iBurst blamed for 'nightmare'
by Kanina Foss
The Star, Johannesburg, Tuesday October 6 2009
Tracey-Lee and Dave McGregor spent nine years building their dream home. Tracey-Lee planted lavender bushes to attract bees and butterflies. In August, the bees upped and left. Then the dream turned into a nightmare.
The McGregors are among Craigavon residents in Joburg objecting to the erection of a broadband tower metres from their homes by service provider iBurst.
It went up 50m from the McGregors' bedroom in August. A few days later, the bees left. Last month the symptoms started.
Tracey-Lee has a painful rash all over her body. "It starts as a hot spot, which looks like ringworm. The next thing you're itching and burning. You get so itchy you want to scratch your flesh off your bones," she says.
The worst part is the nausea. Their 10-year-old son Keegan, who also has rashes, has been off school six days in the past month because of retching. Tracey-Lee is constantly nauseous.
They also get heart palpitations and headaches.
"Keegan has never had headaches in his life. Now he's waking up in the middle of the night with headaches. He's had three episodes of heart palpitations."
Tracey-Lee and Keegan are spending alternate nights at her mother's house to get some relief. "When I'm off the property, the symptoms subside," she says.
Dave adds: "I want to phone the CEO of iBurst and say: 'If this were to happen to your wife and child, what would you do?' He's welcome to move in here for a month and see how he feels."
The McGregors are not alone. Residents of nearby complexes have been getting headaches, insomnia, rashes, fatigue, upset stomachs and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) -- all symptoms mentioned in scientific studies on electrohypersensitivity.
Sabine Hark says: "I've noted that ever since the tower has been up, I battle to fall asleep. I doesn't matter how tired I am. I also wake up in-between."
Betty Ngwenya, who sleeps in a room facing the tower, has had headaches, difficulty breathing and a rash all over her body for three weeks. "My body is itchy. I can't stand in one place, it's very sore."
Just after the tower was erected, Melinda Treki's Alsatian went through a stage of throwing up once a day. The vet couldn't find anything wrong with the dog.
iBurst CEO Jannie van Zyl says he's commissioned an independent company to test electromagnetic radiation levels in the area. If they are found to be above World Health Organisation (WHO) regulations, action will be taken.
But in some countries, WHO regulations have been deemed insufficient. Russia insists on a 2km buffer between towers and residential properties, and New Zealand requires a 500m distance.
Van Zyl says it's necessary to stick to scientific fact.
"I'm not saying science has proved that radiation doesn't have an impact on living tissue, but every study I've read says it's a very complex environment and further studies should be done."
iBurst followed the necessary steps to get the erection of the R2 million tower approved, including notifying all residents living in close proximity, he says -- despite claims by the McGregors and others that they were never informed.
Van Zyl questions why the Craigavon tower is the only one of about 15,000 in South Africa to spark an outcry, and says service providers are being put in a difficult position by consumers wanting better access.
Tracey-Lee sent photographs of her rash to Professor Olle Johansson, a Swedish neuroscientist and electrohypersensitivity expert, and Eileen O'Connor, of the UK Radiation Research Trust. Both say the family's symptoms are consistent with those of others living near electromagnetic radiation.
The McGregors have considered selling the house they planned to retire in. "It's like a nightmare and you don't know if you're ever going to wake up," says Dave.