Mobile telecommunications are a fact of life. However, all new technologies have unintended consequences, which might only become apparent in the years to come. What is clear is that people are becoming uneasy about cell masts and their impact.
This page gives you the ammunition to fight an unwanted cell mast. Your best defence is clear and authoritative information. On this page, you will find a checklist to follow in order to combat a cell mast, as well as links to research that will support your argument.
Your first step is to find out as much as you can. There are three reasons why anyone would not want a cell mast in his or her vicinity: concern about untested health effects, unease about an impact on property value and worry about the aesthetics of a huge concrete pole towering into the sky, bristling with unsightly antennae.
Below you will find a checklist of action, a summary of health symptoms and a synopsis of property effects.
Here’s the scenario - you have just been notified – either officially through a public notice or through the grapevine – that a cell mast is going to be built in your neighbourhood. The thought fills you with trepidation. You think: ‘What do I do? How do I find out about this? What options do I have?’
Well, here is a step-by-step guide to finding out if you really want a cell mast in your neighbourhood, and (if you don’t) how to prevent it from happening. And what your options are after that.
- Get yourself organised. Get a group together who will work with you.
- Find yourselves a name (like the Rooiboskraal Cell Mast Opposition Group) and set up a Facebook page, or some social media networking platform.
- Contact your local community newspaper and recruit a local community journalist to cover your battle for you – your first announcement will be that you intend to fight this mast.
- Co-opt a lawyer or some kind of legal consultant who can make sure that you follow the process and that the cell company follows due process. The biggest problem is that this is a new fight in legal terms, and many lawyers do not like the idea of swotting up on regulations. Most lawyers are uncomfortable with cases that do not have a lot of precedent. Fortunately for the law profession, there is a growing amount of resistance to the uncontrolled spread of cell masts; therefore, if they position themselves as experts, they will get a lot of work!
Get hold of your local municipality's by-laws on cell mast infrastructure. Every municipality has to have one, as part of their town planning scheme. Go here for a page that features city by-laws. Please let us know if your city is missing. As part of your research, have a look at what other municipalities specify as regulations. No by-law can trump national legislation, so it is also a good idea to swot up on the national laws. This is where homework is important: you really need to know the law.
There has to be some kind of official document notifying the general public that a cell mast is being planned. You need to get hold of this – it will either be a public notice on the site or a newspaper advertisement. By law, it has to give you a certain period of time to respond, and nothing can happen until that time has elapsed. If the public notice is asking for objections, we have some good examples of objection letters (see below).
Make sure that you comply with all instructions and deadlines. Do it two ways: let each member of your group put in an individual objection, but also put in a group objection, with a possible petition attached. There is also a very important point that you need to take into account, and it might tip the scales in your favour. Read about it here.
Back up your objection with facts and research. On our Research page, there are links to medical and scientific research that show the harm that electromagnetic radiation can cause. Quote these studies in your objection. There are also studies that show that property values are affected by cell masts – quote these studies. Don’t make your objection an emotional appeal... there is money involved here, and money does not pay attention to emotions. Use facts, science and research to back up your argument. Finally, it is a good idea to attach a lawyer’s letter, placing the town planning official on notice, that if the mast is allowed to go ahead, and there are negative health effects or property devaluation, they can be liable for a claim for damages. Public officials need to be notified that their actions have consequences.
Send us the name of your group, their Facebook page, social media profile or contact details. This is so that we can feature you on the site as a case study, and other people in similar situations can contact you.
Various types of cell mast scenarios
What to do if a cell mast is being erected on public land or municipal/government property
Any infrastructure that is built on public land (that belongs to local, provincial or municipal government) is governed by the laws of the country. Each municipality is supposed to have a set of regulations governing the building of private infrastructure on public land. See below for a list of regulations set up by the various municipalities.
In terms of these regulations, a municipality is required to undertake a lease agreement with the cellular service provider.
If a cell mast is proposed on public land, you need to look at the following:
- Your local municipality rules and regulations.
- A copy of the lease agreement. It is likely that the municipality will not co-operate with you in producing this lease, so you might have to make an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
Once you have the regulations and the lease agreement, you need to make sure that all the rules were followed. There are some rules that are mandatory in all cases as they are governed by national law. These rules are:
- The cellular service provider had to apply for Consent Use.
- The cellular service provider had to provide a site plan with a number of elements.
- The cellular service provider had to undertake a public participation process.
- The cellular service provider had to get a number of permissions - namely from the Department of Health, Department of Aviation, the local Planning department, the local electricity supplier, the local Roads and Traffic department and the local police department. These would be specified in the regulations. Make sure these permissions were obtained.
It is very likely that one, or several, of the permissions and regulations has been contravened. The cell mast companies are extremely arrogant and like to think that they can break the law and compel the public to undertake expensive litigation to stop them. Unfortunately, the municipalities are often complicit in this.
If the mast is going up on private property, or is being attached to existing infrastructure, such as the roof of a block of flats, street lights or telephone poles
Most of the process is the same as the previous guide regarding public land. However, what is crucial is the lease agreement. No antennae can be attached to private or municipal property without a lease agreement. Get a copy and see if it complies with regulations. If the deciding person is a body corporate, school governing body or church committee, make sure that all the role-players (tenants, parents, church members) are fully aware of the terms of the lease, the possible health effects, the amount of money that the entity is being paid and what it is being used for. It is important to remember that the radiation from a cell mast continues for at least 500 metres from the mast or antennae, so it is crucial that all the people within that radius are consulted. One of the biggest objections to a cell mast on someone's property is that the property owner gets the money but the neighbours have to deal with the fallout!
Click here for a very good guide on combatting cell masts from the EMRSA website.
Click here for municipal regulations.
Click here for a link to the Listing Notice in the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), which specifies under what conditions a cellular mast requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)
Click here for the 2010 Public Nuisance By-law
Click here for the City of Cape Town Municipal Planning By-law 2015
Click here for the CoCT Telecomms Mast Infrastructure Policy
The biggest argument made by people who approve cell masts is that there is no scientific proof that cell masts are bad for your health. Actually, there is a great deal of scientific proof, but it is not in the interests of the cellular telephony industry for this proof to be widely available. In our Research section are a number of medical and scientific studies that show the harmful effects of cell masts. You can attach these studies to your objection.
But first, here is a simplified overview of how electromagnetic radiation affects you:
(Please note that experts or scientists might think that we have over-simplified the argument for the sake of the non-scientists amongst us, but the core facts are true):
First of all, electromagnetic waves are effectively all the same thing. That includes sunlight, electric light, radio signals, infrared, ultraviolet, TV signals, nuclear fall-out, cell emissions, etc. They are all waves. However, they differ in frequency (the number of waves per second), and this difference gives each type of wave its characteristics. Below is a really good diagram that makes this quite clear.
Waves carry energy. Electromagnetic waves carry energy that gives off radiation. The higher the frequency, the more energy the wave carries, and the higher the radiation. Therefore, low-frequency waves (like radio signals) give off low radiation and are usually benign, but high-frequency waves (like x-rays) give off a lot of radiation, and these are nasty.
(A scientific note: The high-frequency x-rays and gamma rays are known as 'ionising radiation' because they have the effect of knocking ions off molecules and changing molecular structure. This is something you REALLY don't want in your body because ionising radiation has the effect of dissolving your tissues. Non-ionising radiation, which has a lower frequency, does not dislodge ions, but it does, at certain wavelengths, cause molecules to vibrate and give off energy, thereby heating them up.)
So now, let's move onto cell phones and cell masts. As you have seen, waves from cell phones and cell masts fall between the harmless radio waves and the rather more harmful microwaves. As you can also see, the cellphone in the picture is our wonderful old analogue phone from the 80s and 90s, which made calls and sent sms's. These phones used to operate at around 800Mhz, which tended towards the side of TV and radio signals. The new smart-phones, which were introduced to the mass market in 2012, operate at around 2.4GHz - which, as you can see, is rather close to the microwaves that you have in your microwave oven.
So - it is an accepted fact that radiation caused by the electromagnetic waves at high frequencies given off by your cellphone can harm you. If you doubt this, have a look at the safety warning on your cell phone. It is there, buried in the small print.
What is in dispute is the AMOUNT of radiation that will harm you and the kind of harm it will cause.
Cell phone engineers and regulators know full well that the microwaves from cell phones and cell masts heat you up. The rate at which your body absorbs microwaves is called SAR (Specific Absorption Rate). This heating effect has been known since the 1950s and has always been regarded as the only harmful action of electromagnetic waves.
Therefore, cell phones are expected not to exceed a maximum heating rate of 1.6W/kg of body weight, and this is measured at a distance of 0.5mm from your body. Everyone knows that when you talk on your cellphone, your ear gets hot - that is the SAR at work. It is, therefore, recommended by cellphone companies (in the small print, of course) that you hold the cell phone away from your head, use a plug-in headset, or a speakerphone and never carry your cellphone next to your body.
So much for the phones; let's talk about cell masts. The main difference between a cell mast and a cell phone, to state the obvious, is you can switch your cell phone off. But you cannot switch off a cell mast. And that mast is sending out signals any time that someone in its vicinity is using his or her phone. And seeing that most smart phones are on and transmitting all the time, cell masts are emitting radiation ... all the time. This diagram shows the beam of a cell mast. If you are directly below it, you are out of the direct beam, while still exposed to 'fallout'. But the blue field is a field of high radiation, and if your house, school or office is on a hillside or in a high building, you are going to be in the way of that field.
The current limits for cellphone radiation were set in 1998. In those days, cell phones used low frequencies (800MHz) and were used for making calls and sms's. They only emitted radiation when they were in use. The same went for cell masts - they only emitted radiation in reply to a nearby phone, and they emitted a relatively low frequency.
However, smart phones were introduced to the public at large in 2012. There are three major differences between today's cellular technology and the technology back in 1998.
First of all, smart phones and their corresponding base stations (cell masts) use a much higher frequency (2.4GHz, the same as your microwave oven). This is because the waves require more energy to carry more data. The signals are also stronger because more and more people are using cellphones.
Nowadays, as a second difference, you no longer just use your phone for making calls. You use your phone to tell the time, surf the internet, use the GPS, watch movies, get Whatsapps and download apps... pretty much ALL THE TIME. The only time your smart phone is not emitting high-frequency radiation is when it is off or on airplane mode. This means that cell masts, as well, are not just emitting waves when people are making calls - they are emitting radiation all the time, and the more people in the vicinity who are carrying active phones, the higher the amount of radiation required to deliver that high-speed data to all those phones.
Thirdly, nowadays, we have wi-fi, Bluetooth, et al. Wi-fi, because it is required to carry a great deal of data, operates between 2.4GHz and 5GHz. Just look on the diagram at what else operates on these frequencies - your microwave oven and those great big microwave dishes. Because the signal for wi-fi is expected to travel quite far (your whole house, your whole office block or your entire neighbourhood), the strength of the signal from your wi-fi router has to be extremely strong. People near to a wi-fi router are effectively sitting next to a mini-microwave transmitter.
Now here are some rather shocking facts. When the emission levels were set, back in 1998, they were not set based on any scientific studies. They were set as a result of NEGOTIATIONS between the telephony industry and various governments, starting in 1992. There were a number of studies (in fact, studies on the effects of microwaves and radiation on humans go back to the 1950s), but there are many academics who claim that any study that showed harmful effects was ignored, in favour of the benefits that cellular telephony would bring. These levels, set in 1998, have not been changed since. It is noteworthy that, even when these levels were set, they were stated to be meant as a guideline and not a prescriptive limit. It was noted at the time that the 'precautionary principle' applied - in other words, when in doubt, reduce the limits.
Another shocking fact is that the limits to emissions are set purely on the basis on the heating effect of microwaves. There is no acknowledgement of the fact (and few scientific studies) that show that radiation might have any other effects. Some scientists claim that electromagnetic radiation, even in small doses, causes breaks in DNA, which might have long-term effects on brain and cell function (leading to diseases like Altzheimers, for instance), but the cellular industry has been extremely active in suppressing or ridiculing these findings.
Furthermore, there is little to no enforcement of these limits. Measuring electromagnetic frequency requires very expensive and sensitive equipment. The cell companies could be pumping out any emission levels that they like, and there is no one to ensure that they are, in fact, adhering to any levels at all. It is a well-known fact that cellular companies never publish or reveal their emissions levels, even when challenged to do so.
Something else to take into account: perhaps the emissions from each phone are only a fraction of the permissible limit... that is entirely possible. After all, your microwave oven cooks food at levels above 1 000W, and the limit for cell phones is around 20W. But... just look around you, in your office, the street, the restaurant, your home. Everyone around you is using a smart phone - to text, listen to music, search the internet, chat. Add to this wifi and Bluetooth, and you will get some idea of the electromagnetic soup in which we are currently living. If each of those devices is giving off 20W... add them all together, and see what you get.
However, in closing, there are two facts that are beyond dispute. The first one is that the cellular telephony industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. They have a vested interest in making sure that people are not mistrustful of their technology. After all, reliable and instant communication is the bedrock of a growing economy, not to mention generating billions of rands in profits for the cell companies. Just like the tobacco lobby in the 1950s, the cellular telephony industry is strenuously going to suppress any possible evidence that cell phone use, or cellular base stations, might be harmful to your health.
The second fact is that there are people who are showing intolerance towards electromagnetic fields. One could almost say that these people are allergic to cellphones! A growing number of people are reporting symptoms to hospitals and doctors and even receive disability grants on the strength of their intolerance. There are medical and scientific tests proving that they do suffer from this ‘allergy’. Symptoms of electromagnetic sensitivity include headaches, muscle pain, sleeplessness, loss of memory, and loss of concentration. Other effects (they seem to differ from person to person and depend largely on factors such as age, weight, gender and underlying conditions) include tingling of the limbs, skin rashes, ringing in the ears, aggression, depression... a whole range of non-specific maladies. It has been easy to dismiss these symptoms, but there is growing scientific evidence that they can be linked to microwave radiation.
(With regard to the 'nocebo effect' - which is a psychological condition in which if you believe something is going to harm you, it will - many people were not aware of nearby cell masts or were not aware of the reported symptoms of this intolerance until they started suffering from them.)
What is quite remarkable about all these symptoms, which people claim are from cellmast exposure, is that they might be non-specific ailments, but they are consistent with inflammation and pain caused by the heating of tissues... which is the one thing that all science agrees that microwaves do. So - how can people who have never researched electromagnetic radiation or its symptoms start complaining about illnesses completely consistent with radiation exposure?
The one thing that everyone agrees on (except the cellular companies, of course) is that more research is required. There is a growing uneasiness worldwide that the electromagnetic waves given off by cellphones, cell towers and wi-fi are not as benign as the cell companies would like us to think. Many countries have drastically reduced their permissible emission levels, banned wi-fi in schools, switched over to fibre and cabling and encouraged less cell phone use. Most countries have commented on the fact that international levels were set in order to limit short-term exposure but that the cumulative effect of smart-phones, cell masts, wi-fi et al. has created long-term exposure - of which the effects are not known.
- It is a fact that electromagnetic waves of a certain strength and frequency are harmful.
- It is a fact that the international standards for the limits to the strength of these emissions were set down in international law in 1998.
- It is a fact that cellular technology and cellular use have changed beyond all recognition in the last 20 years.
- It is a fact that the number of devices we use nowadays (cellphones, wi-fi, bluetooth) has increased exponentially.
- It is a fact that health limits for electromagnetic radiation were set based on short-term exposure (6 minutes of exposure). Limits have not been revised to accommodate long-term exposure.
- It is a fact that many countries have decided to decrease emission limits drastically (the precautionary principle).
- It is a fact that it would not be in the interests of cellular companies for consumers to be aware of any health risks, and it is, therefore, in their economic interests to suppress any information about possible or potential harmful effects.
On our Research page, there are links to a number of scientific studies that you can include in your objection or petition. However, the biggest factor that you need to include is the fact that other potentially harmful materials can be avoided. If you feel that coffee or tobacco or sugar is bad for you, you can avoid them. But you cannot avoid the emissions from a nearby cell mast, and you cannot switch them off!
Cellphone masts and property value
Jackie Gray-Parker • Mar 2, 2016
Cellphone masts have attracted controversy due to the perceived health risks and impact on property value. We take a look at the issue. Around the world, cellphone mast installations appear to have attracted controversy due largely to the perceived health risks. Both those for and against mast installations have strong arguments which ‘prove’ their case. There have also been heated debates around the impact such installations have on property values.
From a property perspective, the issue seems to revolve largely around the proximity of mast installations and aesthetics. Chantelle Dickinson of Harcourts Rhino says that in her experience, the issue of cellphone masts hasn’t really been a problem but that others in her office have occasionally experienced difficulties when trying to sell properties close to cellphone masts due to the perceived health risks and “visual pollution.”
Whether or not the health issues associated with cellphone masts are real, the reality is that there does appear to be a somewhat negative perception of cellphone masts which, if the various studies and surveys are to be believed, negatively influences people’s attitudes towards properties which lie within close proximity of such installations.
A survey conducted by the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy in 2014 is a case in point. Entitled ‘Neighbourhood Cell Towers and Antennas – Do They Impact a Property’s Desirability?’, it was circulated online via various platforms in America and ‘other countries’. It sought to determine if cellphone towers and antennas or wireless antennas placed on top of or on the side of a building would impact a home buyer’s or renter’s interest in a property. Approximately 1000 people responded to the survey.
According to the survey, the majority of respondents (94%) reported that cell towers and antennas in a neighbourhood or on a building would impact interest in a property and the price they would be willing to pay for it. Additionally, 79% said under no circumstances would they ever purchase or rent a property within a few blocks of a cell tower or antenna. Although hardly comprehensive or conclusive, the survey does point to a distinct perceptual bias.
Locally, residents in Constantia clearly weren’t interested in taking any chances. Following the installation of a mast in 2014 which was given the green light by the City of Cape Town, the residents marched, signed petitions, launched websites and met with cellphone company executives to explain their objections. The building approval for the mast has subsequently been set aside by the Western Cape High Court.
In terms of the process relating to the installation of cellphone masts, a representative of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) briefly explained that entities who wish to install masts have to obtain municipal approval before proceeding.
For those who wish to oppose the installation of a mast, Electromagnetic Radiation South Africa (EMRSA) outlines the following:
- Engage with the landowner and discuss your concerns
- Engage with your council: If you received documentation from your council alerting you to an installation, use the contact details listed. You could also request a copy of the local policy regarding the installation of masts
- Engage with the cellphone operators responsible for the installation
- Alert your neighbours
- Activism: This can take the form of a petition, protests and letters to the media
- Education: Know what you’re talking about
- Be prepared for the long haul
The full details can be viewed at www.emrsa.co.za/how-can-we-oppose-a-cellphone-tower-installation/
It’s clear that the issue of cellphone mast installations is a controversial one. What isn’t clear is the ‘impact’ on health and property which has yet to be fully defined. It will undoubtedly be a debate that continues for some time to come.