Cellphone tower raises health concerns

Montrose Park resident Amanda Collins.

Ten months after a cellphone tower installation in Carol Street, Montrose Park, residents are complaining that they battle with the sound of the tower at night and are experiencing recurring headaches.

Residents said they were not informed of the cell tower installation and have not been included in any public participation process regarding the tower.

Montrose Park resident Amanda Collins, who lives opposite the tower, approximately 10 metres away, said the cellphone tower is a health risk.

She said construction started in October last year.

She said they had no input or communication with the City of Cape Town or the company that built the mast, Atlas Towers.

An emotional Ms Collins said: “We are furious, we want the tower down! In October last year when construction started we thought it was going to be a clinic or an old age home, because there has been talk about it for years. Days later, we heard it was a tower, and were very upset.

“Some people received letters in the post, but that did not state that there was going to be a tower. Because I was unsure, I went across the road to find out from the workers and then they confirmed that it is indeed a tower,” she said.

Ms Collins said after speaking to the workers, she set up an appointment with former ward councillor Maria Weavers, who said she was unaware of the tower.

Ms Collins then collected a petition signed by 200 residents objecting to the tower. Thereafter she sent emails to the City of Cape Town and contacted Atlas Towers but received no responses.

“I have a daughter who has autism, obviously I am going to be concerned about her health and my neighbours. I have done my research, and if you look at the other towers in Mitchell’s Plain, they are more than 200 metres away from the homes.

“Currently, I battle to sleep at night because of the noise level of the tower. People were promised free wi-fi and better reception, but what we do know is that the tower affects your health, even though it might not be immediately,” she said.

Ms Collins said it is a serious matter and is disappointed in Atlas for not communicating with all the residents, especially in Carol Street.

“According to our knowledge, only one resident knew about the installation of the cellphone tower. Apparently there is a list, with 30 signatures, but none of us have signed it. Bearing in mind that there are more than 300 people living in the area. We are willing to fight this matter, it was put up without our permission,” she said.

An angry resident, Kashiefa Davids, said she has sleepless nights because of the terrible sound at night. She has also had constant headaches since the tower was installed.

“If I could, I would take it down myself. Why are we being ignored? Why were we not part of the public participation process? We have children who have to grow up in this area and these towers have a negative effect on people,” she said.

Another resident, Aisha Sirkhotte said the tower is on her doorstep. “When I open my door I look straight at the tower, a tower that was put up without our permission, how inconsiderate,” she said.

Ms Sirkhotte said the cellphone tower is a health risk and she wants it taken down. “We would like the City to look into the matter, it doesn’t only make a noise but is a health risk. We care about our community and children,” she said.

Justine Hansen from Electromagnetic Radiation South Africa (EMRSA) said engineer readings are being taken at Ms Collins’ home in line with the Austrian Medical Association which is based on biological effects.

“There are a few people who are assisting Ms Collins regarding the matter, one of them is Denise Rowland from Durbanville. Ms Rowland persistently wrote to local and national government for two years about a mast erected near her home.

“It was eventually established that the mast had been erected illegally and it was finally removed recently,” Ms Hansen said.

Ms Hansen said accumulating evidence suggests that there is a risk. She said in 2015, about 200 scientists engaged in the study of biological and health effects of non-ionising electromagnetic fields (EMF) submitted an appeal to the United Nations.

“It said: ‘based upon peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices.

“These include – but are not limited to – radio frequency radiation (RFR) emitting devices, such as cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, wi-fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, and baby monitors as well as electric devices and infrastructures used in the delivery of electricity that generate extremely-low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF EMF)’,” she said.

Ms Hansen said the City of Cape Town’s policy is not doing enough to protect vulnerable groups. She said it relies on outdated International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines which only take thermal effects into account and not biological ones.

“Poor and sometimes non-existent public participation or even notification of immediate neighbours is problematic. So is lack of regulation and clear guidance from the policy.

“Council takes guidance from the national Department of Health and in a letter by Leon du Toit from the department (included at the end of the 2015 policy) he says: ‘local and other authorities, in considering the environmental impact of any particular base station, do not need to and should not attempt, from a public health point of view, set any restrictions with respect to parameters such as distance to the mast, duration of exposure, height of the mast’.

“Our authorities look to the World Health Organisation and ICNIRP who put the ball back into the hands of local and national authorities,” she said.

Atlas Towers’ general manager, Hercule le Roux, said the tower was installed in November last year. He said an application was made to the City of Cape Town for the necessary statutory approvals to establish a telecommunications base station on erf 54555.

When asked about the communication with residents he said: “The mandatory process was followed, and the application was duly advertised in terms of the Land Use Planning Ordinance, and subsequently approved by the City.”

Johan van der Merwe, the mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, said the consent use application for the freestanding base telecommunication station was approved on September 29 last year and that a building plan was approved on October 13 last year.

He said a network operator requires permission from the City to install and run a cellphone tower, even if it’s on private property.

Mr Van der Merwe said registered notices were served to 20 surrounding property owners, community organisations and the ward councillor on April 29 last year. “No objections were submitted in response by surrounding property owners.”

In response to whether the tower is a health risk and if there is any proof that cellphone towers are a health risk to people, animals and the environment, Siyabulela Mamkeli, the mayoral committee member for health, said the City follows the WHO guidelines who make use of the ICNIRP values as a health safety guideline.

“These are international accepted safety values endorsed by the national Department of Health and the City has not had any reason to question these values and has also not done any further research into the use of the ICNIRP values.

“It must be noted that the national Department of Health is the competent authority to enforce these values and the question should rather be directed to them.

“In terms of this application, City Health has no objection provided that emissions from the proposed cellular installation do not exceed the ICNIRP guideline for general public exposure.

“Also, the radio frequency exposure levels within the area to which the public has reasonable access must be measured periodically and be made available for inspection by City Health.

“Where changes are made to the proposed installation, the applicant has to reassess exposure levels in the area where the public has reasonable access to – this assessment must be certified by a qualified person – and be submitted to the City.”

Asked what the City’s response is to the demand that the tower be taken down, Mr Van der Merwe replied: “The freestanding base telecommunication station was lawfully erected and therefore there are no grounds for the City to take any legal steps against the operator to remove the structure.”