I live in the incredibly beautiful Blue Mountains, around 100km west of the Sydney CBD. Get a look at the area in Google Maps. Sydney’s sprawl stops dead, right at the Nepean River. Place names in the Blue Mountains National Park, such as ‘The Devil’s Wilderness‘ and ‘The Blue Labyrinth‘ ought to give anyone with some commonsense a fairly big clue as to just how rough and rugged the undeveloped, virgin bushland in the Blue Mountains really is, despite its proximity to a city of over 4 million people. This undisturbed nature makes it a massive attraction to international visitors and domestic tourists alike.
Because of the Blue Mountains’ deceptively close proximity to civilisation, many tourists are blithely unaware of the dangers caused by general inaccessibility to most places where they go exploring. I’m not talking about simply 4WD accessible places, I’m talking about those where the only motorised transport going in or out are helicopters. About 10 people die each year abseiling or bushwalking in the Blue Mountains. Many more survivors are winched out by rescue helicopters. This is of course after emergency services actually locate the distressed hikers. Rescue helicopters flying at low altitude mark our seasons- on summery days and holiday weekends, they’re like mosquitoes around here. Well, it’s summertime again… and more tourists are lost in the Blue Mountains.
While a few well-prepared tourists carry water, maps, GPS units, general survival gear and other supplies with them, many don’t. Why would you, when you’re so close to a city of 4 million? About the only thing classifiable as survival equipment which most tourists carry is a mobile phone. However, the vast majority of the Blue Mountains area, aside from a ribbon of villages alongside the Great Western Highway, has poor or no mobile phone coverage. Coverage even along the well-travelled GWH corridor is dodgy in many places. Even at my house, in the populated corridor, about half our mobile calls drop out.
Despite this potentially lethal tourist trap, some underinformed and unnecessarily fearful Blue Mountains residents actively oppose the expansion and improvement of mobile phone base station coverage along the GWH corridor, on the basis that mobile phone towers are rumoured to pose a danger to human health. These beliefs are based in ignorant suppositions and cherry-picked pseudoscience. The fact that no deleterious effect on human health from base stations (or the mobile phones themselves) has ever been identified or proven means nothing to those purveyors of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
At a community meeting in Springwood not long back, where the installation of a new Vodafone/Optus base station in tiny Faulconbridge NSW was being debated, some unenlightened members of the public, including those from the local P&C group, all but screamed ‘won’t someone think of the children?‘‘ The proposed tower site is about 1km from an elementary school, so the P&C group demanded to know exactly why a cell site HAD to be located there. The short and simple answer is that most kids these days have mobile phones. They’re useless without coverage by base stations. If you give your kid a mobile so they can call you in case of trouble, you’re not doing them or yourself any favours by opposing the installation of adequate base station coverage.
Before my working life was cut short by a drink driver who plowed me off a motorcycle, I was a radio broadcast engineer and electronics prototyping specialist. I obtained an Amateur Radio licence when I was 8 years old. Most of my life has been spent in very close proximity to some manner of radio transmitting equipment, some in the 50,000-100,000 watt class, much closer than most normal folks ever get to them. All of them were several orders of magnitude more powerful than the roughly 50 watt output of a mobile phone base station. However, I’m not a walking lump of cancer cells. Why not?
There’s a lot more proven, replicatable medical science indicating why radio transmitters are completely safe than there is describing any horror of cancers or other maladies induced by them. However, this doesn’t shift the opinions of the conspiracy theorists, who insist that the dangers are being downplayed by commercial interests, whom they say would happily make a buck over the dead bodies of their children. Hint: dead children don’t rack up a lot of billable airtime.
‘A little bit of radiation is all that it takes . . . around the world there’s evidence of people getting sick, and not just getting sick, getting cancer,’ [EMR Australia director Lyn McLean] said.
McLean spouts the buzzword ‘radiation’ without offering a qualification of it as ionising or non-ionising. “A little bit” of ionising radiation, from sources above the frequency of UV light, including x-rays, cosmic rays and gamma rays from radionuclear materials (eg plutonium, uranium, etc.) does have the potential to cause cancers.
image US EPA
All the non-ionising radiation in the world, from sources like radio transmitters, has no possibility to cause cancers. Exploiting scientific ignorance for fun and profit is utterly reprehensible. If Ms McLean were truly concerned about health effects from radio signals, she’d be giving away field strength meters and radio shielding paint (the next best thing to a tinfoil hat), not selling them.
At the aforementioned community meeting, I made a point of asking anti-base-station advocate parents if they had a microwave oven in their home. All of them had one. I then asked how many kilometres of separation they maintained between their children and their microwave oven while it was operating. Of course, I was laughed at. None of these people insisted that their children leave town before they warmed up a cup of coffee. At that point, I raised the facts that an ordinary 1000 watt microwave oven operates on almost the same frequency as a mobile phone base station and puts out at least 20 times the RF power of said stations, often more. You should have seen their eyes bug out to the size of 50 cent pieces. I then proposed that microwave ovens be banned in a 20km radius from elementary schools. Funnily enough, I got no support. The very people who want to save their children from evil mobile phone signals had no problem with a much more ‘dangerous’ source of radio frequency emissions in much closer proximity to their children than they would ever be to a phone base station tower.
Quite simply, many, many more lives are saved every year by base stations than ever have been harmed by them. Wives tales, conspiracy theories and technological ignorance should not be allowed to imperil the lives of those in the general public who may depend on good mobile phone coverage to save their bacon.
Mind you, the ‘dangers of mobile phones’ furphy is the mere tip of the iceberg. Also out in my neck of the woods are a family who will not have their kids vaccinated against common childhood diseases because of their fear of the little precious snowflakes being poisoned by the vaccines, despite almost no evidence indicating such is any sort of common occurrence. Never you mind the potential danger these little prepubescent biohazards become when they are sent to public schools. The hazards posed to children (both of vaccination objectors and sensible people) from wholly preventable illnesses are much better known than any possible injury from a vaccine.
An independent UK group called Sense About Science maintain a website which contains good, corroboratable scientific information about vaccines, mobile phone towers and a host of other topics where a good dose of good science would make a lot of people sleep better at night. Ought to be on every parent’s required reading list.
If only ignorance were painful there’d be a lot less of it. At this moment, the only pain the ignorant suffer is in obtaining the knowledge necessary to rid themselves of it.
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