x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Parents' anger over mobile phone mast placed near Abu Dhabi school

There is no conclusive evidence that mobile phone towers are harmful, but petitioning parents say they are not willing to take the risk.

Parents at Raha International School fear that the new cellular tower set up by du just metres away from the school may adversely affect the health of their children. Delores Johnson / The National
Parents at Raha International School fear that the new cellular tower set up by du just metres away from the school may adversely affect the health of their children. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Parents of children at Raha International School are pushing to have a mobile phone tower built near the campus removed.

School officials say the mast, put up by the telecommunications provider du less than 40 metres away, poses a health risk to pupils and was put up with little consultation.

“The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority [TRA] requires telecoms operators to use their best endeavours to avoid placing any transmission equipment next to schools and hospitals,” said Wayne MacInnis, principal of the school in Raha Gardens.

“Du has completely ignored the rules and in doing so has placed around 1,200 pupils and staff at risk of radiation.”

Hundreds of parents are demanding the mast be taken down and moved to a safer location, Mr MacInnis said.

Parents met du officials last year when groundwork for the mast began. The school said they were promised baseline testing to measure the effect of transmissions before further work was done.

“They promised to put in writing an undertaking never to direct any antennae towards the school premises, and to conduct transparent radiation tests before and after activation of the mast to demonstrate the radiation levels,” said Mr MacInnis. “Those commitments have not been met.”

Research on the long-term effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields created by towers is inconclusive, but parents said placing one so close to the school was a gamble with children’s lives.

“There is a general agreement across different agencies and countries with regard to the safe distance of masts from schools, depending on the strength of the electromagnetic fields,” said Dr Brian Bielenberg, chairman of the school’s parental advisory board and father of a 15-year-old girl at the school.

“They have placed the tower much closer than the generally recommended distance.”

The telecoms operator said it had followed international safety standards and had received the necessary permits from government agencies and the municipality to build the mast.

“We take the health of our customers and fellow residents very seriously, and are therefore fully compliant to a TRA policy that governs the placement of mobile sites in public areas,” said a du spokesman.

“The parents in this case have no cause for concern.”

Maridel Menino, a Portuguese mother of two children at the school, said it was unheard of to build towers close to schools.

“I do not know what the regulations are here but this is a little strange because it could be harmful,” Ms Menino said.

TRA guidelines say telecoms companies should avoid building towers near educational institutions and hospitals, but do not specify a distance.

Once they are built, however, the TRA requires minimum radiation from radio frequency in public areas.

In Australia and New Zealand, building a phone mast within 500 metres of a school is banned.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly hazardous” with an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, after a study in 14 countries in 2011.

The working group involved said evidence was limited and inadequate, but a close monitoring was necessary to establish its link with cancer.

Parents said they had asked the provider to protect their children’s health, even if it meant a slight loss of signal coverage.

There is plenty of empty space in the community away from the school where the mast could be placed, Dr Bielenberg said.

“Placing mobile phone towers so close to a school where young children, and indeed their teachers, are continuously present for at least seven hours a day places them in potential danger,” he said.

“It was once felt that the effect of cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke was inconclusive.

“The consequences are now well known – too late for many children exposed to second-hand smoke.”

aahmed@thenational.ae