City in bid to revise cell mast policy

Published Aug 15, 2011



Metro Writer

The city of Cape Town is proposing “precautionary measures” to offset potential health dangers from cellphone masts.

The move marks the first time the city’s Cellular Telecommunication Infrastructure policy will be revised since its introduction in 2002.

The city’s draft policy says it is aimed at minimising health risks by taking a “precautionary approach”, with a focus on the risks of exposure to electromagnetic energy (EME).

One of the big changes is that instead of only focusing on the cellular industry, the draft policy covers all telecommunications infrastructure.

City residents have until the end of this month to comment on the draft policy.

According to the draft document, the need to re policy came after years of rapid growth in the industry.

It also aimed to ensure that the erection of towers had a minimal effect on the city’s landscape.

“The approach taken is to protect the visual character and amenity of the City of Cape Town as far as possible, and to minimise the health risks (known/potential and perceived) associated with EME,” the policy reads.

According to the document, the city bases its guidelines on those of the national Department of Health.

A circular from the department last year said there had been no conclusive evidence that public health was put at risk by emissions from cellular base stations.

“Due to the fact that research and debate on continuous, long-term, full-body exposure of EME is still ongoing, the effects of which have not yet been conclusively proved, the city has adopted a precautionary approach,” the draft document says.

Some of the guidelines include that antennae on top of the sites must be more than 50m away from any “habitable structures”, if positioned in front of that structure.

All sites must also be in commercial and business areas.

Any cabling should be placed underground, and the obstruction of views must be avoided. And no unauthorised people should be allowed access to the top of the structure, and they cannot come within 5m of the antenna.

It is proposed that structures supporting the masts are placed where trees or other landscaping can provide camouflage.

Companies will have to pay for test reports once the site is operational, which will be submitted to the council.

In the council last month, the city agreed to continue the leases on city-owned land for the cell and radio masts of the country’s major telecommunications companies.

On Saturday, the Weekend Argus reported that Constantia residents were protesting against the construction of a new cellphone transmission mast in that area, pointing to continued concern about the possible effect of radiation from these masts on health.

About 250 people gathered outside Constantia Waldorf School to raise their voices against Vodacom’s mast, which is already going up.

Residents said they feared radiation from the mast could negatively affect the health of the community, especially children at nearby schools.

Vodacom said the mast was needed to fulfil its obligations to customers in the area, where cellphone reception was “virtually non-existent”.

Vodacom spokesman Richard Boorman told Weekend Argus that allegations of radiation harm from the mast could not be proved.

In the council last month, it was agreed to continue the leases of Cell C, MTN, Vodacom and Sentech on city-owned land for the companies’ cell and radio masts.

The masts are located at Gallows Hill, Mamre, Bellville and Durbanville.

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