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Volunteers Tested On Phone Mast 'Dangers'
Human volunteers will today undergo a series of tests as part of the first major study into the potential health dangers of mobile phone masts.The first of 264 people will have functions including their attention span and memory tested while being exposed to signals from a mobile transmitter.
The £328,000 research project is taking place at the Electromagnetics and Health Laboratory at the University of Essex, which opened last month to investigate how people are affected by electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
Half of the volunteers taking part are people who report being particularly sensitive to sources of EMFs. The others will form a "control" group.
During different sessions they will be exposed to signals from a current mobile base station, a new 3G mast and a fake transmitter. Without being told which of the three is being used, they will be asked to do a series of tasks to test cognitive functions.
Dr Stacy Eltiti, senior researcher on the project, said: "A lot of people are concerned about the potential effects of masts on health.
"It will be interesting to see if exposure has the same effects on everyone."
While not accepted by mainstream scientific opinion, some researchers believe that certain people suffer "electro hypersensitivity", a condition that can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea on exposure to EMFs from computers, microwaves and mobile phone masts.
There are expected to be 50,000 mobile phone base stations across Britain by the end of next year, servicing the country's 50 million handsets.
Most scientists reject the notion that transmitters can have a harmful effect on humans because their field strengths are a fraction of the safety guidelines.
However, campaigners and some researchers say the guidelines only take into account heating effects.
Dr Gerard Hyland, a former head of physics at Warwick University, said: "The safety guidelines are inadequate because they only look at how hot microwaves make things.
"Radiation produced by technology can affect humans in many ways."
Lisa Oldham, director of the campaign group Mast Sanity, said: "We've found cancer clusters around masts - leukaemia, Hodgkin's, breast cancer, not to mention symptoms such as dizziness, headaches and nosebleeds.
"The scientists say there is no conclusive evidence. What did they used to say about asbestos, or smoking?"
The new research is jointly funded by the Government and industry as part of the £7.4 million Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme.
Four years ago a committee chaired by Sir William Stewart concluded: "There is no general risk to the health of people living near base stations on the basis that exposures are expected to be a small fraction of the guidelines."
The committee did, however, recommend "a precautionary approach to the use of mobile phone technologies" and further research.
In February last year, the Radiocommunications Agency carried out an audit of emission levels from masts near 82 schools and 27 hospitals. The highest had a reading more than 700 times lower than the maximum safety limit. A spokesman for the Mobile Operators' Association said: "The balance of evidence shows there is no health risk to people living near base stations."
The website www.sitefinder.radio.gov.uk can be used to look up any neighbourhood in Britain to see where mobile phone masts are sited. Clicking on any mast will show details such as the transmission power, operator and height.