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Cautionary remarks for police Airwave users


The story so far   Early users   Precautions   Update

Are Airwave handset users safe? The story so far.

In 2001, independent research scientist Barrie Trower submitted a report on TETRA to the Police Federation of England and Wales. He was asked to assess the risks, according to the available scientific evidence. Please read his report, and indeed see the responses to it:

 The Trower report for the Police Federation of England and Wales

 and some notes on the Home Office response to questions raised by the Trower report.

 What have you been told about the origins of the Trower Report? NRPB would have it that it was not commissioned by the police at all... You judge for yourself.

Key figures raising concern from the beginning were Gerard Hyland and Barrie Trower. They, and every other scientist that has indicated why and how TETRA presents sufficient concern to warrant proper investigation before Airwave is rolled out and used, have been consistently discredited by the NRPB and government.

Prof. Gerard Hyland at the time said: ‘Already we have disturbing indications; there are epidemiological studies from America indicating that users of mobile phones have between a two and threefold increase in developing a rare kind of tumour in the periphery of the brain which is precisely the location where the radiation can access.’

Gerard Hyland said: ‘The problem with microwaves is that living systems do have a preconditioned sensitivity to microwave radiation anyway, but what compounds the problem in the case of the communications technologies is that the microwave radiation is emitted in distinct flashes or pulses, and the rate at which these are emitted happen to coincide with certain brain rhythms.’ There has never been an argument that TETRA handsets emit pulsed radiation into the body at 17.64Hz.

Barrie Trower’s initial response was: ‘I found that the system itself was totally untested and totally untried on humans. It pulsed at a frequency that is not recommended by the Stewart Committee; yet the back sections of the report suggest that the police are to be used as an epidemiological study for cancer and disruption to brain function.’ He recommended the Airwave rollout be halted pending further research: he thought it could be harmful.

An NRPB report in 2001, however, said there were uncertainties but: ‘current evidence suggests it is unlikely that TETRA poses a threat to health’.

Gerard Hyland’s opinion? ‘Most work that is discredited is saying things that the industry, the NRPB and the Government would rather not have said. ... It seems totally irresponsible for the government to compel the police and other emergency services to subject themselves to this radiation, which could well be potentially very harmful to certain people.’

Early users in Lancashire

Within nine months of the introduction of TETRA in Lancashire, such were the reports of adverse health effects that Steve Edwards, Chairman, Police Federation of Lancashire was provoked to send a questionnaire to officers to find out more. Of 246 questionnaires returned, 173 reported some adverse health effects, such as:

‘headaches and migraines approximately three times a week; I have never had headaches or migraines of such severity prior to using Airwave.’

‘since returning to section I have had a severe sore throat, which is worse when I have been patrolling in a police vehicle.’

‘I have been suffering from headaches and body warming on a daily basis, and no headaches suffered when not at work for four months. I have enjoyed good health until now, and have never suffered the above symptoms before. However, my confidence in the system isn’t helped by the lack of information in relation to the adverse effects.’

The NRPB response was that these were just as likely to be stress-related symptoms, a sentiment subsequently repeated on a ‘You and Yours’ programme in 2004 by Manchester police authority.

Why? In 2001, Barrie Trower predicted that ‘within a short space of time, maybe 0 to 2 years, we will have roughly 310 officers reporting sick from using TETRA. Of those 30 will be cause for concern for possible future illness, and of those there will be a few cancers.’

In reply, a Home Office statement to a Carlton TV programme entitled ‘Catch-22’ (because the Home Office has already sold off the old police frequencies to the mobile phone operators, so they can’t go forward and they can’t go back) said:

‘Neither the Home Office or individual forces would endanger officers health by introducing dangerous equipment. As part of our research programme we are settting up extensive health monitoring studies of Airwave users. Proposals have been received and are now being discussed with police organisations and scientific experts. We are also keen to ensure that users of the Airwave service have the opportunity to put their questions to recognised independent experts in the field. That is why the Home Office and PITO are holding a series of health and safety workshops for police officers. Independent scientists will be on hand to answer officers questions about Tetra and reassure officers by addressing a number of Tetra “myths”.’

Well, both Gerard Hyland and Barrie Trower are recognised and independent experts, but they of course will not be selected. So who is deciding which scientific opinions are to be promoted, and indeed what is a myth to be denied? The NRPB accused Barrie Trower of being selective in his use of scientific studies, but every indication is that the Home Office and the NRPB are dismissive of scientific opinion that indicates risk.

For the outcomes of the research intentions, see our current research page and health links page.


Various precautions are presented to users of Airwave. These include such things as where radios are worn, the use of handsets on metal enclosures such as vehicles, avoiding interference with sensitive equipment (including electronic implants), and over-use in other reflective areas, such as reinforced concrete tunnels. There are three primary situations requiring protection:

  1. creating chronic exposure to particular parts of the body

  2. exceeding exposure guidelines (for body heating) through containment of microwaves

  3. endangering other lives through electronic interference betwen TETRA and other equipment.

1: Chronic exposure. Specific absorption rates (SARs) have been measured in theory, demonstrating that with respect to body warming TETRA handsets should be regarded as safe. Whilst this takes no account of cell damage from microwaves, nor especially from pulsed microwaves, handsets are frequently worn in a waist harness, with a hands-free clip on the chest. It has been noted with mobile phones that wired hands-free earpieces can actually conduct exposure to the head. The precaution is on the basis that the head (brain) is vulnerable to exposure behind the ear. Recent studies indicate that men carrying mobile phones at the waist or in their pocket, display over time a 30 per cent reduction in fertility. Carrying handsets on the waist keeps the unit in close proximity to sensitive reproductive organs and the kidneys. Shielding devices, at the very least, are clearly required.

2: Containment. Use of handsets in vehicles without external aerials (eg, in officers’ own cars, unmarked vehicles etc.) should not be allowed, since not only does the metal body relect microwaves back into the vehicle, the glass typically resonates at a frequency that has a similar effect. When combined with the possibility of being equidistant to multiple base stations, and the handset ‘hunting’ vigorously for which station to address, this clearly requires more investigation and guidance. Buildings and structures also contain microwaves (ie, once inside they cannot get out). Tunnels in particular can focus radiation so that it builds up into hotspots and exposure multiplies rapidly. One force has been instructed where not to use TETRA, for this reason.

3: Interference. Airwave handsets have been shown to interfere with a variety of emergency and other equipment. Guidelines are given, for example to even avoid a handset receiving a call when such interference may arise (eg, at an RTA, or a medical emergency, or in a hospital).

Electro sensitivity. Finally, there is the issue of police personnel who are ‘electro-sensitive (or hypersensitive)’. This is a recognised condition (though not well-accepted in the UK medical services), for which employers should bear responsibility of care. Obliging employees to use equipment that they find in any way debilitating, whilst not knowing if that debilitation is progressive or harmful in the longer term, will no doubt be tested in due course. But it is known that people living near TETRA base stations do suffer this condition for the first time with the implementation of Airwave, and it does appear to be what the immediate effect in Lancashire was.

Updated: November 2004

 Read your Summer 2004 PITO news yet? And the bit about how Airwave saved the day at the Madrid bombing, at the Boscastle flash floods, and at the Olympic Games? These tales are told in regional police newspapers too, but they misrepresent the truth. If these stories from O2 Airwave are being believed by your employers, what else are they believing that is untrue? O2 Airwave for the truth.

 Lancashire: second police death attributed to use of TETRA

 Police deaths attributed to use of TETRA

 Police radio system led to officer’s fatal cancer, family fears,
(Daily Telegraph, 20 July 2004)

 More news: three Leicester officers with oesophageal tumours; two dead. And two throat cancers in the Lancashire force.

 Read this official response to these statistically highly unlikely events.

 TETRA: A Critical Overview into the Death of Officer Neil Dring

Duty of care

Since the above remarks were made by the various parties, employment law has changed. From August 2004, employers will have a duty of care to ensure, for the first time, that employees are protected from non-ionising radiation. The ICNIRP standards, of course, apply, and most employers will be unlikely to be able to do more than read the leaflets on equipment stating its compliance. You can see our pages on why ICNIRP and thermal effects assessment are inadequate, and the complexity of radiation patterns in reality. Remember, for our police officers there is an issue of masts at police stations (or indeed at home), as well as use of handsets, the expectation that they be taken home as well.

One feature emerging in the police statements is one of the importance of Airwave in officer health and safety. Apart from the cruel irony, it seems never to have occurred before, that use of the old VHF held quite the same responsibility. This Dorset letter of reassurance shows remarkable naivete. Knowing what you do now, would you ask O2 Airwave if TETRA is safe? Officially, of course, it is fully tested, and officially no-one ever reports adverse symptoms. Including Lancashire, Norfolk, North Yorkshire (all firmly on the record), and residents just about everywhere. But then if you are told that all the thousands of people affected are imagining it ... well, then there is nothing going on, is there? And why is this any different from praising asbestos for fire protection?

 See also: TETRA and the police; Police links; and Police say ...

 An information and warning leaflet for police users

unsightly but harmless? Unsightly but harmless? Is that all there is to be concerned about? 50,000 mobile masts in the UK may be more than we can take. And TETRA has special concerns of its own.

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