here is very widespread and serious public concern over the adverse health effects of long-term exposure to low-intensity microwaves. These are implicated in a variety of ailments, including leukaemia and brain tumours.

Network Rail, supported by Government experts, insist that the emissions pose no threat to anybody. However, public confidence in Government experts is not what it was. After all, we were told not long ago that there was no risk from using mobile phones. Now we are told we should use them sparingly, and children should not use them at all.

The Government has recently adopted the guidelines issued by ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection), which are somewhat more stringent than the earlier UK standard. However, in the ICNIRP Guidelines it is stated on the third page that:

“...these guidelines are based on short-term, immediate health effects such as stimulation of peripheral nerves and muscles, shocks and burns caused by touching conducting objects, and elevated tissue temperatures resulting from absorption of energy during exposure to EMF. In the case of potential long-term effects of exposure, such as an increased risk of cancer, ICNIRP concluded that available data are insufficient to provide a basis for setting exposure restrictions....”

Guidelines for Limiting Exposure to Time-Varying Electric, Magnetic, and Electromagnetic Fields (a 612 kilobyte PDF)

In other words, the guidelines are not applicable to circumstances where people are exposed to emissions twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year, for years on end. The guidleines are also rather old (published 1998), and a great deal of research has taken place since.

In any case, there are legal precedents supporting the view that Genuine public fear and concern is a material planning consideration that needs to be taken into account by planners (regardless of the views of the authorities and the scientific establishment), and supporting the conclusion of the Stewart Report (May 2000) that a precautionary approach should be taken.

This is not such a strange principle: the public's concern about rail safety, compared with the safety of other forms of transport, clearly is not rational, but politicians, bureaucrats, and even the judiciary treat it with the greatest respect.

Read a good briefing paper on the legal and health aspects of radio masts.

There is particular concern in the case of children, who are known to be more vulnerable than adults.

A guideline that is often quoted, and is observed by many planning authorities, is that no mobile phone mast should be within 500 metres of a dwelling. But planning authorities have no say with Network Rail's masts.

An excellent article on the health risks of mobile phone masts, written from an initially sceptical point-of-view, was published in an article in The Guardian on April 10 2004. More information on the subject can be found in this section of the Mast Sanity Website.

See a good summary of the data specifically related to GSM-R masts (MS Word).