Zuid Afrika: In de draadloze maatschappij geslingerd, ten koste van de volksgezondheid?

donderdag, 22 april 2010 - Categorie: Berichten Internationaal

Glen Ashton, onafhankelijk schrijver en onderzoeker belicht in een gedegen artikel de economische voordelen en de onzekerheid voor de volksgezondheid van de introductie van Afrika in de draadloze maatschappij:

The Sunday Times 20 April 2010

Telecoms: Too good to be true?
The technology has completely transformed life and business in Africa, but evidence of dire health risks is being ignored, writes Glenn Ashton


Africa has been catapulted into the electronic age during the past decade- and-a-half by an almost incomprehensibly swift growth in telecommunications technology, driven primarily by a massive roll-out of cellphones and wireless technology throughout the continent.

While few can deny the economic benefits that this growth has brought to a continent historically hobbled by a patchy telecommunications infrastructure, the physical risks on the health of the people of Africa have neither been quantified nor are they being monitored.

Call the technology what you will - cellphones, mobile telephony, wireless networks - the reality is that these devices have changed the manner in which Africa communicates in ways completely unforeseen a decade ago.

A decade ago, three in a hundred people in Africa had access to telephony through landlines. Today, one in three Africans have cellphones and the majority of Africa's people have access to telecommunications.

The roll-out of electronic communication devices has moved beyond mere mobile cellphone telephony, rapidly branching into wireless Internet connectivity and other high-speed, high capacity data services.

These require the installation of not only more powerful transmission systems, but also technologies that use complex pulsed, modulated signals. For instance new wi-max devices use sophisticated ''beam formed'' signals that are often positioned in high density residential areas, with little consultation, oversight or monitoring.

When concerns are raised about the health effects of both cellphones and the base stations that enable the electronic networks, the industry is quick to claim the technology is safe.

This industry has demonstrated a propensity for being economical with any facts that may harm its bottom line. There have been several cases of the increasingly powerful cellphone industry acting against the public interest to maximise profits.

The cellphone revolution has immersed us in unprecedented levels of microwave radiation that not only swamp natural background radiation levels, but more importantly, have real and potentially serious health implications.

We should remember that humans have historically been exposed to extremely low levels of such non-ionising radiation.

An increasing number of studies from around the world demonstrate how the increasing bombardment of people, animals, birds, plants, insects and other life forms by electronic transmissions does carry real risks.

These studies are emerging from a burgeoning body of published scientific research. While this research initially focused on how microwave radiation can endanger users through heating body tissues, this risk is now understood to be only of peripheral concern.

The ostensibly neutral body created by the United Nations World Health Organisation to inform it on the risks of cellphone and other non-ionising radiation, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), concentrated mainly on this aspect of the heating risk of microwave communication devices and found no clear evidence of damage from this. However this is far from the only risk associated with this technology.

It must be borne in mind that ICNIRP relied mainly on tests from the early generation cellphones, which have both a lower frequency (around 900 MHz) and wave complexity than the so-called 3rd and 4th generation units (3G and 4G) that operate at a far higher 1800 MHz bandwidth and transmission complexity. Other frequencies (2.4 - 2.6 GHz) are increasingly being utilised for the likes of wi-fi and wi-max for wireless broadband computer networks.

There are now dozens of studies which have found evidence of other risks such as interference with the blood brain barrier and neuronal activity, cardiological risks, impacts on the immune system, damage to the reproductive system, disruption of the endocrine system, damage to genes and finally, risks of causing cancer (carcinogenity). These have been documented in published, peer-reviewed studies.

Besides the risks related to cellphone technology, the increasing use of wi-fi and other data networks has been shown to carry equal, if not higher, risks. Many schools, universities and even towns internationally have banned or curtailed the use of so-called ''hotspots'' for wireless interconnectivity due to the perceived dangers related to the use of these frequencies.

South Africa has at least one documented cluster of negative health effects arising near wi-max broadband antennae, with side effects including rashes, dizziness, insomnia and tinnitus, inability to concentrate and headaches. These symptoms have shown up across people of all ages and even in pets.

While concerns have long been aired about cellphone masts, clear evidence is now emerging about the effects on both humans and animals. Young children have been shown to be at higher risk than adults, prompting many developed nations to advise limiting children's exposure to cellphones.

Wildlife studies have demonstrated proof of reduced reproduction in birds nesting near transmission sites. Rodent studies demonstrate statistically significant linkages between exposure and loss of fertility, as well as increased rates of cancer related to genetic damage. The publication of a new meta-analysis of the cancer risk of cellphones has been delayed by more than four years due to strong disagreements between participants in the analysis of the data.

The proliferation of wireless networks throughout Africa has largely been driven by the commercial imperative, which has succeeded where government-funded telecommunications roll-outs have failed.

However, government oversight of this new industry has been limited to economic regulation of the growth in state revenue through taxation and through sale of sections of the electromagnetic spectrum to cellphone and Internet companies by governments.

Governments must responsibly and transparently regulate wireless transmission systems. These are often placed in the densest - which are often the poorest and least empowered - neighbourhoods. While the health costs may be deferred, the risk remains the burden of the state, an externalised cost of this business model. A precautionary approach seems sensible, at least.

Nations which maintain accurate statistical data, such as Sweden, have shown remarkable negative impacts on health and absenteeism rates after the installation of these new generation data transmission systems. Consequently, limitations have been placed on where base stations are located and the types of electromagnetic emissions that are permitted in various locales.

In Africa and most of the global south there is little such oversight. Regulators need to be properly informed about this complex issue. Unbiased data must be made available to both the public and decision makers.

Yes, the wireless revolution may make our lives easier and business more efficient. But if this comes at the risk and the cost of our collective health, then the costs and benefits must be borne and regulated accordingly.

- Glenn Ashton is a writer and researcher working in civil society (www.sacsis.org.za

Voor het originele artikel zie:
www.timeslive.co.za/lifestyle/article410612.ece/Telecoms--Too-good-to-be-true- .

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