“Mast killers – do you live near a deadly mast?”

The headline comes from yesterday’s News of the World which, along with various other Sundays, decided to scare its readers about mobile phone masts. The story begins:

SIX neighbours from the same floor of a block of flats have all been hit by cancer after two phone masts were installed on the building now dubbed The Tower of Doom.

Now, I have absolutely no idea whether mobile phone masts are dangerous – the evidence so far suggests they aren’t, although there’s still a need for further study – but a few things about this piece ring alarm bells (yes, I know the NotW is hardly famed for responsible reporting, but it’s pretty representative of the way tabloids cover this issue).

All the cases have occurred since the Vodafone and Orange masts were put up 10 years ago…and two women neighbours have already fallen victim to the killer on the roof.

Barbara Wood, who lived at No 42, died two years ago, in her 70s, from breast cancer that spread to her stomach. Two years previously a Mrs Davies, of No 47, died of the same disease.

Two more residents—Bernice Mitchell, 68, and 62-year-old Hazel Frape— have both had breast cancer. An 89-year-old woman moved out after she contracted the same disease.

And 63-year-old John Llewellin, from No 48, is battling bowel cancer.

The story doesn’t say how old the second “victim”, Mrs Davies, actually was, but I’m betting she was in her sixties, seventies or eighties too. That’s important for this story because age is a key factor in cancer diagnosis: according to a paper published in 1999 by the British Geriatrics Society, “about 55% of cancers are diagnosed in patients over 65, and 60% of cancer-related deaths occur in this age group”. The average age for diagnosis of bowel cancer is 65 and it’s relatively rare among younger people; breast cancer is also relatively rare in the under-50s and the highest risk group is the over-60s.

I’m also assuming that the tower block in question isn’t in the nicest area (judging by the photo – I’m not familiar with the area in question). I’m no health expert, but a quick Google uncovers lots of data showing that cancer rates are higher in poorer areas (due to lifestyle, diet, smoking and alcohol consumption, lack of screening, the usual factors that mean richer people tend to live longer).

Does that mean the cancers weren’t caused by the mast? Not at all. But in its rush to show that this tower block is the “tower of doom”, the NotW is ignoring some pretty important stuff. If the mast wasn’t on the roof and the same people had contracted the same cancers, would the newspapers have given a shit?






0 responses to ““Mast killers – do you live near a deadly mast?””

  1. If it was in the News of the Screws then it must be true!

    I’m a telecomms engineer and I wouldn’t want one of those on my roof. However, that’s not to say that they’re causing cancer, but they’re more likely to interfere with your TV signal.

    Most people are quite happy to have an RF transmitter centimetres from their internal organs. Sure it’s low power, but if it was the frequency that was causing the problems then you should be more concerned about the device in your pocket than the one on your roof – it’s the proximity that’s the problem. The closer you are to a source of an electromagnetic field, the stronger it is and you can’t get closer than placing a mobile phone to the side of your head.

    More research into this would be nice. Some actual researched news in the Sunday papers would be nice too.

  2. Gary

    Hi Rutty :)

    Yeah, I agree with you – logically if there’s going to be a problem, it’ll be with the bit you hold to your lugs rather than the mast.

  3. The TETRA mobile networks (emergency services mainly – but briefly Dolphin Business) operate on exactly the same frequency as your brainwaves.

  4. Gary

    But does that mean anything other than “hmmm, interesting”?

  5. Not really. It did give a lot of Dolphin users the willies though.

  6. tm

    Well, frankly, what are brainwaves anyway? A quick search of the web reveals oodles of quackery and, inevitably, religeon but it seems to boil down to them really just being the background noise that any reasonably sized complex electromagnetic system (which is what your brain is after all) might produce. No one really seems to know if they are anything more than noise.

    Presuambly if these waves are indeed just background noise them the systems in your brain are well able to deal with it – after all, they must be bathed in them all the time…

  7. Humans work via electromagnetic energy. We are walking batteries that generate our own electricity and create our own electromagnetic fields – small, but noticeable.

    It wouldn’t be surprising if electromagnetic fields in our environment affected us in some way – how much is open to debate, but cause cancer? That’s dubious science.

    Give us a headache? Maybe. We do seem intent on filling our airwaves with more and more of this stuff and more research should be encouraged.

  8. Gary

    There’s actually a huge body of research on this, but it’s up against a fairly big problem: the results of ten-year studies suggest no link between these things and ill health, but unfortunately most cancers take more than 10 years to develop. So that’s where the research effort is going now.

  9. tm

    electromagnetic waves do affect us in obvious ways of course – ever had a sun tan?

    As for creating our own fields, I do rember doing a physics experiment where you had to stand in the same place each time you took a reading or the results could be off by so much it screwed what you were looking for… boy was that pain in the arse.