x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Fears over mobile phone mast metres from homes prompts petition

Concerns that mast be an eyesore and a potential health hazard so high that many are saying if the project is not halted they will move away.

The construction site for a communications mast being built at the Cedre Villa community in the Dubai Silicon Oasis.
The construction site for a communications mast being built at the Cedre Villa community in the Dubai Silicon Oasis.

DUBAI // Residents of a villa community on the outskirts of Dubai have petitioned against a mobile phone mast that is being built just metres from their homes. Foundations for an Etisalat transmission tower are being laid over what was once a small children's park in the Cedre Villa community of the Government-owned Dubai Silicon Oasis.

Concerned that it will be an eyesore and a potential health hazard, 99 local residents sent a petition to the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA), which oversees the free zone. They demanded a halt to the project, warning that otherwise many of them will not renew their leases. The petition claims the mast "will be very dangerous to the health of everybody", adding that it "is clear to everybody that this kind of antenna can be responsible for cancer, especially [in] children".

Some studies have shown that people living near mobile phone masts suffer ailments including nausea, loss of appetite and a greater tendency to depression. Dr Aladdin Maarraoui, an oncologist at Mafraq Hospital, said little is known about the health effects of mobile phone towers. The World Health Organisation said more research is needed. The DSOA said municipality inspectors had ruled that the tower was 250 metres from the main children's playground at Cedre Villas. However, several villas are much closer. "This thing will be about 15 metres across from the driveway," said an American resident.

"The kids have been playing in the park for the past few months. Put the thing outside the development. Don't put it in the park, right smack bang in the middle of everything." The man, a pilot for Emirates Airline, said he would move his family back to the United States if the tower was erected. "I have a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old. I'm not willing to risk a disease because of this thing. "My wife is going to take them back home, and I'm going to follow. The airline industry is turning around in the States, and I'll just apply for a job there."

Chrissie Surin, 41, a British primary school teacher who lives in an adjacent villa, said: "It's only about 20 metres away from where I park the car." She said construction on the tower began as soon as most of the residents in the area had paid their landscaping fees - typically around Dh10,000 per villa. "They've waited for every house to do their gardens and everything, and then they do this. My husband has asked for us to be moved to another location and for them [Dubai Silicon Oasis] to reimburse us our landscaping as well." She said that the DSOA had not responded to their request, made in late April.

Asked to clarify its position about the location of the tower, an official at the DSOA did not comment further. Residents accused the authority of ignoring their concerns. This month, slogans protesting against the tower were spray-painted on the white construction barriers around the site. One addressed to Dubai Silicon Oasis read: "DSO! Please don't give away our park for a harmful cell phone tower." It was painted over by construction workers the following day.

Another Emirates pilot from the US said the petitioners had attempted to contact the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) and Etisalat about their concerns. The names of both entities, as well as the Government of Dubai, are listed on construction documents at the building site. He said a TRA official "told us that this would never be allowed outside in any of the public areas of Dubai where the TRA is giving authorisation for these towers to be built".

He added: "But because we are in a free zone, he told us it doesn't really fall under their jurisdiction because it's owned by Silicon Oasis." TRA officials did not respond to inquiries. Ahmed bin Ali, an Etisalat spokesman, said: "Whatever we build, if it's a base station, we have to get the necessary approvals, including from the TRA." hnaylor@thenational.ae