A year-long investigation into the emission levels around mobile phone base stations sited near schools has found no evidence that safety guidelines are being broken.
In most cases, the amount of radiation detected was many thousands of times less than the maximum levels permitted under the guidelines for public safety. Engineers from the Radiocommunications Agency (RA) surveyed a total of 100 schools across the UK, and have published the results on the RA Web site.
Readings were taken both within classrooms and outside school buildings. The RA engineers recorded the highest readings at Brixham Community College in Devon, where the emissions level at one point was less than one quarter of one percent of the maximum permitted under the guidelines.
The work was carried out in response to recommendations from the Stewart Inquiry, which examined whether mobile phones pose a health risk. Although the RA's work doesn't guarantee that mobile phone masts are universally safe, the results are good news for the UK's mobile industry as it tries to build thousands of new mobile phone masts to support the forthcoming 3G networks.
"We're not in a position to say that mobile masts are safe. We just carry out the measurements," a RA spokeswoman told ZDNet UK News. "Many people are likely to draw that conclusion though," she added.
The Federation of the Electronics Industry (FEI), which represents the mobile phone companies, said it welcomed the findings, and hoped that such work would continue. "The audit confirms that radio base stations operate well within international exposure guidelines," said an FEI spokeswoman. "Now that this initial audit has been completed, mobile phone operators look forward to the RA continuing a random audit of radio base sites as recommended by the Stewart Group."
Some critics have complained that the exposure guidelines do not go far enough, but the FEI spokeswoman was keen to emphasise their importance. "These guidelines have been set by an independent body of scientific experts from different countries and apply to all sectors of the population, including children. They have significant safety margins built in to them and are precautionary in nature. They were endorsed by the Stewart Group as part of its precautionary approach to mobile phone telephony," she said.
There is considerable public unease about perceived health risks from living near mobile phone masts. Hundreds of local protest groups have sprung up over the last few years, in response to the proliferation of masts that has sprung up as operators roll out their networks nationwide.
Masts located on schools are particularly unpopular -- Stockport Council recently threatened Orange with legal action if it didn't remove a mast from one local college.
Mobile phone companies have been heavily criticised by both activists and politicians for failing to communicate with local people when they erect a new mast. Keith Ferrin, deputy council leader of Kent County Council -- which voted last year to ban new mobile masts from its land -- recently accused the industry of being evasive. "Why not handle your PR in a sensible way rather than acting so that people think you have something to hide?" he asked last year.
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