, especially with some of the children, were some of the issues presented by the residents.”
Dorny told The Star that she and her son are spending alternate nights at her mother’s house to get some relief. “When I’m off the property, the symptoms subside,” she said.
Another resident, Dave McGregor, is also quoted in The Star as saying that his wife and nine-year-old son suffer bouts of nausea and retching, and have developed skin rashes since the erection of the tower. “We’ve told our son that the tower is only switched on one day a week, so it’s not psychosomatic,” McGregor told The Star.
iBurst disputes the health complaints
iBurst CEO Jannie van Zyl said that no medical proof regarding the ailments was presented by any resident to date, but notwithstanding this absence of medical proof iBurst agreed to meet with the Craigavon residents to address their concerns.
“At this meeting the residents were informed that the radiation levels emitted by the tower were ten thousand times LESS than the international safety standards set for mobile towers and that the radiation at this site was in fact the same level as that already present from cellular phone towers in the area,” said Van Zyl. “In other words the iBurst tower did not increase the radiation in the area significantly above the level already present for a long time.”
Craigavon Task Force members remained unimpressed, and according to Van Zyl the residents reiterated their viewpoint that their ongoing health problems were caused by the tower. “At the meeting on the 16th of November 2009 a number of residents and their staff confirmed that they were still experiencing symptoms such as rashes, headaches and the like and that these symptoms disappear when they leave the vicinity of the tower.”
According to Van Zyl residents quoted periods of hours, or at most, two days to see an improvement in the symptoms experienced. “One lady who showed us a rash claimed that when she goes home for the weekend, the rash disappears. Another said headaches disappear when she goes home at night,” said Van Zyl.
iBurst makes massive revelation
At the meeting Van Zyl agreed to turn off the tower with immediate effect to assess whether the health problems described by some of the residents subsided. What Craigavon residents were unaware of is that the tower had already been switched off in early October – six weeks before the November meeting where residents confirmed the continued ailments they experienced.
MyBroadband was furnished with technical reports which confirmed that the Fourways Memorial Park iBurst tower was turned off in early October and that it did not provide any services over the next few weeks.
Van Zyl argues that this clearly proves that the iBurst tower could not be the cause of the health symptoms described by some of the residents. Van Zyl reiterated that residents said that the symptoms typically subsided in hours or days after leaving the Craigavon area, and since it still prevailed in mid-November it means that it could not have been related to the iBurst tower radiation.
“At the meeting in mid-November residents claimed that full recovery of skin conditions could take as long as 6 weeks. Yet, the tower was switched off for more than 6 weeks by this time,” said Van Zyl. “At this point it became apparent that the tower can, in no way, be the cause of the symptoms, as it was already switched off for many weeks, yet the residents still saw symptoms that come and go according to their proximity to the area.”
Van Zyl added that “whatever caused their symptoms, it was now a fact that it could not be attributed to the iBurst tower and the tower was switched back on in the 2nd week of December.” The iBurst CEO added that residents failed to show up for subsequent meetings scheduled for the 30th of November and the 2nd of December.
While this revelation may seriously dent the argument, from this particular group of Craigavon residents, that the iBurst tower is to blame for the ailments, the case is unlikely to go away soon.
Bismarck Olivier from the legal firm Bezuidenhout, Van Zyl and Associates, who represents the Craigavon residents, previously said that there is no talk of abandoning the action against iBurst and that the recent activity surrounding the issue is ‘only the beginning’.
Olivier added that anyone who thinks that their legal case is based only on health issues is sorely mistaken, adding that their case is not built on health concerns alone, but rather various other aspects related to the mast, including the public participation and environmental approval processes which they are confident are flawed.
Van Zyl however said that iBurst appointed an independent and accredited EIA consultant and that the correct procedures were followed – including notifying the adjacent property owners and publishing notices in the press and on the site itself. He added that he is confident that all processes and procedures were followed to the letter.
According to Olivier residents are now looking at a solution through the Department of Environmental Affairs, and if that fails they will fight the matter in court. iBurst responded saying that it will definitely fight any legal action related to the Craigavon tower.
iBurst tower and health concerns – give your views