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Phone Masts Ban Extended In Muharraq
Gulf Daily News
Journalist: Mohammed Al A'Ali
February 10, 2008

A ban on new mobile phone masts in Muharraq will remain in force until authorities come up with further proof that they are safe.

The Muharraq Municipal Council says it is not convinced by "evidence" submitted by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which claims they are not a health hazard.

It has now extended the ban, imposed in December, indefinitely until it is proved they are safe.

The council is also planning to remove mobile phone masts near homes in Muharraq if it is proved they are harmful.

"The door is closed as the TRA has failed to convince us that they are safe," said Muharraq Municipal Council vice-chairman Abdulnasser Al Mahmeed.

"Unless they can open a window, the decision will remain the same.

"We are also planning to remove existing masts that are close to homes if they are proven to be hazardous."

The TRA had been invited to give a presentation to both the council and residents last week on the topic of phone mast radiation and health.

It was a chance for the TRA to convince the council to change its mind, but apparently it had an opposite effect.

The issue has been under investigation since September after 150 Busaiteen residents signed a petition against phone masts in their area.

Councillors initially delayed a decision on the issue until the relevant government studies were submitted.

"Everyone is entitled to give his point of view on anything, but in the end, it's up to the listener to decide whether he believes it or not," said Mr Al Mahmeed, a former technical team leader at Batelco.

"The TRA says that radiation levels from masts in Bahrain are low compared to other countries, but it doesn't mean this is no threat to people's health.

"I am a certified telecommunications engineer, with 11 years experience in the field, but I still doubt what the TRA is saying.

"They (the TRA) gave an excellent presentation, a well-prepared one, but they didn't give us a definite answer to the question on whether phone masts are dangerous or not."

He said the TRA argued that increasing the number of base stations actually reduces the amount of radiation each one emits.

That is because it cuts down the distance that telephone signals must cover.

However, Mr Al Mahmeed is concerned that any radiation - no matter how high - could endanger health.

"There are studies saying that masts are dangerous and others saying they are safe," he said.

"We prefer to consider them as dangerous as a precaution, considering that people's lives are hanging in the balance.

TRA spectrum advisor Karl van Heeswijk said in October that mast radiation levels in Bahrain were similar to those in the UK, an average of 100,000 times lower than the international recognised safety limits.

He claimed that public misconceptions had vastly overstated the dangers of telephone masts and base stations.

Mr van Heeswijk said the greatest threat to health was from worry and stress people go through thinking about the issue.

He added that more base stations were required in urban areas to connect mobile phone users, but said these were smaller than others used in rural areas and therefore emitted less radiation.

He said if people were not exposed to anything above the recommended level, there was no scientific evidence to show there was a threat to health.

Mr van Heeswijk also revealed that 300 base stations exist in Bahrain, but did not comment on how many more are planned over the coming years.

He said where phone masts and base stations were placed would depend on municipality planning laws, adding that people living or working directly under them had nothing to fear - as tests showed this was the area with the least radiation.

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