Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cellphone Masts

Towering Infernos?
by Nick van der Leek

I’m concerned. I have seen the effect an sms to a cellphone has on a computer LCD display. Just before the sms comes through the entire display shakes. The speakers make a loud electrical buzzing noise. If this is the effect the signal has on a computer monitor, and sensitive digital components, if so much energy is beaming through the air along invisible strings, what on earth do these signals do when traveling through our brains? Because of course, when we answer a cellphone, we hold it against the side of our heads. Ever felt, when you speak for a long time, how hot the phone and the side of your head gets?

I’ve recently moved residence in order to be closer to where I work. I work at a High School in Bloemfontein and I am very concerned. A cellphone mast about 20 metres high, dressed to resemble a giant palm tree, shoots out of one corner of the school grounds. I’ve always wondered about that. Why go to the expense of camouflaging these poles? I mean, private companies just aren’t usually that nice. Isn’t the real message that they are pretending to be as benign as trees, or for us to forget they’re there?

My situation is a tall, pretend- palm Vodacom mast about 300m from where I work, and 250 m from where I live. This is also not the only case where a mast has been planted on a school campus. There are a number of other examples in Bloemfontein, including the university campuses, on several school grounds, and in plenty of suburban sites. Suburban sites mean you literally have a mast on your doorstep – within 100 or 200 metres of one’s bed.

On Special Assignment (SABC3, 22:30, 22 May) various families who live close to these masts complain of fatigue, of turning blue (as though running out of oxygen), of rooms in houses becoming unusually hot, of a zinging noise, of trees near these masts growing away and dying. One woman said her cat started losing its hair, and most people complained of insomnia and ill health, including cases of lymphocytosis, brain tumors and leukemia.

The program suggested that the minimum safe distance for working or living around these towers ought to be around 400m. Like many of the people interviewed, I have to think about the cost of moving again. And am I supposed to leave my job as well? Because I have little doubt that living next to one of these things is not something that’s going to be good for you, even for a short while.

Everyone knows that this is the latest and greatest technology, it’s all the rage with teenagers, and it is generating massive profits for private companies and government, and the last thing anyone wants is a public health scare. No one wants to hear about this, no one wants the party to end prematurely. But who wants a brain tumor? And if you ask me, if one of these signals makes your computer screen shake, and if one of these calls starts to warm up your ear, what effect are thousands of these rays, converging invisibly, splicing through our tissues all day, every day, on their way to a mast, buzzing through the tissues of your body and your brain on their way. By placing these towers at schools we are irradiating our children, and by erecting them in suburbia, we’re creating hotspots for cancer and sickness. If that seems like an extreme statement, why do trees grow away from these towers? What kills them?

I concur with many of the concerned citizens interviewed. I am not surprised that we have an oaf in the Department of Health (in charge of Radiation Control) just waiting to hear about WHO meetings, waiting to hear when the next survey should be undertaken. Is he unable to Google the latest information on this issue? Complacency on this issue will cost families – and scores, possibly, of our best and brightest in this country – dearly.

I’m not sure what the effect on me is, as yet, beyond the fact that I have felt a little lightheaded, and that zinging effect is slight – possibly even imagined. I never get headaches, but I’ve started feeling a bit dullheaded. That may be due to a new effect for me, big classes, shouting children. Or it might not be.
Nevertheless, it is absolutely criminal that these masts are placed right beside homes and schools.

So my intention is to work where I do for perhaps another 6 months. I expect I will move elsewhere before then. Is there anyone else who lives near these pretend-tree towering infernos? Anyone else that can share their experiences? Please do. Communities everywhere need to be alert, take action and tackle the party’s implicated by our critical concerns.

No comments: