Opposition to cell-phone masts builds up in Attica

Cellular telephone antennae are in the sights of an all-Attica coordinating committee set up to oppose them. The committee is asking the state to remove all masts from residential areas and to introduce strict legislation to govern their operation. The aim is to institute proper control over the conditions in which town-planning permits are issued so as to protect schools, hospitals and all areas where there is human activity. The committee wants to see a law that includes the following provisions to safeguard health: * A ban on the installation of masts by a general meeting of tenants in apartment blocks; * Approval by the municipality in each area of an environmental study based on the distribution and number of masts in the area; and * A transitional regulation for the execution of court rulings concerning the removal of masts within 30 days. Since 1989, when the first masts were installed in Galatsi without a permit, companies have been putting up camouflaged masts in chimneys and other structures, the committee claims. Some residents who have protested have found themselves in court on legal charges and facing the riot squad. They themselves have appealed to the Council of State and lower courts in five cases. «We have already stopped two masts from operating and are waiting for decisions from the other courts,» committee member Frangiskos Kounanis told Kathimerini. Opinions are divided on the health risk from the non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation emitted by the masts. According to committee member Xanthoula Probona, the mobile phone companies «with the cover of organizations such as the National Technical University of Athens, the US Department of Health and the World Health Organization, have repeatedly claimed that the radiation is harmless.» But she asserts that many scientists view mass exposure to such radiation over recent years as «the greatest biological experiment ever.» The committee proposes that masts be moved to the hills on the outskirts of Athens, that companies share a smaller number of masts, and that inspections be made of their compatibility with the new satellite the former Transport and Communications Minister inaugurated a year ago. ‘They should be at least 300 meters away’ from houses In early 2004, the Greek Ombudsman stipulated safe distances for cell-phone aerials from residential areas, schools, hospitals and other places where human activities are carried out. According to those limits, the aerials should be at least 300 meters from residential areas, 500 meters from schools and hospitals, and separated from each other by at least 300 meters. The Ombudsman also noted that stricter limits on exposure to radiation should be imposed. The latest regulations (Ministerial Decision 53571/3839) on «Measures to Protect the Public from the Operation of Land-Based Aerials» state that there must not be areas around the aerial that are accessible to the general public and where the level of exposure exceeds 80 percent of the levels set by the European Union for the two cellular phone frequency bands. The question remains whether cellular telephones are carcinogenic, as the precise effect of cell-phone radiation is still a scientific mystery. The World Health Organization is still working on a document that will stipulate the level of risk from exposure to cell-phone radiation.