Cellular phone antennas get closer to home

Poor regulation has put mobile phone antennas nearly everywhere in Greece – even on people’s roof tops. But new legislation drafted by the Ministry of Transport does not improve the already arbitrary nature of mobile phone aerial placement. The draft law is allowing aerials closer than ever – less than 300 meters from schools, daycare centers, hospitals and rest homes. The draft law has drawn strong reactions, mainly due to fears from the public of the health risks associated with electromagnetic radiation from cell phone aerial transmissions. The new legislation renews the 2000 law establishing maximum exposure levels to such radiation. It allows the aerials to be placed closer to sensitive and populated areas with just one condition – that the maximum exposure level to electromagnetic radiation not exceed 60 percent. If approved, the new legislation would overturn the opinion of the Greek Ombudsman, who says aerials should be placed at least 300 meters from neighborhoods and 500 meters from schools. Even the leaders of another government department – the Ministry of Health – say the antennas should not be placed anywhere near schools, hospitals, rest homes, daycare centers or any populated area until a competent authority studies the effects of radiation on public health. «It’s interesting that in a draft law like this one, there is no mention of a precautionary principle, an established measure of social justice,» says Giorgos Balias, a lawyer specializing in environmental issues. A precautionary principle anticipates that the community and its government must take protective measures in matters stemming from a technological practice which could affect public health or the environment. Without this so-called preventative medicine, people essentially become technology’s lab rats. The draft law seems to ignore the precautionary principle. It uses the radiation limit set by the European Commission, but increases it by 20 percent. Companies consider these figures «the limits of safe exposure.» The limits are 4.5 watts per square meter when the frequency of the cell phone is 900 MHz and nine watts per square meter when the frequency is 1,800 MHz. But Balias says establishing these limits has proven to be no panacea. The commission wants to re-examine these limits to further restrict exposure to electromagnetic radiation. «In several countries, regions and cities in Europe, they have adopted levels that are 10 times, even a hundred times, smaller than what’s in the Constitution or what’s followed by the World Health Organization,» Balias said. For instance, in Italy and Russia, the level is 0.1 watts per square meter. In Salzburg, the level is 0.001 watts per square meter. Around the world, the inclination is to make the upper limit lower in response to modern sensitivities to electromagnetic radiation from cell phone aerials. Greece, however, continues to follow its old ways. The new draft law is causing unease because its study of the environmental repercussions will be undertaken by companies associated with the Greek Atomic Energy Committee (EEAE), which could shape the law. Balias balks when he considers that the EEAE could be the only organization to decide where to place a cell phone antenna. The committee has no doctors or other appropriate health-related scientists on board and takes decision-making power away from political institutions, he said. «Deciding who is next to a dangerous place is not only a matter of scientific respect… but also a matter of society’s decision making and its politics,» Balias said. Greece’s four mobile phone companies – CosmOTE, Q-Telecom, TIM Hellas and Vodafone – responded to the furor at a recent press conference, saying they follow the rules «that protect public health in relation to the proven effects of cell phones.» Companies are staging an attack on «time-consuming bureaucracy,» which has become a target for all those who wish to circumvent environmental regulations, and are against the issuing of environmental effects studies, claiming that mobile telephony base stations are not included in such EU legislation. «Cell phone companies aim at minimizing their effect on the environment,» the companies claim. «Stations are adapted into the environment and integrated with it.» But with cell phones now a part of our lives, how do we properly deal with their emissions? The Coordination Committee for all of Attica, which represents 70 regional committees in Athens and is in touch with 20 more in Thessaloniki, has set as a goal «the gradual withdrawal of aerials from inhabited areas and their methodical transfer under state supervision to outlying areas in Attica, such as hills and other uninhabited areas, with a view to them ultimately being connected to satellites.»

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