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Shirley Primary School In Christchurch, New Zealand, And Telecom's Cellsite
Dorothy - 2/4/99

The Case of Shirley Primary School versus Telecom Mobile Communications Ltd, Decision 136/98
- Read this article for some background.

To read more about Dr Neil Cherry and his work, please visit his website for more information.

Interview with Dr Neil Cherry

The issue of whether Telecom should be permitted to build a cellsite on the boundary of Shirley Primary School has engaged the interest of New Zealanders since the Ministry of Education decided to ban them from school grounds. This was a precautionary approach prompted by concerns about health effects on children.

In 1997 the Christchurch City Council approved the cellsite with an EMR limit of 6mW/cm2..

After the Christchurch City Council approved the cellsite, the school's Board of Trustees, with leadership from the Chair of the Board and the school principal, Brian Porteous, obtained support from hundreds of schools around New Zealand to take an appeal against the decision to the Environment Court. The hearings were spread over several weeks from May 4 to June 29, 1998.

In its judgment the Court found in favour of Telecom and authorised the siting of the cellphone tower on the boundary of the school. The limit on the level of exposure was removed.

Dr Cherry's comments on the judgment
In Dr Cherry's view the primary errors in the judgment of the Court are in the preference given to Telecom's witnesses and the dismissal of Shirley Primary School's witnesses, and in the acceptance of the New Zealand Standard and the standard of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).

Limits on exposures
In his summary the judge said that there was no reasonable defect in the Australia/New Zealand standard which limits exposure to 200mW/cm2 except perhaps that it is too low at cellsite frequencies. The ICNIRP standard is equivalent to 450mW/cm2..

The condition set by the Christchurch City Council hearing panel was that EMR should not exceed 6 mW/cm2..

The judge stated, "Imposing a lower limit i.e. 6 would suggest that exposures of more than 6 do cause health effects."

Report criticising the ICNIRP Guidelines
Dr Cherry has written a report entitled "Criticism of the Proposal to adopt the ICNIRP Guidelines for cellsites in New Zealand: ICNIRP Guideline Critique."

In the Executive Summary he states that the ICNIRP guideline for RF/MW radiation for public exposure

"should not be adopted for several strong reasons:

* "Public health standards should be based on public health studies (i.e. epidemiology and not a thermal basis)

* "The ICNIRP guideline is based on established or proven effects, whereas New Zealand law, the Resource Management Act, is based on potential effects and epidemiological evidence (a potential effect of low probability which has a high potential impact, RMA Section 3(f)).

* " The assessment of effects in the 1998 ICNIRP statement is seriously and systematically flawed in the use of the research cited.

* "The ICNIRP assessment ignores the large volume of epidemiological and biometeorological studies that do show adverse health effects.

"A primary textbook on Cancer states 'In contrast to laboratory studies, epidemiology directly evaluates the experience of human populations and their response to various environmental exposures and host factors (the risk of disease)'. ICNIRP and other international guidelines derive primarily from the tri-Services Program in the US whose purpose was to determine the thermal threshold. Most epidemiology is ignored by ICNIRP assessors or when used, is misquoted and misrepresented."

Evidence presented to the Court
In discussing the science the judge clearly prefers the epidemiological evidence of Telecom's witness, Dr Mark Elwood of the Otago Medical School.

Three studies considered
Three of the studies looked at by the Court and discussed by Dr Elwood
1. The UK study by Dolk et al
2. The North Sydney study by Hocking et al
3. The San Francisco study by Selvin et al

The first and last studies were used to suggest that there is no reliable evidence of health effects from EMR because neither shows a consistent relationship of high cancer near the towers decreasing with the distance from the towers.

Based on that assumption the statement is made that radiation from towers is not a cause of observed cancer. In fact neither the authors nor Dr Elwood realise that they have unwittingly misled the Court because radiation patterns are actually low near towers, but rise to a peak some distance from the tower and then decrease with distance, which exactly follows the cancer trend.

The Court's decision therefore in Dr Cherry's view is based on flawed evidence.

Dealing with low risk but cumulative risk
To illustrate how not looking at cumulative risk can impair the conclusions from the study Dr Cherry looked at Dr Hocking's North Sydney study. This shows an almost threefold increase in a certain childhood leukaemia.

He explained the impact of cumulative risk as follows.
"Let's take a risk ratio of three as an example:
The average rate of childhood leukaemia for schoolchildren in New Zealand is 2 per 100,000 person years. Let's say 300 children are in a school for an average of 6 years. That amounts to 1800 person years which means that in that time you would expect .036 instances of childhood leukaemia in this population.

'If this is expanded to a cellsite increasing the risk by a factor of 3, that takes the risk to 0.11 in 6 years - which is a low risk.

'However let's say that 1000 cellsites expose children to this risk. Then nationwide 300,000 children are exposed. Among 300,000 children we would expect 6 childhood leukaemias to be observed, but because of the exposure to cellsites the number rises to 18. This is a non-trivial result, in fact highly significant.

'By not considering the effect of all cellsites but considering the effect of one cellsite in isolation the judgment is ignoring one of the requirements of law - to consider cumulative effects.'

Learning difficulties/Impact on Second Case Study
When we consider learning difficulties, the question firstly is a consistency over three studies showing children exposed to a very low level pulsed and modulated microwave experienced some learning difficulties.

Significant research
"Motor and psychological functions of school children living in the area of the Skrunda Radio Location Station in Latvia" A. A. Kolodynski, V. V. Kolodynska, published in The Science of the Total Environment 180 (1996) 87-93
This most detailed study involved exposure measurements and detailed performance tests of large numbers of children and comparisons of similar children living in the same region who were either exposed or not exposed to the Skrunda Radar in Latvia.

When all of the exposed children were considered they had lower physical and mental performance: i.e. the effect is not of low probability and on average all the exposed children were affected. Differences were evident when the exposed children were compared with unexposed children.

What was the exposure associated with this study?
The levels were measured by a team from the Royal Danish Air Force The school was 20 km from the radar. At 16 km from the radar the measured exposure level was 0.0000042mW/cm2.

Authors working without reference to other studies note possible uncertainties in their work.
The authors of the study do not refer to any other studies, but suggest that more work is needed to cross-check the information they obtained from the study.

Conscientious scientists carefully express the uncertainties in their own work. When these uncertainties are taken out of context in court they can be used to weaken the significance of the results of the research.

Extract from the Skrunda Report
'The weak correlations between the distance from the children's homes to the RLS, and the children's responses, are certainly consistent with the idea of an electromagnetic field effect. The exposure of each child cannot be monitored, due to spatially and temporally variable intensities, and the fact that the subjects move out of and within the exposed zone. The children living in front of the Skrunda RLS have less developed memory and attention, slower reaction times and decreased endurance of neuromuscular apparatus. On the basis of the data obtained, one could propose the working hypothesis that the decreased endurance of neuromuscular apparatus, slower reaction time and less developed memory and attention are the results of chronic electromagnetic radiation effects. Evidence for a factor other than electromagnetic field having caused the observed results was not found, but its existence cannot be ruled out, for example differences in the past experiences of children, local small pollution effects, differences in family behaviour, etc.

'At present, we can only state that the children living in the exposed zone in front of the Skrunda RLS performed worse in the psychological tests given than the children living behind the RLS, and even worse again when compared with the control group.'

'The validity of a statement that the RFEM field at Skrunda has caused these differences can only be claimed with continuous and accurate assessment of dose, and close to exact standardisation of subjects.'

The measurement of dose is problematic, since the children move in and out of the radiation zone, and the temporal changes in intensity are high. However the results presented, especially the weak correlation between performance and distance to the RLS, certainly suggest that his path of research is worthwhile. Further work is continuing to increase the sample size and to attempt to arrive at estimations of dose.'

Section quoted in evidence to the Court
Only what is in bold type above was quoted in the evidence to the Court. Readers can judge for themselves the implication of this selected paragraph compared to the conclusions gained from considering the whole statement, especially in light of the fact that the authors were unaware of other studies done on the subject.

What is the situation at Shirley Primary School now?
It has had to accept the judgment of the Environment Court and has worked with Telecom to establish trees to shield the school property from direct effects of the EMR from the tower.

You can read more information on EMR at the
Plain Communications EMR Information Website.






 
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