Illness cluster raises fears over radio mast

Newspaper Report

By Michael Alexander - 27th August 2003

   Fears were expressed yesterday that powerful radio masts and mobile phone transmitters could be responsible for almost a dozen cases of cancer, motor neurone disease and Parkinson's within a rural area of North East Fife.

   Residents living within a 2 kilometre radius of masts on Drumcarrow Hill, near St Andrews, said yesterday it seemed to be "more than a coincidence" that the "cluster" of  ill health only appeared after what they understand to be a TETRA type transmitter was erected around four years ago.

   Yesterday they demanded an independent inquiry by the Scottish Executive into the safety of TETRA police communication masts, proposed for locations across Fife.

   A number of experts have been invited to a meeting tonight in St Andrews town hall to debate concerns over potential health risks of TETRA masts. The residents said more and more questions continued to arise.

   Retired nurse Catherine Gambe, of Peat Inn, said she had been aware of several people falling ill in the Peat Inn, Radernie and Denhead areas over the last couple of years. She recently investigated further and realised the "frightening scale" of the situation.

   Drumcarrow, four kilometres south-west of St Andrews. is a sparsely populated area of farms, cottages and hamlets. Mrs Gamba said within the last three years, this area had seen four cases of normally very rare motor neurone disease, four cases of thyroid cancer and several other cancers, a case of Parkinson's disease and a woman who developed ME.

   Mrs Gamba claimed the problem only arose after a new TETRA style mast was erected by Dolphin Telecommunications Ltd.

   She said "it was horrendous to discover that these cases had apparently only arisen after this new mast went up, apparently without even requiring planning permission. The mast is not associated with the proposed TETRA police masts now, but it is similar technology.

   "At the moment we cannot prove that this mast is responsible - we also have concerns about mobile phone masts at Radiernie next to where three women have developed thyroid problems. But if there is a link, the last thing we need is more TETRA masts. This has implications not just for us, but for the people across the country and the world."

   Mrs Yvonne Gibb has lived at Radernie for 12 years and for the last three years has suffered from an underactive thyroid. She was in "no doubt" of a connection between her ill-health and the masts.

   "I discovered I had a thyroid problem when i started falling asleep all the time, and now have to take thyroxine every day for life.

   "It's only when i began speaking to more and more people that i realised folk were getting ill."

   Chartered engineer Christine Clark, who grew up near Drumcarrow, suffers from ME. Her mother Kathleen died aged 69 in December, 2000, of motor neurone disease. She lived for more than 30 years in the shadow of Drumcarrow but only fell ill after the Dolphin mast went up.

   Miss Clark said, "My mother told me she was convinced there was a connection between her condition and the new Dolphin TETRA mast.

   "Studies have shown that the effects of radon gas from former mine shafts can be exacerbated by electromagnetic radiation. There are redundant coal mines at Radernie and iron mines at Denhead."

   Miss Clark added, "there is on average one case of motor neurone disease out of every 200,000 population in their lifetime. Yet within a population of around 250,000 in Fife, we have three or four cases of motor neurone  disease - three times the national average - within a two mile radius in only two years."

   Mrs Gamba said she had written to Fife Council and contacted North East Fife MSP Iain Smith.

   Yesterday a NHS Fife spokeswoman said they were not aware of any health cluster but would investigate if asked to do so.

   No-one at Basingstoke-based Dolphin could be contacted due to the English bank holiday.

   Mobile phone company Airwave mmO2, which is applying to erect TETRA masts as part of a system that will improve communications for all emergency services, is adamant that masts are safe. Fife Police also insist the proposed masts pose no danger.