A plan by Eir to build an 18-metre telecommunications mast has divided the seaside village of Rosslare Strand where some residents welcome the prospect of faster broadband and improved phone reception while others fear the proposed structure will be an eyesore bringing negative health effects from electromagnetic radiation fields.
Eir has lodged an application with Wexford County Council to construct a mast at an existing exchange on Station Road, on the main approach to the village, close to housing estates, where there has been an established communications installation for over 20 years.
The company said the proposed structure would provide vital communications services to the surrounding area. If granted planning permission, it would be offered to all licensed network operators in a co-location arrangement and this would reduce the need for alternative structures locally.
The mast would be connected directly into the existing exchange using fibre cabling which would provide fast speed broadband and mobile connectivity to the Eir network to eliminate coverage blackspots and improve existing mobile and broadband cover in the Rosslare Strand area.
Eir said it requires a new site in Rosslare as part of its licensing requirements and continuing roll-out of 2G, 3G and 4G networks.
Rosslare resident Emmet Fahy has said he is all in favour of what he described as 'this necessary piece of infrastructure' in an area where phone and internet reception are very poor.
In response to concerns raised by other residents, he pointed out that there are no health effects from such structures and those that make such claims are not able to provide evidence with Irish, EU and WHO reports all saying they are safe.
A number of residents have lodged objections against the proposal on health, environmental and tourism grounds, expressing concern primarily about potential hazards from EMF radiation and the visual impact of the mast in a small seaside village.
Marie Therese Swan submitted that the Guidelines for Planning Authorities Act of 1996 states that every effort should be made to distance such structures from residential areas, schools, hospitals and other buildings used for residential and work purposes on a daily basis and all efforts should be made to minimise their visual intrusion on the landscape.
Josephine Mein told planners that she 'strongly objects' to the mast plan and does not feel it is the right place for it to be erected as there are many families living nearby.
'According to the guidelines for planning authorities these masts should only be placed in small towns and villages as a last resort.'
In submissions accompanying the planning application acknowledged that the issue of radiation from mobile phones has been a concern for many people since the introduction of the technology and significant numbers of studies have been carried out and reviewed by independent experts.
It said that in a fact sheet on electromagnetic fields and public health, the World Health Organisation stated that 'a large number of studies have been undertaken on both acute and long-term effects from high-frequency EMF radiation exposure and said research has provided no conclusive evidence of any related adverse health effects.
'The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks states that the results of current scientific research show that there are no evident adverse health effects if exposure remains below the levels recommended by EU legislation'.
Eir said its antennae are below that level and pointed out that overall, epidemiological studies on EMF exposure do not show any increased risk of brain tumour and do not indicate any increased risk for other cancers of the head and neck region.
Leitrim-based Wilhelm Bodewigs who worked with Wexford County Council on a project in the past said there are people like Rosslare resident Bridget Breen who find it difficult to articulate the pain that they feel from the effects of electromagnetic radiation.
'We know that 5% of people are electro-magnetic sensitive and by 2025, and the WHO forecast is for that that number will have risen to 20% of the population. People are being left alone to feel sick and this is not being properly evaluated addressed by any health authority or the Department of the Environment.'
Mr. Bodewigs is a retired urban planner who adheres to the 25 principles of the German 'Institute of Building Biology' which advises a strict 'precautionary principle' and aims to minimise exposure to electromagnetic fields and wireless radiation.
'This 'precautionary principle' is taken very seriously by EU legislation but there is a total lack of precaution with high frequency radio communication', he said.
Mr. Bodewig said commercial operators refer to evidence and advice provided by an International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, which he described as a private association mainly funded by the mobile phone industry but which the WHO has accepted as a scientific institute.
Bridget Breen said she previously lived beside broadband masts in New Ross and 'suffered terribly' from headaches, dizziness and constant nose bleeds, an experience which has left her 'electro-sensitive'.
Bridget, who doesn't use a smart phone, has a dongle for her internet and limits her time on a laptop, is very unhappy about the mast proposal.
'A lot or reputable studies have been done by experts on the biological harm caused by levels which are below current safety guidelines', she said.