The Case of Shirley Primary School versus Telecom Mobile
Ltd, Decision 136/98
- Read this article for some background.
To read more about Dr Neil Cherry and his work, please visit his
website for more information.
Interview with Dr Neil Cherry
The issue of whether Telecom should be permitted to build a cellsite
boundary of Shirley Primary School has engaged the interest of New
Zealanders since the Ministry of Education decided to ban them from
grounds. This was a precautionary approach prompted by concerns about
health effects on children.
In 1997 the Christchurch City Council approved the cellsite with an
limit of 6mW/cm2..
After the Christchurch City Council approved the cellsite, the
Board of Trustees, with leadership from the Chair of the Board and the
school principal, Brian Porteous, obtained support from hundreds of
around New Zealand to take an appeal against the decision to the
Environment Court. The hearings were spread over several weeks from
to June 29, 1998.
In its judgment the Court found in favour of Telecom and authorised
siting of the cellphone tower on the boundary of the school. The
the level of exposure was removed.
Dr Cherry's comments on the judgment
In Dr Cherry's view the primary errors in the judgment of the Court
the preference given to Telecom's witnesses and the dismissal of
Primary School's witnesses, and in the acceptance of the New Zealand
Standard and the standard of the International Commission on
Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
Limits on exposures
In his summary the judge said that there was no reasonable defect in
Australia/New Zealand standard which limits exposure to 200mW/cm2
perhaps that it is too low at cellsite frequencies. The ICNIRP
equivalent to 450mW/cm2..
The condition set by the Christchurch City Council hearing panel was
EMR should not exceed 6 mW/cm2..
The judge stated, "Imposing a lower limit i.e. 6 would suggest that
exposures of more than 6 do cause health effects."
Report criticising the ICNIRP Guidelines
Dr Cherry has written a report entitled "Criticism of the Proposal to
the ICNIRP Guidelines for cellsites in New Zealand: ICNIRP Guideline
In the Executive Summary he states that the ICNIRP guideline for RF/MW
radiation for public exposure
"should not be adopted for several strong reasons:
* "Public health standards should be based on public health studies
epidemiology and not a thermal basis)
* "The ICNIRP guideline is based on established or proven effects,
New Zealand law, the Resource Management Act, is based on potential
and epidemiological evidence (a potential effect of low probability
has a high potential impact, RMA Section 3(f)).
* " The assessment of effects in the 1998 ICNIRP statement is
systematically flawed in the use of the research cited.
* "The ICNIRP assessment ignores the large volume of epidemiological
biometeorological studies that do show adverse health effects.
"A primary textbook on Cancer states 'In contrast to laboratory
epidemiology directly evaluates the experience of human populations
their response to various environmental exposures and host factors
risk of disease)'. ICNIRP and other international guidelines derive
primarily from the tri-Services Program in the US whose purpose was to
determine the thermal threshold. Most epidemiology is ignored by
assessors or when used, is misquoted and misrepresented."
Evidence presented to the Court
In discussing the science the judge clearly prefers the
evidence of Telecom's witness, Dr Mark Elwood of the Otago Medical
Three studies considered
Three of the studies looked at by the Court and discussed by Dr
1. The UK study by Dolk et al
2. The North Sydney study by Hocking et al
3. The San Francisco study by Selvin et al
The first and last studies were used to suggest that there is no
evidence of health effects from EMR because neither shows a consistent
relationship of high cancer near the towers decreasing with the
from the towers.
Based on that assumption the statement is made that radiation from
is not a cause of observed cancer. In fact neither the authors nor Dr
Elwood realise that they have unwittingly misled the Court because
radiation patterns are actually low near towers, but rise to a peak
distance from the tower and then decrease with distance, which exactly
follows the cancer trend.
The Court's decision therefore in Dr Cherry's view is based on flawed
Dealing with low risk but cumulative risk
To illustrate how not looking at cumulative risk can impair the
from the study Dr Cherry looked at Dr Hocking's North Sydney study.
shows an almost threefold increase in a certain childhood
He explained the impact of cumulative risk as follows.
"Let's take a risk ratio of three as an example:
The average rate of childhood leukaemia for schoolchildren in New
is 2 per 100,000 person years. Let's say 300 children are in a school
an average of 6 years. That amounts to 1800 person years which means
in that time you would expect .036 instances of childhood leukaemia in
'If this is expanded to a cellsite increasing the risk by a factor of
that takes the risk to 0.11 in 6 years - which is a low risk.
'However let's say that 1000 cellsites expose children to this risk.
nationwide 300,000 children are exposed. Among 300,000 children we
expect 6 childhood leukaemias to be observed, but because of the
to cellsites the number rises to 18. This is a non-trivial result,
fact highly significant.
'By not considering the effect of all cellsites but considering the
of one cellsite in isolation the judgment is ignoring one of the
requirements of law - to consider cumulative effects.'
Learning difficulties/Impact on Second Case Study
When we consider learning difficulties, the question firstly is a
consistency over three studies showing children exposed to a very low
pulsed and modulated microwave experienced some learning difficulties.
"Motor and psychological functions of school children living in the
the Skrunda Radio Location Station in Latvia" A. A. Kolodynski, V. V.
Kolodynska, published in The Science of the Total Environment 180
This most detailed study involved exposure measurements and detailed
performance tests of large numbers of children and comparisons of
children living in the same region who were either exposed or not
to the Skrunda Radar in Latvia.
When all of the exposed children were considered they had lower
and mental performance: i.e. the effect is not of low probability and
average all the exposed children were affected. Differences were
when the exposed children were compared with unexposed children.
What was the exposure associated with this study?
The levels were measured by a team from the Royal Danish Air Force The
school was 20 km from the radar. At 16 km from the radar the measured
exposure level was 0.0000042mW/cm2.
Authors working without reference to other studies note possible
uncertainties in their work.
The authors of the study do not refer to any other studies, but
that more work is needed to cross-check the information they obtained
Conscientious scientists carefully express the uncertainties in their
work. When these uncertainties are taken out of context in court they
be used to weaken the significance of the results of the research.
Extract from the Skrunda Report
'The weak correlations between the distance from the children's homes
the RLS, and the children's responses, are certainly consistent with
idea of an electromagnetic field effect. The exposure of each child
cannot be monitored, due to spatially and temporally variable
and the fact that the subjects move out of and within the exposed
The children living in front of the Skrunda RLS have less developed
and attention, slower reaction times and decreased endurance of
neuromuscular apparatus. On the basis of the data obtained, one could
propose the working hypothesis that the decreased endurance of
neuromuscular apparatus, slower reaction time and less developed
attention are the results of chronic electromagnetic radiation
Evidence for a factor other than electromagnetic field having caused
observed results was not found, but its existence cannot be ruled out,
example differences in the past experiences of children, local small
pollution effects, differences in family behaviour, etc.
'At present, we can only state that the children living in the
zone in front of the Skrunda RLS performed worse in the psychological
given than the children living behind the RLS, and even worse again
compared with the control group.'
'The validity of a statement that the RFEM field at Skrunda has caused
these differences can only be claimed with continuous and accurate
assessment of dose, and close to exact standardisation of subjects.'
The measurement of dose is problematic, since the children move in and
of the radiation zone, and the temporal changes in intensity are high.
However the results presented, especially the weak correlation between
performance and distance to the RLS, certainly suggest that his path
research is worthwhile. Further work is continuing to increase the
size and to attempt to arrive at estimations of dose.'
Section quoted in evidence to the Court
Only what is in bold type above was quoted in the evidence to the
Readers can judge for themselves the implication of this selected
compared to the conclusions gained from considering the whole
especially in light of the fact that the authors were unaware of other
studies done on the subject.
What is the situation at Shirley Primary School now?
It has had to accept the judgment of the Environment Court and has
with Telecom to establish trees to shield the school property from
effects of the EMR from the tower.
You can read more information on EMR at the
Plain Communications EMR Information Website.