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Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan has directed his ministry's staff to stop granting permits as of today for installing new cellular telephone transmission antennas, and to bar any changes to existing ones.

The move comes after the cellular service providers, according to Erdan, refused to cooperate in establishing an oversight mechanism for the use of such antennas. The cellular service companies, however, have expressed amazement over the minister's action, claiming they have been working recently with the ministry's staff on the issue.

In addition to a building permit, installation of cellphone antennas requires the approval of the ministry official responsible for radiation, Stilian Gelberg, to ensure that the equipment does not exceed permitted radiation levels. About 30,000 cellular antennas have been installed in Israel, with nearly 10,000 new requests filed annually.

Recently the Environmental Protection Ministry has been working to put a monitoring system in place called Guardian Government, which would provide constant and simultaneous oversight of all the cellular antennas in use in the country. The system monitors actual radiation output and verifies whether it is within permitted limits.

A spokesperson for the forum of Israeli cellular service providers said yesterday: "The minister's position is unclear and even puzzling as he should know that the subject of constant monitoring is currently being ironed out with the cellular companies' full cooperation. The companies have worked and are working with full transparency, while maintaining the Environmental Protection Ministry's strict standards."

The Environmental Protection Ministry has unsuccessfully attempted to implement the monitoring system since the beginning of the year. Because it currently lacks the ability to monitor radiation levels and in light of structural changes, Erdan ordered Gelberg to stop issuing new permits and approvals for changes in existing ones, though the ministry acknowledges this may lead to disruption in the transmission of cellphone calls.

Erdan has also ordered an examination as to whether cellular service providers have exceeded permitted radiation levels, and referred the issue of possible violations to his ministry's legal department.

"The refusal of the cellular companies to cooperate," Erdan said yesterday, "only increases the public's justifiable concern that they are concealing information about radiation. I will do everything in my power to make the cellular companies cooperate with us and permit oversight verifying that they are not exceeding approved radiation levels."