A Joburg woman believes the imminent roll-out of 4G cellular telephony could have massive health implications for anyone in the path of the signal.
The government disagrees. So does cellphone giant MTN, which is doing 4G/LTE testing in the north of Joburg.
Tracey-Lee Dorny has 60 pine trees in her garden. They have all been burnt and blackened – in the last five months. Her neighbours also report blackened trees.
“I first noticed these big scorch marks on my pines, and then some of the eucalyptus and the fir trees around Fourways,” says Dorny, chairman of the Electromagnetic Research Foundation of SA, from her Craigavon home. “It’s like very focused beams are coming through here and hitting some of the trees and plants. The signals are fairly high-powered and they’re transmitting long distances… The resin just bursts open.”
4G is the fourth generation of wireless communication standards, converging computers and cellphones wirelessly in an era of ultra-fast broadband internet access.
Dorny suspects the sudden firestorm in her garden is MTN’s testing of its new technology in her area, which she believes corresponds with reports of illnesses in Fourways, Dainfern, Sunninghill and further afield.
The trees are an indicator of what is to come, she believes. “We’re receiving more reports of headaches, blurry vision, tinnitus and nausea and problems with breathing and hair loss in the area. Children are experiencing severe shooting pains in their muscles and joints.”
Last year she won an epic battle against iBurst when it removed a wi-fi mast it had erected 30m from her bedroom window, which had caused her family to fall ill. She has since been diagnosed as electrosensitive, becoming physically ill when exposed to electromagnetic radiation.
This month Dorny wrote to the Ministers of Communication, Health, Water and Environmental Affairs about her foundation’s concerns. She told them the MTN testing was the cusp of the next technological revolution with digital TV being next.
“The number of service providers in South Africa wanting to roll out the service, if it is allowed, will result in a bigger impact on health and environment and the deployment of even more towers.”
Israel, she said, had forbidden a 4G/LTE roll-out until a proper study was done but in SA the government had not acted on an industry that was self-regulating, unmonitored and out of control. “We want an investigation to find out who is doing what and who is testing… but Icasa have told us that once people are licensed, they have no idea what they roll out, when and where and how.”
This week Amanda Britz of the Department of Environmental Affairs wrote that the Department of Health was “satisfied that, based on the current research and guidelines, which are endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the health of the general public is not being compromised (by) their exposure to the microwave emissions of cellular base stations”.
However, says Dorny, there are areas in Joburg where the levels are high and uncontrolled.
“But the companies will tell you they’re perfectly safe, but nobody is monitoring… Our levels compared with what other countries define as safe levels are two totally different things. It just takes that one extra signal, frequency, or a WiMax, then you find a lot of people start to get ill. They get headaches and rashes, but the minute they switch it off, or remove it from their office, their symptoms go away.”
Last year the WHO revealed that the International Agency for Research on Cancer had declared that the electromagnetic fields produced by cellphones are possibly cancer-causing.
Kanagaratnam Lambotharan, MTN chief technology officer, disputes the claims. “LTE is a standard that is part of the evolution of 3G, which incorporates significantly increased data rates and better performance to enhance the mobile broadband experience.”
MTN, he says, ensures that everything from 2G to 3G and 4G/LTE adheres to all world safety benchmarks. “There’s no evidence to convince experts that exposure below the guidelines set carries any health risks, for adults or children.”
The WHO found no evidence that “the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks” cause adverse health effects, he says.