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Radiation from telecom masts and our health

botchway May 28, 2019

 

The establishment of more telecommunications infrastructure such as masts and base stations have raised some environmental concerns, especially in the area of Environmental Impact Assessment.

It has become a part of the environment to see tall masts at different locations around the country. These masts, though helpful, are believed to have negative health effects on people living near where they are erected.

It is argued that telecom towers interfere with aircrafts and it is feared these towers could fall on people and property.

A few years back, a huge global scare about the cancerous effects of radio frequency radiations (RFR) from mobile handsets gained capital in the Ghanaian media.

Warnings were made that mobile handsets should not be held close to the ear, because the radiation could cause brain tumor.

Also, Mobile handsets should not be put in the breast pocket because the radiation could affect the heart and mobile handsets should not be put in the side pocket, because the radiation could cause infertility in both men and women.

But, much later, it became clearer that the scare was a hoax, or at least, had no scientific basis. Lately, attention has shifted to the hazardous effects of radiation from telecom towers on the human health.

Currently, there is a huge debate within the public domain about the dangers of RFR from telecom towers to human health.

Along with that, some complaints about noise, vibration and fumes from standby power generators at telecom base stations; telecom towers interfering with aircraft about to land, with towers falling on people and properties.

These concerns stem from the recent proliferation of telecom masts across the country, particularly in residential areas, resulting from the licensing of six multinational mobile phone network operators – MTN, AirtelTigo, Vodafone, Expresso and Glo Mobile – in a relatively small country like Ghana.

Much as telecommunication is desirable for national development, it seems Ghanaians are not ready to coexist with telecom infrastructure, without which the required quality mobile network service cannot be possible.

Currently, there are more than 3,000 telecom towers serving over 34 million mobile phone subscribers and experts say the number of towers is woefully inadequate to assure quality service.

Talking about coexistence, the National Communications Authority (NCA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have proposed the co-location of telecom towers as a licensing requirement for operators.

The government has, indeed, asked the regulators to get tough on operators to voluntarily co-locate. Some operators had actually initiated moves towards co-location long before the government’s directive, but some have also warned that co-location could pose challenges such as signals interference, and operators deliberately sabotaging each other

The erection of masts, clustered in built-up areas are said to be hazardous. Following the fuss about the hazardous effects of radiation from telecom towers on human health and the complaints about noise, vibrations and fumes from standby power generators at telecom base stations from the populace.

I visited Kwabenya in the Dome/Kwabenya Constituency to inspect a telecommunication mast belonging to a well-known telecommunications company in Ghana. I found out from the security man on duty that the mast is about 8ft (2.4 metres) from the closest adjacent house, which revealed that the said company did not obtain the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment certificate before the erection of the mast.

On a different day, I visited Pillar 2, a suburb of Dome, to check up a base station belonging to a different telecommunications company. My interaction with the security man on duty revealed that the base station is about 5ft (1.5 metres), 6ft (1.8 metres) and 8ft (2.4 metres) from three different nearby houses.

Yet, on another occasion, I visited a base station owned by another telecommunications company, but this time, at Christian Village near Achimota, to observe it. I discovered that the base station was 25ft (7.6 metres), 4ft (1.2 metres) and 10ft (3 metres) from three neighbouring houses respectively.

From these three different occasions, I had the opportunity to interact with some of the residence living in the environs of the base stations. There were complaints about the hazardous effects of the mast/base station on the health of citizenry living close to those masts. They complained about fatigue, headaches and sleep disruption. There were also complaints about noise, vibrations and fumes from standby power generators at the telecom base stations, and the likelihood of causing damage to property.

Another woman sadly narrated how she lost her baby as result of the hazardous effect of the cell phone base station on the baby’s health.

From my observation, it was clear that the mobile operators did not obtain the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment before erecting their masts. In addition to non-compliance with environmental certification, tests carried out at the site showed that the noise level was very high, compared to what should pertain in a residential area. The mast also violated the regulation on the distance between it and a residential building, as well as the distance from the road.

A 2002 survey study by Santini et al, in France, found a variety of self-reported symptoms for people who reported that they were living within 300 metres (984 ft) of GSM cell towers in rural areas, or within 100 metres (328 ft) of base stations in urban areas.

Fatigue, headaches, sleep disruption and loss of memory were among the symptoms reported. Similar results have been obtained from GSM cell towers in Spain, Egypt, Poland and Austria. No major studies have been reported in which health effects did not occur on actual populations living near mobile base stations.

From an epidemiologic research, persons living in places where telecommunication masts are erected are vulnerable to disorders like cancer, lung diseases, sleep disturbances and even physical disabilities, though, according to WHO research, there are no current scientific proofs of health hazards associated with telecommunication masts.

Nyarko Andrews

Student Journalist – GIJ

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