A South African researcher in the field of electromagnetic pollution, has warned Botswana against the health hazards posed by the mushrooming cellphone towers.
Karl Muller, a former physics lecturer at Wits University and now on the managing committee of the Electromagnetic Action Group South Africa (EmagSA), has criticised a recent Botswana government statement that there have been no scientific studies to date linking cellphone towers to any chronic diseases.
In particular Dr Jeff Ramsay, was replying as the acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology. Ramsay says, among other things, that in January 2004, the Botswana Telecommunications Authority (BTA), whose responsibility includes the monitoring of radio frequency matters, reported that "research in this area has been extensive and there is no replicated laboratory or epidemiological evidence that RF radiation at the power levels associated with mobile phone base stations are associated with cancer."
On the contrary though Muller says they have done much research into the scientific literature, and many investigations on health around cellphone masts (the towers) in Johannesburg.
Muller said that contrary to the Botswana government's position, every single study into general health around a mast carried out anywhere in the world (about eight studies so far have been done) has found a consistent pattern of health problems. "They include: severe headaches; chronic fatigue; sleep disorders; gastric upsets and nausea; circulation problems (high blood pressure); heart rhythm problems and palpitations; rashes and prickling skin or sensations of heating; mood swings and depression; memory and attention problems; lowered immunity and lingering infections; joint pains and aching gums; tinnitus (ringing in the ear); visual problems; dizziness and disorientation; and other complaints, including neurological disorders (e.g. epilepsy).
"We have found every single one of these symptoms and more around masts in Johannesburg, and the people tell us that when they move away from the mast, these symptoms often disappear immediately, especially fatigue, headaches and sleep disorders," the expert told Mmegi.
The researcher also tells Mmegi that there have been three studies worldwide of cancer around masts, in Germany, Austria and Israel. "All of them found significantly increased cancer rates, up by at least 200-300 percent. The main cancers seem to be brain tumors, breast cancers and leukemia. We have noted many prostate cancers near masts as well," Muller added. "I myself suffer from a very particular and unmistakable fatigue when I'm near an active mast, I can always tell when there is a mast nearby. The fatigue can last from four to six hours afterwards," Muller narrated. "So the Bakgatla are quite correct to be concerned, and I am really perturbed to hear about these deaths from brain tumors. These were previously rare, but the single biggest cause of
"No significant levels of background ionising radiation were recorded at the tower or the chief's residence to warrant concern. This inspection confirms that there is no harmful ionising radiation emissions in the area of investigation."
Ramsay said in reaching their findings the inspectors carried out radiation readings in the area at and around the tower, which were all well below the level of 1.0 micro-Sieverts per hour, which is considered to be the minimum level to warrant further investigation.
"Measurements carried indicated readings of 0.08-0.10 micro-Sieverts per hour at and around the tower and 0.09 microSieverts per hour at the Kgosi's residence located on the hill, approximately 100m from the tower. The highest reading was recorded at the Kgotla 0.18 micro-Sieverts per hour, which is still far below the 1.0 micro-Sieverts per hour threshold".
"All of the readings taken at Mochudi were also below the 0.22 micro-Sieverts per hour average background ionizing dose for most areas in Botswana that had been visited by the Radiation Inspectors as of June 2009".
However, the EmagSA official has contradicted Ramsay's statement. Muller says that comparisons with ionising radiation are not valid. "Cellphone radiation is pulsed, and it is these pulsed frequencies which interfere with biological processes," Muller said in response.
"The radiation guidelines used are only taking into account the fact that this radiation heats tissue up. However, research has shown for example that pulsed frequencies affect brainwaves at levels corresponding to one-trillionth of the guidelines used. This is not a heating effect, the brain also works on electrical pulses," he explained.
"Other health effects such as fatigue and headaches start at one-millionth of the current guidelines, according to compilations of many research studies.
"Prof Leif Salford of Lund University in Sweden found that the blood-brain barrier - which prevents toxins from entering the brain - is damaged after only two hours of exposure at levels which correspond to that found from cellphone masts. This allows toxins into the brain, and caused permanent brain damage in rats, whose blood-brain barrier is similar to that of humans".
"Prof Salford has said that the mass exposure of populations to microwaves is 'the biggest experiment ever carried out on the human race', and we are now seeing some very worrying results of this 'experiment'," Muller said.