Broadband tower sparks outrage in community

Date: 18 Sep 2009
Studies show it puts people at risk of cancer Joburg residents rely on high walls to keep them safe in a city full of threats. But for a community in Craigavon, there are no walls high enough to protect them from the danger they say has landed on their doorsteps. Broadband service provider iBurst has erected a tower metres from the homes of residents, who say their health is at risk from electromagnetic radiation. Resident Dave McGregor, whose bedroom is 50m away from the tower, says that in the past two weeks his wife and nine-year-old son have been suffering bouts of nausea and retching. They have also developed skin rashes. Yesterday was his son's second day home from school. "We've told our son that the tower is only switched on one day a week, so it's not psychosomatic," said McGregor. "(iBurst) says processes have been followed, but the consequences of the processes are what matters. People don't feel at home in their own homes." International studies have shown that people living in close proximity to electromagnetic fields are more at risk of cancer. In the past decade, communities in England and Israel have pulled down nearby towers after they suffered outbreaks of cancer. Russia insists on a 2km buffer between towers and residential properties, while New Zealand requires 500m. In Craigavon, some residents live 8m from the iBurst tower, and many more are within a 100m radius. There are two schools and hundreds of children living in the area. Cape Town family practitioner Dr Les Emdin wrote in the South African journal Natural Medicine in 2007: "Exposure of young children to electromagnetic field radiation may be more detrimental to their health than to adults, especially during development and maturation of the central nervous and immune systems and the critical organs." Furthermore, residents say Craigavon is part of the Klein Jukskei Conservancy, whose marshlands are home to protected wildlife such as bushbabies and giant toads. Resident Ashleigh De Lima said this information was not included in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) submitted with iBurst's application to erect the tower. In Cape Town, municipal guidelines are that towers should not be erected in conservancies. Last year, Wits entomologist Dr Max Clark presented findings on a study commissioned by the Oppenheimer family, which showed where cellphone radiation levels were high, 10 percent of ant species disappeared from the landscape. iBurst spokeswoman Nicole Menego said that to their knowledge, the site was not a conservancy and that its zoning was that of a cemetery, meaning the erection of towers was allowed. Menego said the Craigavon site had been chosen within regulations. "We comply 100 percent with the World Health Organisation's standards, the National Health Department and the zoning regulations of South Africa. Of the options presented to the Department of Agriculture within this vicinity, they chose this site as it offered the least intrusion visually." Menego said iBurst had notified residents of their intention to erect a tower. "The notification appeared in the Government Gazette of May 2006 and site approval started as far back as 2007, which included informing all necessary residents about their plans. After all objections raised were handled, the final ROD (record of decision) was issued in October 2008." But the Craigavon residents say they were not told about the plans. "The first we knew of it was when we saw them preparing a concrete slab at the beginning of August," said De Lima. They were referred to the agency that conducted the EIA and were told that iBurst was in the process of amending the initial application to refer to one site instead of two. They would have 30 days to object. But that weekend, the tower went up. The amendment was later withdrawn. The residents have conducted telephonic surveys to see whether anyone in the area was notified. "Nobody who lives in the immediate vicinity was notified," said De Lima. A big concern is property devaluation. "Estate agents say you can expect to lose 35 to 50 percent on the value of your property," said De Lima. According to a resident who lives directly underneath the tower, the property owner who sold the land to iBurst also owns a nearby cemetery. If the tower had been erected inside the cemetery instead, it would have been at least 500m away from the nearest residential area. Menego said: "The typography there would not have been suitable for the tower and would not have allowed the station to offer iBurst services to the areas where it was required." The residents have formed a task force and are pursuing legal action against iBurst. By Kanina Foss The Star 18/09/09e2