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Radio, Stations & Memorabilia                  Airwaves

And Now For Something Slightly Different...

Issues Surrounding The Safety Of Radio

There are many masts that are home to other utilities such as transmission equipment for Private Mobile Radio (PMR) often referred to as two-way-radio or 'walkie talkies', the emergency services and amateur radio repeaters, for example. Mobile telephone base stations are also installed on many hundreds of masts across the country so that all our cellular phones will work properly.  The pictures on this site do not cover these types of mast.

As an aside there does seem to be a ground-swell of rather alarmist protestors campaigning against mobile phone masts and, indeed, this seems to be spreading to masts of all kinds - peculiarly even against a long-wave station off the coast of the Isle Of Man. 

We have lived with radio from man-made radio waves for about one hundred years (and with naturally occurring radio waves since the dawn of time) and as far as I am aware, in normal use, there is no proof that radio waves are damaging to health.  No one would suggest however, that it is reasonable to subject the human body to the high energies of radio waves by embracing high power radio antennae, but at a reasonable distance (in the order of meters) the energy is ruduced to such an extent (at a rate of the square of the distance) that informed opinion is that radio is perfectly safe.

When used sensibly and within the guidelines, as the mobile phone companies undoubtedly do, mobile phone masts are deemed safe, in the same way as electricity, gas and petrol are all safe when used according to the guidelines.  We wouldn't put our fingers in an electrical socket, fill a room with gas and strike a match or soak ourselves in petrol and light a cigarette, now would we?  Just because something may be dangerous if misused or abused, should not mean that we have to halt its use.  In this way, all informed and scientific opinion seems to agree that there are no hazards posed by mobile phone masts when sited and installed correctly.

The protestors' argument is that the mobile phone masts emit too much 'radiation'.  In an attempt to scare people about 'phone masts, they appear to like to over-use and mis-use the term 'radiation' since it conjures up images Gieger counters, radiation suits, atomic reactors, nuclear bombs and Hiroshima etc into the minds of the public.  On the face of it, it seems that these campaigners are deliberately confusing benign radio wave emissions with harmful ionising gamma radiation, which is entirely different, and a bogus claim designed to unnecessarily scare the public into surrendering to their protests.

Radio wave radiation and gamma radiation are completely different kettles of fish of course. Certainly they are both part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but so is heat radiation and light radiation!  Lets not get bamboozled by the mis-informed, otherwise they'll have us scared of our electric heaters and light bulbs too! 

There is definitely an argument for sympathetic siting of mobile phone masts, not only for the sensible health precautions already provided for by the authorities, but also to minimise visual impact.  I am constantly astounded that the five mobile networks each have to have an individual mast located in one locality as it can look such a mess.  Mast sharing must be a more satisfactory solution.  One mast carrying all the networks' aerials would seem so much more sensible, the visual impact would be minimal and one would think that this sharing arrangement may even save money. 

Today mobile phones and the mobile phone companies themselves are an important engine of our modern economy, but as with all technology we cannot afford to be complacent and there is a case for continual monitoring and debate, but not for alarmist "radiation" scare stories that can only cause undue concern.  After all, mobile phones are in essence just two-way radios.

I am sure that we don't want to return to the age of the carrier pigeon.

As an MDS975 correspondent  has commented, it is far more dangerous to stand outside in direct sunlight (high energy ultra violet) than it is to stand next to a mobile phone mast emitting fairly low energy radio waves, and that really puts it into perspective.

Another Story

Hello Mike,

I really enjoyed looking at your website this morning, especially the stuff about Malta. You have been so thorough. I just have one question for you right now and that is... what do you think about the safety of microwaves and particularly the Tetra system as used by the police?

PS. Nice to find another Vinyl fan. Your musical taste mirrors mine too... amazing eh?

Thats all for now,  Mark.

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your very kind email. Don't start me off again!

As for Tetra, it is not a system that I have studied in depth. However I would apply the same comments as I would to mobile phones and mobile phone masts: Essentially it is safe -  with these caveats:

In the same way that it impossible to prove a negative, it is impossible to *prove* that mobile phones and Tetra (or anything else) are safe. That is not to say that they are unsafe though.

All these systems are tested and comply with all sensible, scientific, rational and sensible standards. Therefore they can and should be regarded as safe.

You will hear ridiculous arguments from uninformed groups and individuals about "radiation" from these masts. Radiation is either used as a scare mongering word, or perhaps because whoever is pontificating has no idea what "radiation" is!

All radio systems emit radiation - but NOT the radiation that you associate with atom bombs and nuclear power stations; that is very dangerous "ionizing" radiation.

We are considering Non-Ionizing radiation here.

Radio systems like Tetra and mobile phones simply use high frequency radio waves. Radio waves, like heat, light and gamma rays, are all part of the electromagnetic spectrum - i.e. all different forms of electromagnetic radiation.

If one used phone masts protesters' argument that we must not have this "radiation" that they continue to refer to, then none of us could use mobile phones, watch TV, listen to the radio, have Wi-Fi Internet, use cookers, radiators, fires, or even light bulbs!

It is an argument for returning to the stone age.

Heat, Light and Radio are all safe forms of electromagnetic radiation. But how safe is safe? In everyday use, when being used as intended, all these sources are entirely safe. However if your child puts his hand on a hot stove or in the gas fire (heat sources) he will be maimed. If you stare into the sun (a high energy light source) you will be blinded. If you put a high energy radio transmitting aerial against your body you would be surely burned very seriously and may even be killed.

So do we ban all sources of heat, light and radio because they **could** kill you - if abused. No, of course not!

These arguments can be taken to ridiculous extremes if you used the contention that I mentioned previously that nothing can be proved to be safe - you would have to ban the handkerchief because it *could* be possible to choke to death on one, ban spectacles because one might poke ones eye out with the arm.

We have to accept that scientific studies, not rumour mongerers, show that within defined parameters and uses these systems can be considered perfectly safe.

I would add, about mobile phones, that if I wanted to be concerned about anything (which I am not) I would be more worried about the mobile phone handset itself rather than the mast. When discussing heat, light, radio etc I believe that it is as important to consider the relative ENERGY involved.

The radiated energy from a radio mast will exhibit a tiny power by the time it reaches your mobile phone because of the large distance, and Inverse Square Law, involved. However the mobile phone handset is being held tight against the users' head so the concentration of energy from the phone's radio transmitter is quite intense!

You can equate this with sitting far away, or too close to your gas fire: At a reasonable distance the fire is perfectly safe - BUT - Put your hand right on it and you'll get burned and will have to visit the hospital! Of course the energies used in a gas fire are much greater than a mobile phone system too!

Hello Mike,
Thanks for replying so soon. Your reply was well thought out and useful, so thanks for that.

Tony Davies Writes:

You might be interested in adding a link to the site of the charity Sense about Science. who recently produced a Guide "Making Sense of Radiation"      The Guide can be downloaded as a (large) pdf.
Although there is possiblty some slight cause for concern among the ultra cautious, the overwhelming bulk of peer-reviewed research has found no repeatable evidence that mobile phones or masts, etc. pose any risk to the population, though there are some people who live in genuine fear and who are exploited by charlatans and tricksters who make a good living selling useless "protective" products at a very good price.  Much of this activity is, in my opinion, a scandal, but no one cares to try to stop it.

'Balance' in the media often means giving equal weight to reputable scientists and mandacious snake-oil salesmen. Particularly unfortunate are the people who believe themselves to be 'electrosensitive'  (e.g. able to detect e.m. radiation from transmitters without needing a radio receiver).  Without doubt some have very unpleasant symtoms, but there is, I believe, no evidence at all that the symptoms are produced by the electromagnitic radiation, and enough evidence that some of them get their symptoms when they see a mobile phone mast which is switched off completely.

World Health Organisation (WHO) Conclusions:

Download the PDF document here.

July 2009

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