A Summary Report On:
Impacts of Cell Phone Sites on Public Health
There are many objective reasons to discuss the impacts of the cellular phone sites on public health in Egypt.
Our call is not a reactionary one that demands the clearance of cell sites. We only stand for the basic human right to adequate housing, which is subject to violation when such sites are constructed in violation of the necessary requirements for safety. Electromagnetic pollution has become one of the major dangers in our age - the 'age of communication'.
- A growing number of citizens have expressed fears over the threat to public health that could result from the electromagnetic radiation projected by cellular phones and cell sites. This fear induced sections of population not only to resist the construction of new cell sites, but also to sabotage existing sites.
- Faced with such a resistance, some governments were compelled to review their adopted safety standards, while the International Health Organization endorsed a program to study the impacts of electromagnetic spectrum on public health.
- Though it does not have an alternative program, the Egyptian government abstained from participation in "the International Program for Electromagnetic Spectrum" sponsored by the International Health Organization and in which 45 states and ten institutions participated.
- Even though the cellular phone service penetrated the Egyptian market in 1996, the Tripartite Protocol, proposed by the ministries of Communication, Health and Environment Affairs, was only promulgated in August 2000 - i.e. 4 years after the cell phone service was launched. Consequently, a great number of cell sites (approximately over 1000 sites) that were constructed before the promulgation of the Tripartite Protocol were not subjected to the technical and health requirements established by the three ministries.
- Even after the promulgation of the Tripartite Protocol, many newly-constructed sites do not adhere to its requirements, that government officials concede that citizens' complaints regarding cell sites are valid.
VI. The executive authorities have not carried out any of the decisions to clear or cut electric supply for illegal cell sites, which represents an official disregard of the citizens' health.
- The Tripartite Protocol that sets the requirements for the construction of cell sites provides for no penalty on violation except for repairing the flaws at the expense of the violator, which encourages cell phone companies to frequently violate these requirements.
- The multiplicity of government agencies responsible for the case - an agency for regulating communication service that is responsible for licenses given to cell phone service providers for operation and construction of cell sites; an agency for preventive medication that is responsible for verifying the safety standards of radiation projected by cell sites; the government agency for environment affairs; the city governor who is responsible for ensuring that cell sites adhere to the standard requirements established by the Tripartite Protocol - and the intersection of the various agencies' responsibilities obstruct the process of following-up and prosecution, threatening public health.
- The different safety standards adopted by different countries throughout the world encourages some officials in Egypt to claim that standards applied in Egypt are safer than those applied in many countries. Nevertheless, the standards applied in countries such as Russia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland admit a radiation rate that is much lower than the acceptable rate in Egypt.
- Many specialists in Egypt accept that the cell phone market is expected to expand within the next five years. The Minister of Communication and Information argues that the number of cell phone subscribers may double in few years, which means a further rise in the number of cell sites. Taking into account the inadequacy of regulations applicable for cell site construction and corruption opportunities, the dangers envisaged would not affect only present but also future generations.
- Housing is not simply walls and ceiling. It includes the whole neighborhood and surrounding environment. The construction of cell sites - as a source of electromagnetic radiation - constitutes a direct threat to public health in case the technical, health and environmental requirements are disregarded.
The report provides an introduction on the scale of the problem, a simplified definition of electromagnetic spectrum, a background on safety standards and the impacts of radiation on people's health, and a brief on the regulations in force in Egypt:
While cell phone users in most European countries exceed 50% of population, in Egypt the proportion of cell phone users stands at 4% of population. That's why many specialists believe of great market opportunities for cell phone in the course of the next few years. The cell phone service conquered Egypt in November 1996. Over the following five years, the number of users mounted to 2.8 million, and the number of cell sites reached 2314 sites, of which 600 in Cairo alone.
While cell phone users are subject to radiation only during the call time, residents in areas where cell sites are located are subject to constant radiation produced by the site. According to Dr Mohammad al-Gohary, professor of biophysics at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, 'subjection to electromagnetic waves produced by the cell phone occurs in brief repeated pulses of high radiation for a very short time, while the radiation produced by a cell site, albeit little, is continuous with a frequency of 930 MHz to 960 MHz. However, the impact of little amount of radiation projected for a prolonged time is as great as the impact of higher amount of radiation projected for a short time provided that the frequency of radiation is constant.' This means that a cell phone user can reduce the amount of radiation to a minimum by shorter calls, while residents in the neighborhood of a cell site cannot.
Faced with such dangers, the International Commission for Protection Against Non-Ionized Radiation - a non-government organization - has developed standards for safety thermal and non-thermal effects. The critical safety limit established by the Commission and the International Health Organization is 400 mW/cm2.
The Egyptian government endorsed the standard set by the Commission with the approval of the Institute for Electric and Electronic Engineers, which is composed of large shareholders in the major cell phone companies in Egypt. The standard, however, remains much higher than that adopted by many countries such as Russia, Eastern Europe, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand.
There are a variety of standards adopted by different countries throughout the globe and the government may choose which one to adopt. Though it chose to adopt the standard established by the International Commission for Protection Against Non-Ionized Radiation, the great differences between the various standards could raise many questions, particularly when the market dimension is taken into account: a slight difference might result in profits or loss for service providers. It seems that the government of Egypt has chosen the above-mentioned standard basically for economic rather than health or environmental reasons. The standard opens more opportunities for companies to expand and construct more cell sites.
The report also discusses the health impacts of the radiation emitted by cell phone sites. It points to the growing concerns over the would-be dangers of electromagnetic radiation produced by these sites. Thus, research and studies on the effects of electromagnetic radiation justify such concerns, provided that these effects may vary according to the wavelength and frequency of radiation.
An international conference, held in Geneva, December 1997, called for more research to be undertaken on the relation between low-frequency electromagnetic spectrum and certain diseases, such as leukemia in children, breast cancer in women and some diseases of the nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease. Many studies prove that children living in areas where high-voltage transmission cables are extended are more vulnerable to catch leukemia compared to those living in other areas. Dr Mohammad Fadel Ali, professor of biophysics at Cairo University, points out that, 'statistical surveys assert that hundreds of children living in such areas are subject to nervous system diseases and leukemia at a rate much higher than other children. Children who live within a range of 50 meters around high-voltage transmission cables may catch leukemia at a rate of 375% compared to those living afar from such cables.'
One instance of the effects of radiation frequency on human health is the tragedy of the Batra village in al-Gharbeya Governorate, where citizens suffer from several diseases as a result of the radio and television transmission stations located in the village. The various safety standards adopted by different countries only exacerbate the problem.
The report, then, discusses the regulations and mechanisms adopted for the construction of radiating stations and sites. It explains that the construction of cell phone sites is subject only to the tripartite protocol passed in August 2000. More than 1000 cell sites were constructed before the promulgation of that protocol. The report explains that government policy encourages the market and does not concern itself about the issues of public health and safety standards. The tripartite protocol lists twelve conditions for the construction of cell sites as follow:
In spite of the above conditions, cell phone service providers have been responsible for many violations, according to Dr Magdy Allam, director of the government Agency for Environment Affairs in Greater Cairo, who explained that the agency received some 300 complaints from citizens every month. 'Most of the complaints against the cell phone sites were found valid,' he said. Meanwhile the Governor of Cairo asserted that violations by mobile phone companies had to be stopped, especially those concerning the construction of cell sites. The companies always insisted on violating the safety standards established by the Tripartite Protocol, he expounded.
- A cell site must be constructed on a building that is 15 - 50 meters high from surface, with the possibility of exceptions in case this is not available.
- The antenna must be higher than the other surrounding buildings within a range of 10 meters.
- The roof of the building on which the antenna is to be fixed must be made of enhanced concrete.
- It is not permissible to fix more than one antenna on a single post.
- The distance between two cell sites must be at least 12 meters.
- The distance between the antenna and the utmost reach of humans must be at least 6 meters.
- Antennas may not be fixed on roofs that are not made of concrete.
- Antennas may not be fixed on independent buildings, such as hospitals.
- Sites must have a fence at a distance of 6 meters from all directions.
- Companies must adhere to the standards endorsed by the American Institute for Measurements and the Institute for the Electric and Electronic Engineers.
- Antennas may not be directed towards schools.
The deputy governor of Cairo also lists the documents required for the construction of a new cell site as follow:
1) Permission from the Ministry of Communication and Information.
2) Permission from the Ministry of Health.
3) Permission from the Ministry of the Environment Affairs
4) A statement from a senior competent engineer on the validity of the building on which a site is to be constructed.
5) Approval of the owner of the building.
6) In certain cases, permission from the Authority of Civil Aviation is also required.
By the end of last September, the Governor of Cairo, in response to the citizens' complaints, passed a decision, which provided for new regulations on the construction of cell sites. The first article of the governor's decree stipulated "a prohibition of constructing cell sites on the roofs of buildings in the cases mentioned below:"
1) Any complaint about a violation concerning the building.
2) Any decision for clearance or amendment of the building.
3) Any violation of permissible height as a result of constructing a cell site or an antenna.
4) If the building is less than 15 meters high.
5) If the building is less than 20 meters far from a school or a hospital.
6) The construction of more than one site or antenna on a single building is not permissible.
The governor's decree gives the chairpersons of city councils the right to grant permissions upon the following documents:
1) A certificate from the Ministry of Communications
2) The approval of the agency of environment affairs.
3) The written approval of the building owner or the inhabitants' union
4) A certificate from a senior engineer.
5) The approval of the Civil Defense and Fire Fighters' Department in the concerned Governorate.
6) Payment of the required fees.
Article three of the decree also requires that companies should apply to the City Council for license after meeting the above conditions. Article four necessitates that all responsible agencies and departments be informed in order to undertake on site examination. Article five stipulates that license should be renewed on annual basis, while Article six prohibits electric supply prior to the above procedures. Article eight obligates companies and government agencies to comply with the stipulations of the decree within thirty days of promulgation. Article nine provides for the clearance of any site that does not conform to the requirements established by the decree.
Once again, however, the last few years witnessed many violations and encroachments by cell phone companies, which did not abide by the stipulations of the decree or the Tripartite Protocol regulating their operations.
The report ends in some final comments and recommendations, as follow:
Finally, the report asserts that the government should - through its competent departments - carry out an exhaustive examination of the present cell sites verifying that they meet the requirements established by the Tripartite Protocol, and particularly on those sites constructed before the promulgation of the Protocol. It recommends the government to revise the existing safety standards in order to adopt a better standard comparable to that applied in Australia and New Zealand. The government should also adopt a more conservative approach in order to protect people against radiation.
- There are many objective reasons to organize and extensive democratic dialogue, in which all concerned people should participate, in order to unveil any threats on the people's health and to develop the necessary and effective mechanisms for protection against the radiations of electromagnetic spectrum. Discussions should not only be restricted on the effects of cell phone sites, rather they ought to be extended to any and all sources of radiations that may affect public health and environment.
- The intersection of competence and responsibilities, in practice, has proved ineffective. There are several government agencies and departments responsible for the operation and violations of the cell phone sites with the administrative department of communication undertaking the responsibility for both granting licenses and investigating complaints. In order to develop an effective mechanism of control and follow up, however, the agency that is responsible for complaints should be separate from that which grants licenses. Official statements also revealed a great deal of confusion concerning the violations committed by cell phone companies. Therefore, we need a transparent legal system that determines responsibilities without intersection or ambiguity.
- A legal system to regulate the operations of mobile phone companies requires a research project that should be financed by the government as the service providers to determine the effects of electromagnetic spectrum on public health. If this is not possible, the government of Egypt should at least participate in the projects sponsored by the international Health Organization.
- There is a necessity to extend the concept of compensation. In the USA and some European countries, the government compensates those people living nearby high-voltage power stations or nuclear stations. Such compensation in most cases is not a financial compensation, and takes the shape of low-priced land and utilities.
- The regulations concerning the violations of cell phone companies should include provisions for penalties, and, at least those people responsible for a violation should pay compensations for the people affected.
The democratic dialogue should be preceded by an extensive research on those people living in certain areas in Cairo to determine the extent to which they have been affected by radiation. The final aim of such a dialogue should be to elaborate integrated and transparent legal regulations for cell phone operations, instead of the regulations in the Tripartite Protocol, which does not provide for any sort of punishment in case of violation. In such a case, the Tripartite Protocol only provides for the clearance of the site at the expense of the party responsible of the violation. However, our country needs a law that protects people against the electromagnetic spectrum in general; a law that punishes the violators and suppresses further violations.