Risk From Mobile Masts Was Hidden
Journalist: Sarah Ryle
May 14, 2000
Vital evidence of harmful effects on children from transmitter masts was kept from the expert group which last week reported on mobile phone safety.
The independent panel asked the government agency acting as its secretariat, the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), for copies of a study on schoolchildren living near a radio mast in Latvia. They were told that the research was unpublished and unobtainable, which they recorded in their final report.
But The Observer has learnt that the research, published in an international scientific journal in 1996, was peer reviewed by other scientists and has been easily obtained by ordinary members of the public who gave evidence during the expert group’s investigation.
First published in Dutch journal The Science of the Total Environment, the study by the Latvian Academy of Sciences examined the impact of a military radio transmitter on local schoolchildren, comparing them with a control group.
The research, which studied nearly 1,000 children aged 9 to 18, found that ‘memory and attention were significantly impaired in all children living in front of the Skrunda station’.
Dr Hilary Kennedy, a biologist and chairperson of Northern Ireland Families against Telecommunications Transmitter Towers (NIFATT), said: ‘The nature of the radiation from both installations is pulsed. It is pulse radiation which now gives most cause for concern.’
The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones acknowledged that pulse radiation, used in the digital signals of most modern mobile phones, needs more research.
Most of the scientific evidence reviewed by the inde pendent panel related to old analogue signals. ‘I believe that the NRPB has misled Sir William Stewart’s committee,’ said NIFATT’s secretary, Margaret Dean. ‘By withholding the findings of this important study I also believe the NRPB is guilty of a gross disservice to the general public.’
Two of the expert group broke ranks this weekend to condemn the NRPB’s failure to advise Ministers or the public properly. The panel glossed over its views on the agency last week. But the two lay panel members, John Fellows, outgoing president of Edinburgh University Students’ Union, and Marie-Noelle Barton, national manager of Women into Science and Engineering Campaign, brought in to represent ordinary people, say NRPB heads were sly and insensitive.
‘It became quite clear that if the NRPB had been doing its job properly there would have been no need for our committee,’ said Fellows. The panel was told by the Department of Trade and Industry’s observer that the NRPB refused a year ago to measure how much energy from the phone is absorbed by body tissue the Specific Energy Absorption Rate (SAR) despite an offer of a six-figure sum to do so.
One of the group’s main recommendations is that handsets display SAR so consumers can choose phones which emit lower levels. Barton, the only woman in the 12-member group, said: ‘People just want to know whether phones are safe or not, yes or no. People are confused and scared by jargon.
‘Most queries the NRPB receives are about mobile phones and base stations but they spend a tiny fraction of their budget on this research. I used to use my phone for a 45-minute taxi ride because I thought that was efficient use of my time. Now I will not use it for more than two minutes.’