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New radiofrequency transmitter guidelines

Media Release
December 15, 2000

(Friday December 15)

New radiofrequency transmitter
guidelines aim to address concerns

Guidelines released today by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Health say that health risks from radiofrequency transmitters such as cellphone towers are negligible as long as they comply with the New Zealand standard.

Cellphone towers have proved controversial in the past because of concerns that they may cause negative health effects. To address these concerns, the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Health have jointly developed guidelines.

Ministry for the Environment group manager Ray Salter says the guidelines are designed to provide advice to councils, industry and the public on radiofrequency technology, the scientific findings from the past 50 years of research, and recent Environment Court case law.

“The guidelines should help to clarify what the responsibilities of councils are when dealing with radiofrequency issues and that should help affected parties know where they stand.”

Mr Salter says, as a result of Environment Court case law, as outlined in the guidelines, health issues alone will no longer be grounds for rejecting a proposed cellsite.

“As long as a cellphone tower (or other radiofrequency transmitter) has emissions lower than the New Zealand standard, the Ministry for the Environment recommends they be a permitted activity. In saying that, issues such as amenity will still need to be considered when placement of a cellphone tower is being decided.”

As an extra precaution, when radiation emissions are likely to be above 25 percent of the New Zealand standard, the guidelines recommend councils apply a condition to the site’s resource consent requiring monitoring to be carried out within three months of operation.

“Carrying out monitoring of the site to ensure that it is meeting the resource consent conditions will provide a greater level of reassurance to the community,” says Mr Salter.

Ministry of Health team leader for environmental health Sally Gilbert says international studies show that there are no established health effects from exposures to radiofrequency fields that comply with the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protections), on which the New Zealand standard is based.

“We found there were no clearly established, or even strongly suspected, health effects occurring at the low levels of exposure which typically occur in publicly accessible areas around radio transmitters which comply with the ICNIRP guidelines and the New Zealand Standard (NZS 2772.1:1999),” Ms Gilbert says.

“If future research does eventually show that health effects may exist, we believe the risk from exposure to radiofrequency fields is likely to be small or negligible. However, in view of the residual scientific uncertainty and the impossibility of proving any agent completely safe, low cost or no cost measures should be voluntarily applied where possible to avoid or reduce exposures,” Ms Gilbert says.

She said examples of measures that could be taken included using design and physical site options that result in the lowest incidental exposures around the transmitter, where possible. This advice is consistent with the advice of the World Health Organization.

The Government will expand the terms of reference of the Inter-agency Committee on Extremely Low Frequency Fields (powerlines) to also monitor international research into the health effects from radiofrequency fields.

The guidelines can be downloaded free from the Ministry for the Environment website or copies can be requested from the Ministry for the Environment by phoning 04-917-7400.

For more information, please contact:

Ray Salter Angus Barclay
Group Manager Media Advisor
Ministry for the Environment Ministry of Health
Phone: 04-917-7422 Phone: 04-496-2067
Mobile: 025-526-244 Mobile: 025-240-7131

Karl Ferguson
Communications Advisor
Ministry for the Environment
Phone: 04-917-7482
Mobile: 025-243-7486

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