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EC blasts mobile masts away from schools and hospitals

Report inconclusive, sides with campaigners anyway

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The European Commission has formally adopted a report recommending that radio transmitters should not be placed near schools and hospitals, as the general public feels uninformed about the issue.

The report (pdf) comes from Frédérique RIES, and recommends that schools, crèches, retirement homes and healthcare institutions are kept clear of transmitters as well as high-voltage electricity lines. However, it notes that the research is hugely inconclusive and suggests that more money should be spent on advising the public how to avoid exposing themselves to a risk that may or may not exist.

The problem with establishing whether mobile phones are safe is the impossibility of proving a negative; the fact that millions of people use mobile phones without getting cancer proves nothing. What is certain is that more studies over greater time periods are needed, campaigners will never be convinced, and the general public will be wary but demand seamless cellular coverage anyway.

The irony is, of course, that mobile phone handsets used further away from base stations ratchet up their broadcast power to connect, so moving base stations away from schools and hospitals increases users' exposure from the handset, putting it within the critical few centimetres that some campaigners feel is most dangerous.

The report does endorse greater research into "determining whether microwaves might ultimately have undesirable consequences for human health", but at the same time suggests that money "earmarked for studies on EMFs be partly switched to finance a wide-ranging awareness campaign to familiarise young Europeans with good mobile phone techniques", which apparently include switching off phones and finding somewhere with decent reception before making a call.

Mostly this is all down to the evil network operators, who are apparently guilty of "particularly aggressive marketing campaigns... in the run-up to Christmas and other special occasions", including such immoral activities as offering "free call time packages aimed at teenagers".

The EU has already spent quite a bit on the Interphone study, which the report notes is heading for its first decade despite being scheduled to complete in 2006, and receiving a wad of EU cash. Apparently the problem is that the authors can't agree on the conclusions, so we can only conclude that it too will prove inconclusive.

So while we're waiting for that there will be stricter controls on mast placement from Brussels, permanently relieving schools of the nice little earner their clock towers once provided, and adverts telling teenagers to turn off their mobile phones, all at our expense. Ain't living in a democracy great? ®

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