Image for That 1000-pound Gorilla on Mount Wellington: An Occupational Health and Safety issue

*Pic: Pinnacle of Mt Wellington ... Image from here

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*Pic: The Plan ...Image from here

I was somewhat amused at the artist’s pretty rendition of the proposed mountain-top combined cable car terminal, visitor’s centre and cafe (the Pinnacle Centre) on page 5 of The Mercury newspaper, Sunday (26/2/17).

Something seemed to be missing in the drawing. There is the old steel WIN TV transmission tower faintly visible in the distance but absolutely no hint of that huge concrete and steel Broadcast Australia tower that all Hobartians have grown to know so well, provided they’re not blind. Perhaps the artist didn’t notice it? Sort of like visiting Paris and failing to notice the Eiffel Tower I suppose.

Side note: in 2009 the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) purchased Broadcast Australia (and our tower) from Macquarie Bank Ltd. Apparently there are no plans yet on having the Canadian flag flying from the tower…

Whatever the case, the absence of that gigantic concrete edifice in the artist’s rendition speaks more of the ignorance (or avoidance) on part of the projects planners and proponents in relation to that TV tower and how it might affect the viability of the project. In my opinion a thorough risk analysis must be conducted into the possible influence of the tower’s radiofrequency (RF) radiation on people who might end up working many hours per week in the Pinnacle Centre.


AND that is the proverbial 1000-pound gorilla sitting in the corner of the room (or perhaps King Kong hanging from the tower) which the proponents of the cable car project seem to want to ignore if at all possible. It needs to be noted here that telecommunications employees working on the Mount Wellington site are required to have RF hazard awareness training in order to minimize their occupational exposure. Should the Pinnacle Centre employees working in the same area have similar training?

Consider

On May 31, 2011,the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified radiofrequency (RF) radiation as a ‘Possible Human Carcinogen’ (Class 2B), the same classification as for diesel fumes.

Their decision on RF was based on the 13-nation Interphone study on human exposure to mobile phone RF radiation, but the classification is not limited to cell phone RF emissions.  It also applies to TV and mobile phone tower emissions. Christopher Wild, Director of IARC, told the IARC decision-makers, 31 scientists from 14 countries, to consider seriously the human health impacts for society of their decision.

Where to build a Pinnacle Centre to minimize exposure levels?

As mentioned in a fact sheet from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), TV tower transmissions are projected away from the tower almost horizontally so that as much area as possible is covered. This minimizes the signal strength at ground level near the tower.

Reference: http://www.arpansa.gov.au/RadiationProtection/Factsheets/is_broadcast.cfm

However that does not mean that the ‘minimized’ signal strength is therefore ‘safe’ when you consider the strength of the signal coming from the tower. 

As pointed out in an Australian Parliamentary published paper in 1997 by Rod Painter from the Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Group, a TV tower’s output power can be 15,000 times stronger than that of a typical mobile phone base station tower.  To quote:

TV towers have a much higher power rating-and thus give out more intense radiation- than mobile phone towers. For example, the TV transmitter on top of Black Mountain, Canberra, is rated at 300 kilowatts. A typical mobile phone tower is emitting only about 20 watts, i.e. 15 000 times weaker. Perhaps fortunately, most large TV towers are situated on hilltops which are relatively far from housing. It is the occasional exception, for example, on Sydney’s North Shore, that deserves special attention.… (an apparent increase of childhood leukaemia in homes relatively close to TV transmitters)

Ref: Painter, R. Electromagnetic Radiation from TV and Mobile Phone Towers: Health Aspects, Current Issues Brief 26, 1996-97, 
Science, Technology, Environment and Resources Group,
http://www.aph.gov.au/sitecore/content/Home/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Publications_Archive/CIB/CIB9697/97cib26

It is likely that the Pinnacle Centre would be built just below the existing observation building in order not be seen against the skyline and to reduce extreme weather conditions. At this location RF exposures would be most likely be lower as well. Perhaps RF shielding could also be incorporated in the building construction, but this has not yet been considered in in any cost estimation for the overall facility.

In the Mt Wellington cableway supporting documentation (2014), under the section “IMPROVING VISITOR SAFETY” it points out that visitors have experienced problems with vehicle remote central locking systems due to the RF fields. It is also mentioned that the Australian Communications Authority have indicated that this problem can extend anywhere from 500m – 1km and may increase with advent of digital television (now operating). There have also been complaints by tourists to Tourism Tasmania over this problem. As for any investigation of the extent of the problem the authors simply state, “anecdotal evidence suggests that the problem is greatest in the western car parking area closer to start of Zig Zag track, although this has not been fully investigated”.

Perhaps it is time this is investigated …

Reference: MT WELLINGTON CABLEWAY COMPANY, 30th June 2014, SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION,
https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56505ac8e4b027b507820253/t/56629144e4b0843f55a3610a/1449300292738/mwcc_PinnacleZoneBoundary_SupportingDocumentationTPC_redacted-condensed3.pdf

This obviously indicates that RF fields at ground level on Mount Wellington are far in excess of anything people are routinely exposed to and brings into question the relevancy of ARPANSA’s fact sheet (mentioned previously) for the RF situation on the ground for the Mt. Wellington summit.

A way forward

Before firm plans are made for this project, a thorough RF field evaluation needs to be conducted to determine the extent of any possible RF exposure hazard for staff working in the planned Pinnacle Centre. ARPANSA are the obvious choice to conduct this evaluation – but herein lays a major dilemma.

ARPANSA follows the Australian RF exposure standard which is limited to providing protection against excessive human tissue heating from short-term acute levels of exposure. In the old Standards Australia RF committee (TE7) this limitation was called merely a “cooking standard”, nothing else. It is a standard set by industry to allow unrestrained technological development and does not take into consideration the effect on health that long-term exposures may have.

See: The Procrustean Approach, http://www.emfacts.com/download/The_Procrastian_Approach_summary.pdf 

What can be done, however, is to compare measurements taken by ARPANSA with independent measurements - then do a risk assessment evaluation based on relevant scientific databases in order to try to determine the extent of potential risk for staff working in the planned Pinnacle Centre.

It is possible that a combination of site location and shielding may be all that is required – but this issue is certainly something that cannot be ignored. 

*Don Maisch PhD has been involved in telecommunications standard setting since the early 1990s and was a member of the Standards Australia Committee setting exposure standards for electromagnetic fields. His PhD thesis examined industry influence and bias in telecommunications health risk assessment. He has recently written a book chapter on industry influence in Australian expert science committees which is due for publication in June 2015. Besides also writing about shortcomings with planned smart grids networks in Australia (see here) he is currently working on a thesis examining draconian US tax laws that have been accepted in an IGA by the Abbott government and how they affect the financial future of expat Americans lining in Australia.