What are Tetra masts?
||The Tetra mast in Findon had no planning consent
Tetra masts are the latest controversy to dog the mobile phone industry.
Operating at 17.6 hertz, Tetra masts are being erected all over Sussex as the
emergency services install a new radio system. But, as
Chris Baker reports, a fierce
debate is raging about their effects on people’s health, in particular concerns
about the human nervous system.
The Tetra mast in this picture was put up near Findon cricket ground without
planning permission and without local people being consulted.
The ten-metre high tower appeared late last month.
It is just one of 87 needed for Sussex Police’s new £2 million radio system,
which relies on mobile phone technology instead of radio frequencies.
But while it promises to be a far more efficient way for police officers to
communicate than their current outdated system, the installation of the masts
has sparked health scares.
Operating company O2 Airwave says it will not put up any more without planning
permission but this could spell difficulties for the completion of the radio
system as planners become increasingly wary in the face of public concern.
Arun District Council, responsible for planning at Findon, has stopped granting
permission for masts, either for conventional mobile phones or Tetra, while it
seeks further information about their possible health impact.
Other Sussex councils are becoming equally bullish, while a dispute remains over
whether Airwave can use emergency powers to install the masts.
The arguments are not dissimilar to those against conventional telephone masts.
||Campaigners want the Findon mast removed
Despite assertions that all the equipment operates well within national and
European safety guidelines, critics are concerned about the potential health
risk and say it could be greater than other technologies.
Campaigner John O’Brien said about eight masts were already in place in Sussex,
with at least another 120 planning applications expected.
He said: "It is an untested system which could potentially damage the health of
everybody in the country."
Tetra, which is short for Terrestrial Trunked Radio, operates at 17.6 hertz,
close to the 16 hertz frequency the human brain uses for its chemical
The Government’s own investigation into mobile phone safety cautioned against
using systems that operated close to 16 hertz, amid fears the nervous system
could be damaged.
Dr Gerard Hyland, of the International Institute of Biophysics, said the body
was "exquisitely sensitive" to low frequency microwave radiation of the type
used by Tetra.
He said the difference between Tetra and standard mobile phones was this low
frequency, the regular pulsing of the signal and the fact base stations did not
turn on and off.
These were characteristics which could lead to migraine, hallucinations,
disorientation, sleeplessness, itchy skin and body warming.
Children are apparently the group most at risk because they are smaller and
their bodies are more susceptible to this kind of electrical interference.
Dr Hyland said safety guidelines only stopped people becoming overheated but
there was nothing to guard against signals interfering with the delicately
balanced chemistry of the brain.
He said: "These things are a potential threat to the health of some people and
you cannot say who is vulnerable until it is too late."
O2 Airwave and the Government are desperate to get the Tetra system working
throughout the UK.
||The Tetra phones are due to replace the old style
Other countries are interested in buying Tetra if it works here and O2 Airwave
faces stiff penalties if the network fails to operate on time.
The company said it would not put up any more masts in Sussex without first
getting planning permission.
But communications manager Susan Moore said the network had to be in place soon
so it could be tested.
She said the company could use emergency powers to erect masts, a point disputed
Sussex Police, about half-way down the list of forces to get Tetra, will rent
the mast network once it is complete and pay for the privilege.
After the first year, council tax payers will need to find between £1 million
and £2 million a year to pay for the system for the next 15 years.
Superintendent Ross Hollister, Sussex Police’s project manager, said new radios
were urgently needed if emergency services were to have a modern communications
He said: "The information I have indicates both sets of equipment, the handsets
and the masts, operate at levels well within national and European safety
standards and they conform by a very reasonable margin.
"The masts are hundreds of times within the safety limits.”
Similar reassurances did not stop Lancashire Police Federation sending
questionnaires to 3,500 officers because of reports of headaches, nausea and
poor sleep patterns.
Chairman Steve Edwards said 177 officers said they had suffered some form of
adverse effect but none could be sure it was because of Tetra.
Dr James Walsh, a former GP and a senior member of Sussex Police Authority, said
he had concerns for the safety of people living near masts and for officers
using the system.
He said: "We should take reasonable precautions to protect people until such
time as the evidence becomes more fully understood.
"The worry is the radiation effect is cumulative.
"Whatever effects there might be will not be evident for many years. That is the