Hospital cell mast uproar

LAUREN O’CONNOR-MAY

Despite strong opposition and well-researched arguments against it, Sub-council 20 approved a request for a cell mast to be put up on the roof of Constantiaberg Mediclinic.

The mast was erected before an application to regularise it was made by Warren Petterson Planning on behalf of MTN.

Motivations by the applicant in support of the mast said there was no evidence cellular masts were hazardous.

“Current scientific research is yet to produce conclusive evidence suggesting adverse health effects associated with working with or living close to wireless internet technology,” the report to sub-council said. “Although antennae and base stations emit radio waves, their frequency is not considered high enough to pose a health risk.”

The application added: “There is a huge demand by cellular users in this area, and the surrounding base stations are unable to provide an acceptable level of coverage to the area alone.”

Five people sent objections to the proposal. Two petitions, with more than 200 signatures collectively, were also submitted in opposition.

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An objection was also lodged by the Bergvliet Meadowridge Ratepayers’ Association (BMRA).

BMRA secretary Winnie Craythorne said: “This matter was of concern to the executive committee of this association particularly because of the increased risk, as admitted by the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection) in their 2002 guidelines, to the elderly and frail-care residents of the two adjacent retirement facilities.

“This association made a petition available for residents living in close proximity to the Constantiaberg Mediclinic and those who use the hospital premises on a regular basis who wished to object to the application, and 210 signatures were obtained, 25 of which were from residents of the PlumRus Retirement Village.”

The ICNIRP’s guidelines say: “Different groups in a population may have differences in their ability to tolerate a particular NIR (non-ionising radiation) exposure. For example, children, the elderly, and some chronically ill people might have a lower tolerance for one or more forms of NIR exposure than the rest of the population.”

Most of the objectors feared the possible impact the mast could have on their health. In a statement to the sub-council, the BMRA said it was short sighted of the City to let the mast go up: “The economic cost (not to mention the emotional and socio-political cost) to the City and the Province if the health risks become a reality will be 10-fold the supposed gain from promoting economic growth at all costs.”

Many residents were also worried about the impact on their property values, but Warren Petterson Planning said: “There is no evidence suggesting that base stations reduce the property values in any given area.”

The BMRA also found it startling that the mast had gone up before approval for it had been granted. A building inspector had prepared a notice to be served on the owners of the property to remove it. “ The last we heard regarding this was that the building inspector was endeavouring to ascertain on which of the three parties or owners the notice should be served,” said Ms Craythorne.

Johan van der Merwe, the City’s mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said: “The City’s planning and building development management department has served a notice on the owner for the unauthorised base station. The application to regularise the structure has been approved therefore, at this stage, there are no further penalties.”

A resident who did not want to be named but whose objection to the mast is part of the public record on the City’s website, said due to a lack of funds the City had failed to set up a committee to monitor the effects of cellular radiation, as was required by law. However, the Bulletin could not confirm which legislation or committee the resident was referring to, and the City was also unable to shed any light on the matter. It noted, though, that such a responsibility would lie with the national Department of Health

Warren Petterson Planning said: “Regular tests regarding the compliance to safety regulations add to reducing the health risk factor.”

The City’s health department had no objections to the request. The City’s telecommunication mast infrastructure policy says there is a “lack of evidence” to suggest cell masts and electromagnetic radiation pose a health risk, but should such research surface the city “may impose further conditions to keep it in line with the ICNIRP”. It also notes that while scientists are satisfied that cell masts aren’t a threat to health, research on handsets was ongoing as placing the device against your head “could pose a greater threat to health”, although using the phone in areas with good reception “decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power”.

Ms Craythorne said: “A few days prior to the sub-council meeting, we received the agenda index when we noticed that this matter was on the agenda for consideration. After the meeting, I contacted the sub-council and was told that the application had been approved. We have not yet had sight of the planner’s report and will be contacting the official shortly to request the reasons for the decision and whether any conditions were imposed.”

Blob The Bulletin approached the MTN and Constantiaberg Mediclinic but by the time this edition went to print, neither had responded.