May 22 2003
By Emma Pinch
Residents who fear they have been made ill by living near mobile phone masts have launched their own research in an attempt bid to prevent more of the structures across the West Midlands.
Betting shop worker Geraldine Attridge, from West Bromwich, carried out her own survey of people living in blocks of flats where mobile phone masts have been erected on the roof.
And, separately, former business consultant Nancy Watts, from Market Drayton, Shropshire, is co-ordinating a pilot study of 600 people which will include a control group so the data can be interpreted in context.
They hope their findings will force more research on the subject and put pressure on councils to turn down planning applications on health risk grounds.
Miss Attridge embarked on her four-month survey after experiencing intense buzzing in her ears last summer.
She lives directly below an Orange telecommunications mast.
After levels of radiation from the mast were recorded as being within National Radiological Protection Board guidelines, she decided to find out if other residents had suffered similar problems.
She made 700 photocopies of a questionnaire and, journeying by bus across the West Midlands, distributed them at flats with telecommunications equipment.
"The sensation I was experiencing was like that you have after going to a rock concert then sitting in your kitchen afterwards where it is quiet," she said.
"When I was out of the flat I didn't get it so I started looking into publications on the subject and I didn't like what I was hearing.
"I was surprised at how many replies I got back - around 500 in all. About 300 of those reported one or more of the symptoms, the most common being headaches and tiredness.
"But some reported things I hadn't expected such as nosebleeds and even cancers.
"I know it is a very amateur study but for so many people to bother to reply there must be concern enough to warrant more research into mobile phone mast radiation."
Mrs Watts, who lives ten metres from a base station, noticed her multiple sclerosis deteriorate from one relapse every three years to three every year since returning to Shropshire in 1996 from Hong Kong.
As well as including a control group and people who do not live near a mast, her survey has been painstakingly designed to stand up to scientific scrutiny and will harness the skills of an epidemiologist.
"We want to make as robust a study as we can, so that it cannot be picked apart and afterwards carry it out in multiple areas across the country so we have as much information as possible," she said.
Results of the pilot study are expected to be published in April 2004.
Campaigners say many reported ill-effects are due to the 'pulsing' aspect of the micro-waves, which current NRPB limits ignore.
Dr Gerard Hyland, former senior lecturer of theoretical physics at Warwick University, said even profoundly deaf people were sometimes able to sense the 'buzzing' of microwaves.
He said long-term exposure to low level radiation could affect auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis.
"It is accepted that mobile phones should not be used near sensitive electro-magnetic equipment in aviation or hospitals," he said.
"But the brain also has its own electrical rhythm and microwaves from mobile phone equipment can interfere with it."
He said vulnerability varied from person to person and made harmful effects difficult to quantify.
A Government study in May 2000 said there were no general risks presented by base stations but recommended more research into the subject.
A spokesman for Orange said: "Orange acknowledges public concern regarding
the siting of transmitters. However, there is no conclusive evidence that
makes a link between exposure to radio waves, transmitter sites and long-term
public health risks."
Copyright © 2003, Trinity Mirror Plc