Posted: 12.03.20 at 13:15 by Daniel Mumby - Local Democracy Reporter
Street councillor Liz Leyshon has questioned Public Health England's advice over 5G at a meeting where Somerset residents locked horns with experts over how safe new mobile technology would be for both humans and the natural world.
Protestors packed into Shire Hall in Taunton yesterday morning (March 11) to speak out against 5G, arguing the technology could cause health complications and had major security shortcomings.
Experts from public health and the telecoms industry, by contrast, argued the risks were overstated and sufficient guidelines to protect the public were already in place.
This Somerset County Council meeting came a day after all five Somerset MPs rebelled against the government over the role of the Chinese firm Huawei in the UK’s 5G network.
The campaigners’ concerns:
Louise Thomas questioned whether the perceived benefits of “the internet of things” were outweighed by technologies’ impact on the natural world.
She said: “Do we really need driver-less cars or our toaster to speak to our fridge? Advances in technologies do not always work.
“There are cancer clusters around masts – why aren’t we safeguarding our children? It is madness.”
Lucy Wyatt said: “Imagine a silent world – with no birds, no bees and trees dying.
"This is the world we are moving towards. If the cider harvest fails due to a lack of pollinators, there will be a riot in Somerset.”
Rhiannon Augenthaler went further, claiming that studies had linked radiation from mobile devices to fertility issues.
She said: “Can we be certain that the microwave radiation that 5G will bring is not going to cause harm to the DNA of unborn eggs? The future of our children and grandchildren will depend on this.”
Neil Boxall – a chartered engineer who has electro-sensitivity – said the current guidelines did not provide sufficient protection.
He said: “5G waves will create massive more exposure levels and cause serious issues. Wireless is an environmental pollutant.”
Warwick Lydiate took a different approach, arguing that 5G posed too many security risks.
She said: “We are the most watched, spied-upon, photographed, monitored population in history.
“Smart devices collect and send data about us to those who want to sell stuff to us, as well as the government. What assurance has the council received that this data will be secure?”
The experts’ views:
Three separate experts responded to residents’ concerns, arguing the health risks of 5G were not as severe as had been assumed.
Richard Coles, from the BT Group, said his company’s 5G network would be “entirely powered by renewable energy”, with more than 300 “cyber-specialists” being employed to ensure network security.
He said: “There are many, many people who run their lives and their businesses on the back of a mobile network they can use. 5G will deliver higher speeds.”
Hamish Macleod, director of Mobile UK, said 20 million 999 calls were made from mobile phones each year, and £1 billion would be spent over the coming year to improve coverage in rural parts of Somerset.
He said: “We are operating at very low frequencies, within non-ionising radiation.
“The exposure levels for public exposure are set below the guideline levels.”
Alison Bell, the council’s public health consultant, said guidance issued by Public Health England (PHE) on mobile devices “used robust methods” and was geared towards protecting children.
She said: “PHE has issued precautionary advice to discourage the use of mobile phone use by children.
“The last published reports on childhood mortality show that injury or external causes of death are still the main causes of death.
“We have seen is an increase in the proportion of cancer deaths among children – but that’s because other causes of infant mortality have gone down.
“The scientific literature published since the 1990s has shown no ill effects of radiation below the limits in place.
“We’re not disputing that people are having symptoms, such as electro-sensitivity. What we are disputing is the cause.”
The councillors’ course of action:
Several members of the policies and place scrutiny committee called for the council to look into the issue of 5G further and report back later in the year.
The council has no power to regulate 5G roll-out, but it can conduct research into an issue to shape new policies to protect the public.
Councillor for Street and Glastonbury, Liz Leyshon, questioned the validity of PHE’s advice in light of previous public health scandals over the last 30 years.
She said: “When PHE was created, was it around giving government advice on asbestos, use of diesel cars and smoking?”
Ms Bell responded PHE had been created in 2014 and had a “much broader remit” than its predecessors.
Councillor Philip Ham – who farms in east Somerset – said he was greatly concerned about the possible impact of technology on the UK’s pollinators.
He said: “We talk about the health problems associated with this technology – if we can’t feed ourselves, we will have even worse health problems.”
Mr Macleod said phenomena like colony collapse disorder (which affects bee populations) predated mobile phone networks, and there was “no convincing evidence” that technology was making the problem worse.
Councillor John Hunt referenced the debate in parliament on Tuesday (March 10), where numerous MPs rebelled against the government over the role of Hauwei in the UK’s 5G network.
He said: “In order to have a check on this, we should have a task and finish group. Do we believe our experts?
“We are all here in the wake of the coronavirus, and we’re happy to take experts’ advice on that, but not on 5G.”
MPs take action:
An amendment to the government’s Telecommunication Bill was put forward by former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday (March 10).
Mr Duncan Smith’s concerns about security and surveillance garnered the support of all five Somerset MPs, who have called for Huawei’s limited presence in the 5G market to be eliminated by the end of 2022.
While the government still won the vote (by a reduced majority of 24), the result signals a change of policy may be needed when its Telecommunication Security Bill comes forward later in the year.
Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton – who founded the mobile phone software company Pitch Entertainment Group – said there could be “no complacency over the UK’s national security".
He said: “The involvement of Huawei in UK telecoms has the very great risk of jeopardising our national security, damaging the integrity and strength of our intelligence services and the NATO alliance.
“We must work to remove Huawei’s involvement in our crucial digital networks, not invite them in.
“Future conflict will be fought in cyberspace, and the resilience and security of our communications cannot be put at risk.”