A three-year study into the possible short-term health effects of mobile base stations has found that base stations are not associated with ill health.
Some people have claimed that mobile-phone masts cause symptoms like anxiety, fatigue and nausea.
The investigation took place at the Electromagnetics and Health Laboratory at the University of Essex, established three years ago, with a multi-disciplinary team including cognitive psychologists, electronic and biomedical engineers and a doctor.
Using a group of "sensitive" individuals (44 people) and a control group (114 people), the study found that, in double-blind conditions (where neither the testers nor the tested knew whether the signal was on or off), the sensitive group reported increased symptoms regardless of whether a 3G or GSM signal was on or off. This led the researchers to conclude that any physiological responses were unrelated to the signals.
"It is clear that sensitive individuals are suffering real symptoms and often have a poor quality of life," said principal investigator Professor Elaine Fox on Wednesday. "It is now important to determine what other factors could be causing these symptoms, so appropriate research studies and treatment strategies can be developed."
The findings were reviewed by the Mobile Phone Research Unit at King's College London. Unit head James Rubin said on Wednesday that the Essex study was one of the largest and most detailed of its kind, and its findings were in line with those from most similar experiments. "This should be reassuring news for anyone who is concerned about the possible short-term health effects of masts," he said.
Mast Sanity, a pressure group which campaigns against the building of cellular base stations, issued a statement on Tuesday criticising the study for ignoring "the long-term effects, such as cancer and genetic damage, as has been highlighted in other research". Its statement also accused the researchers of "unethical" behaviour in exposing their volunteers to harm, and questioned the use of psychologists in the face of "evidence showing changes in the important mast cells in human skin upon exposure to microwaves".
Previous studies in the UK have found that the level of radio waves emitted by base stations is well below safety limits, and a Swiss study a year ago led the Dutch government to proclaim that masts have "no [health] effect, not even a little bit".
The Electromagnetics and Health Laboratory is now investigating the possible health effects of the Tetra radio network used by the emergency services. The Laboratory is using testing equipment from wireless systems integrator Red-M.