• 19 MAY 06
    • 0

    # 470: Electrical union to ban work near phone masts

    The Age newspaper, Melbourne Australia
    By Adam Morton
    May 19, 2006

    ELECTRICAL workers will refuse to work on or near operational mobile phone towers in Victoria until safety standards are introduced, fearing exposure to electromagnetic radiation causes cancer.

    The Electrical Trades Union ban came as preliminary testing at RMIT University’s business school found no evidence that rooftop phone towers caused brain tumours in seven staff since 1999.

    While medical experts said there was no proven link between phone towers and cancer, fears rose after it was revealed that tumours were found in staff working on the top floor.

    Electrical union state secretary Dean Mighell said there was overseas evidence linking tumours to long-term electromagnetic radiation exposure, whether from high-voltage power lines or phone towers.

    “Saying it is inconclusive is not good enough,” he said. “It needs to be conclusive that it’s safe, and when there is so much evidence saying it’s not, we think it is time the telecommunications industry adopts the same standards as the power industry and protects workers and residents.”

    Mr Mighell urged communications companies to adopt regulations forcing electrical workers to wear protective equipment, carry radiation meters and work on towers for limited periods.

    City authorities have sought council control over medium-sized phone towers through planning permits. There are 169 mobile phone network masts in the Melbourne CBD.

    RMIT vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said the university would pay for past and present staff who worked in the building to see an occupational phys-ician.

    She said the number of illnesses linked to the building remained at seven, despite more than 150 calls to its medical help line and claims the academics’ union knew of a possible death.

    “There have been no further cases identified at present but there are undoubtedly people who have come forward and investigations will be under way,” she said.

    Business staff were told a decision on whether they would be asked to return to work on the top floor of the 17-storey building would not be made until final test results were available earlynext week.

    At least one senior, long-term employee yesterday told a staff meeting he would not work on the top floor again, regardless of the test results.

    The university offered to move staff from the top two floors eight days ago after five tumours were discovered in a month, following earlier cases in 1999 and 2001.

    Testing includes radiation, air and water quality and surface contamination.

    The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association said that while public safety was paramount to the mobile telecommunications industry, there was no credible scientific evidence of health effects from living or working near a mobile phone tower.

    Chief executive Chris Althaus said the ETU’s move was unjustified and unwarranted.

    He said the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency had recently confirmed the safety of mobile phone towers, having researched 60 mobile base stations across Australia last year. The agency found that on average, the exposure level was many thousands of times less than the national safety limit in places where the levels were expected to be at their highest.

    Mr Althaus said agency studies had noted AM radio contributed about 91 per cent of radio frequency emissions while mobile phone towers contributed only 1.4 per cent.

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