Wits University media studies head professor Anton Harber slated the latest Saturday Star front page article (article here) which sent out a warning about the potential adverse health effects of LTE networks (Harber’s blog post).
The article entitled “Scorched tree poser for cellphone giant” focused on concerns that 4G [actually LTE which is 3.9G] tower radiation may cause health damage to humans and the environment.
Well known electromagnetic radiation activist Tracey-Lee Dorny is quoted in the article saying that the rollout of 4G [LTE] cellular towers can have ‘massive health implications for anyone in the path of the signal’.
According to the Saturday Star Dorny blames MTN’s LTE trial network for burnt and blackened pine trees in her garden. “The trees are an indication of what is to come,” Dorny is quoted as saying by The Saturday Star.
“We are receiving more reports of headaches, blurry vision, tinnitus and nausea and problems with breathing and hair loss in the area,” says Dorny. She further explained that these symptoms disappear “the minute” the source of radiation is switched off.
It is interesting to note that Dorny previously complained about the same symptoms when an iBurst tower was erected close to her residence, but despite the fact that the tower was switched off the complaints about the health problems remained (iBurst article).
Reporting quality questioned
Harber slated the quality of the article, saying that “The article does not tell us what would qualify the woman to make this claim, except that she is chair of something called the Electromagnetic Research Foundation which she runs apparently single-handedly from her Craigavon, Johannesburg, home.”
“There is no indication that this woman has any scientific knowledge, skills or experience,” says Harber. “She may well be doing valuable information and educative work, but the website [EMRRFSA.org] seems alarmist.”
Trying to get clarity on the issue
MTN, which uses the same (re-farmed) 1800MHz spectrum for their LTE trial as for their standard cellular services, told The Star that they make sure that their radio network adheres to world safety benchmarks.
MTN and the Department of Health said that there is no evidence to suggest that the emissions from cellular base stations and wireless networks can adversely affect people’s health.
As most credible research seems to suggest that there is no conclusive evidence that cellphone radiation has adverse health effects (Cellphone radiation and health and WHO cellphone radiation study not conclusive), the EMRRFSA needs to prove their claims.
Dorny, the chairman of the EMRRFSA, was asked what her credentials were and whether the body which she chairs is affiliated with any credible scientific bodies.
Dorny runs an events, marketing and hospitality company and does not seem to have any background in science or scientific research. Her organisation [EMRRFSA] also does not state any affiliation with credible scientific institutions.
Dorny was contacted via email and telephonically to try to gain insight into her and her organisations’ credentials in the field of electromagnetic radiation, but it was not possible to get feedback from her on this issue.
Dorny did however tell MyBroadband over the weekend that they do not want to stand in the way of technology, but that it is currently a “free for all” in South Africa when it comes to EM radiation levels.
Dorny said that they are looking for better guidelines, which follow world standards, and better regulation to ensure that safe radiation levels are maintained.
This statement by Dorny is however perplexing as Vodacom, MTN and other wireless broadband providers made it clear that they follow international standards from recognized organizations like the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
In the case of iBurst, where Dorny was successful in shutting down the mast close to her house, the radiation level of 0.0049 V/m was over ten-thousand times below the ICNIRP safety limit of 58 V/m (iBurst radiation article).
Base station conundrum
Many activists are fighting for fewer cellular base stations, but Vodacom’s Richard Boorman says that this will actually increase the radiation which cell phone users are exposed to.
Boorman said that fewer cellular towers will result in weaker signals, which in turn will result in higher power output by cell phones which are used right next to a person’s head.
It is safe, says Department of Health
The Department of Health’s deputy director of radiation control, Leon du Toit, explained that “the experience globally and locally, based on the results of numerous measurement and calculation surveys, has been that the exposure to base station EMF at ground level is typically in the range of between 0.001 – 1% of the ICNIRP guideline limits.”
“Given this type of scenario, there would be no scientific basis for any allegation of adverse health effects due to the EMF emitted by a particular base station,” said du Toit.
Dorny however maintains that current radiation levels in South Africa are dangerous, and that more research is needed before operators should be allowed to roll out 4G networks.
Dorny further advocated the use of safer technologies, like fibre, to provide telecoms services rather than wireless networks.