Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Department of Environment, Community and Local Government
Pat Deering (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
Question 411: To ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when the guidelines for telecommunications antennae and support structures were last updated; his plans to update same in the near future; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that other EU countries have different guidelines in this area; and if he is fully satisfied that public health is not at risk due to these telecommunication structures. [7554/12]
Jan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
My Department published Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Telecommunications Antennae and Support Structures in 1996. The guidelines are intended to facilitate planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála, the licensed providers of mobile telecommunications services and the public by providing guidance on dealing with these developments within the planning system.
The guidelines set out a locational hierarchy in relation to the siting of radio masts and advise that free-standing masts should only be located within, or in the immediate surrounds of, smaller towns or villages as a last resort. If such a location should become necessary, masts and antennae should be designed and adapted for the specific location. In the vicinity of larger towns and in city suburbs, operators should endeavour to locate in industrial estates or in industrially zoned land. The guidelines further advise that only as a last resort, and if all the alternatives are unavailable or unsuitable, should free-standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools. Under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, planning authorities are required to have regard to any Ministerial guidelines in the performance of their functions. The Guidelines are available on my Department’s website at www.environ.ie. The Guidelines will be kept under review in light of best scientific evidence and technical advice.
My Department is not aware of the differences between Ireland and other EU countries’ guidelines in this area. The issue of the potential health effects of mobile phone masts was the subject of an Expert Group Report commissioned by the Government and published in March 2007. This Report, entitled Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields, is available for download on my Department’s website (www.environ.ie). The Expert Group reported that the majority scientific opinion to date is that no adverse short or long term effects have been demonstrated from exposure to electromagnetic fields at levels below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). However, extensive international research on the issue continues to be coordinated through bodies such as the World Health Organisation.
The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), the licensing authority for the telecommunications industry, commissions audit reports to verify that its licensed operators are in compliance with their licence conditions relating to emission limits for non-ionising radiation. The detailed measurement results from over 900 transmitter sites surveyed to date have so far shown total compliance. Recorded levels of radio frequency signals are typically measured as being within the range of 0.002% to 2% of the safe exposure levels set by the ICNIRP guidelines. This is lower or comparable to radio frequency exposures from radio and television broadcasts. The location of licensed telecommunications antennae and the results of individual site survey reports can be found on ComReg’s website: http://www.askcomreg.ie/mobile/siteviewer.273.LE.asp.
My Department’s current advice to those living in close proximity to mobile masts or base stations, based on the conclusions of the Expert Group, is that there is no scientific basis or evidence of adverse health effects in children or adults as a result of exposure to electromagnetic fields below ICNIRP levels. This applies irrespective of the location of the mobile phone mast.