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Technology

Do communication masts signal rising health dangers?

Masts are common in our neighbourhoods and expansion of telecommunications infrastructure is already raising both environmental and health concerns. Photo/FILE
Masts are common in our neighbourhoods and expansion of telecommunications infrastructure is already raising both environmental and health concerns. Photo/FILE 

They have become a common feature of our landscape in the last 10 years, but health concerns continue to be raised over the proliferation of the mobile communication masts.

According to the Information Ministry, growing public hostility due to fears over the possible risks of electromagnetic radiation from masts will drive new guidelines for the industry as it seeks to allay consumer fears.

Dr Bitange Ndemo, the Information PS, said the rapid growth of the telecommunications industry posed environmental and health concerns.

“Masts are now a fixture in our neighbourhoods and the continuing expansion of telecommunications infrastructure is already raising both environmental and health concerns. Firms should find ways to share infrastructure and we shall start ensuring that they do so,” he said.

CCK has already signed an agreement with the Radiation Protection Board under the Ministry of Public Health to address the challenge while joint countrywide surveys are being carried out on Base Transmitter Stations and other communication infrastructure.

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The ministry says it is responding to an increase in complaints from environmental groups and health workers who say that the radiation emitted from the masts could lead to outbreaks of serious diseases among residents.

The development presents a conundrum for mobile firms, who in June sighed with relief when the results of a study found that proximity to masts or mobile phones does not translate to an increased risk of serious disease.

Findings published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) said there is no persuasive evidence that normal mobile phone usage or exposure to pylons and power lines causes harmful health effects, such as cancer.

The institute, which is Europe’s largest team of engineering and technology professionals, said through its Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group (BEPAG) that the overwhelming majority of the evidence does not indicate that normal exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields has harmful health effects.

Professor Tony Barker, a Fellow of the IET and chairman of BEPAG, said: “There is still a huge amount of interest in whether exposure to mobile phones and electricity pylons has harmful health effects. However, over the years the conclusion of most scientific bodies, including the Institution of Engineering and Technology, has remained substantially the same — that there is no persuasive evidence of this.

“The absence of robust new evidence of harmful health effects in the past two years is reassuring and is consistent with findings over the last two decades.”

The IET Position Statement reviewed 813 scientific papers.

But consumer groups such as Mast Sanity say the research did not fully address concerns, saying that the study did not take into consideration its own evidence which shows a 40 per cent increase in risk of glioma — a type of tumour that starts in the brain or spine— after 10 years exposure of hour an hour a day.

In May, the French government banned the use of mobile phones by children in schools and put warning labels against excessive use on mobile phones.

While analysts doubt that Kenya will take such harsh measures, the state is banking on a new initiative to allay consumer fears about radiation and other quality issues by introducing a official data bank containing information about the mobile services in the market.

This will be freely accessible to consumers after the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) publishes a report on the quality of services offered by operators in Kenya by the end of the year.

The regulator acquired a Quality of Service Monitoring and Measurement Systems (QSMS) in 2007 to independently verify the quality of service from the licensed mobile operators to safeguard the interests of the consumers but has been unable to share its findings with the public, citing gag laws.

But the institution now says it has the necessary legal framework to publish its findings on the performance of each of the four service providers in terms of quality of service following the gazettement of mandatory quality of service parameters that firms have to meet, a step it says will compel the mobile operators and communications companies to improve their service delivery.

Speaking at an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) workshop to discuss the state of Quality of Service in Africa and the effect of the telecommunication infrastructure on the environment, Mr Poghisio said through publishing of its findings, consumers will evaluate various aspects of the call services provided by mobile operators and make informed decisions.

Ms Judith Katona Kiss, the counsellor, ITU-T said since Africa is witnessing one of the fastest growths in the telecoms industry, there is need for operators to address consumer concerns.

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