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Thursday Sep 01, 2011

More time to comment on Cape cellphone masts

Cape Town residents have until the end of next month to comment on the city's new policy regulating cellphone masts.

The public comment period for the draft policy was to have ended tomorrow but has been extended.

Cellphone network providers argue there is no evidence the masts cause health problems. Vodacom has pointed to studies on the World Health Organisation (WHO) database that found there was no proof that masts were dangerous.

It also says cell masts emit a lower electromagnetic frequency than many hand-held devices. But residents' forums in the city disagree.

The Electromagnetic Radiation Research Foundation of SA said several international studies had found people living near masts had fallen ill.

Earlier this year, the city undertook to revise its 2002 telecommunications policy.

Ronelle Clarke, the senior environmental professional in environmental, heritage and resource management for the city, said the new policy would deal with all telecommunications infrastructure.

The new policy had a more "cautionary approach", emphasising that the infrastructure must be located away from "habitable structures". If within 50m of such a structure, the company must provide details of the radio frequency and electromagnetic fields.

George Sierah, the chairman of the Durbanville Community Forum, which is calling for amendments to the draft policy, said no "conclusive evidence" had been produced to prove the masts were safe.

The forum is calling for a clause preventing masts from being erected in residential areas, saying they should be at least 1km from "the closest human habitation", and that no masts should be erected on school or church grounds.

Sierah questioned the draft policy's precautionary approach: "If the city approached this issue with such precaution, why is it dotted with all types of emitting infrastructure? If precaution was used, these huge masts would be far from residential enclaves."

The Electromagnetic Radiation Research Foundation said international studies had found people had fallen ill because of exposure to the masts. Complaints had included heart palpitations, respiratory problems and headaches.

Foundation chairwoman Tracey-Lee Dorny said: "While Vodacom is saying it cannot be proved unsafe, there are thousands of studies showing effects. They cannot prove it is safe and will not sign any guarantees."

Vodacom's Richard Boorman said the highest exposure was from handheld devices, and base stations emitted far lower levels.

MTN said it followed guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection.

Robert Madzonga, chief corporate services officer, said exposure to electromagnetic frequency from base stations was hundreds to thousands of times lower than the guidelines.

Cape Argus


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