Are TETRA Waves Dangerous?

Its official: no one seems to know!

After numerous meetings with management, Connect experts and a series of TETRA wave boffins, the Train’s Health and Safety Council are none the wiser about the effects of TETRA waves on the health of our members.

Given that we are mere drivers this is hardly surprising. More worryingly, at a recent TETRA conference organised by LU, the head of LU’s Occupational Health and an eminent expert in the field, brought in for a questions and answers stint, could not give guarantees about the safety of this new technology.

Here’s the science part from a train driver's point of view:

For those who have missed all previous communiqués on this topic, TETRA stands for terrestrial trunked radio. The concerns of our safety reps, and other scientists in the field, centre around what damage may be caused by electromagnet waves emitted by the Connect radio system.

At one end of the electromagnetic spectrum you have the very short waves, namely gamma rays and x-rays and at the other end of the spectrum you have the very long waves, namely radio, TV and waves from overhead power cables.

The electromagnetic spectrum is ordered so that at the short wave end you have the gamma rays, x-rays, ultra-violet, visible light, infra red, microwaves, radar, TV and radio in that order. The ultra-violet and above are known as ionising waves and there is no argument as to the damage they can cause when entering the body. Below ultraviolet is said to be non-ionising and this is where arguments occur between scientists as to whether damage can occur inside the human body through exposure to these waves. The microwaves used in the TETRA system are in the non-ionising section of the electromagnetic spectrum.

At RMT Head Office last week, a presentation was given for our members that raised safety concerns about the TETRA system and effects on the body: the concerns included, degenerative eye problems, fertility problems, carcinogenic effects and fatigue, among others.

At the LU TETRA Conference, the language used by their Occupation Health representative was ambiguous to say the least: words such as ‘unlikely’ and ‘uncertainty’ seemed to crop up far too often. The view expressed by the expert at the LU Conference, David Coggan, was that he was confident that there was nothing to worry about. It has to be said though that even he could not give a 100% guarantee about safety.

A word of caution has to be added here: the experts in the field cannot always be trusted: it wasn’t that long ago that scientists were claiming there were no long term health effects from asbestos, and even smoking was good for you, and look what happened to the Marlboro Man!

Others trying to play down the effects of TETRA waves have argued that they are no more harmful than mobile phones. Well use of your mobile phone is an optional choice; use of your train radio isn’t!

The only constant theme is that everyone seems agreed that any harmful effects would take years to manifest themselves. It would therefore take longitudinal studies over periods of time to establish the truth. In the meantime, it would appear that we have become the TETRA ‘lab-rats!’ One thing is sure, monitoring has to start now to examine the effects of the system, if any, on our members.

Obviously, we are just train drivers and not experts. For this reason we will be asking RMT Head Office to pick up the ball from this point on and to get experts in the field to take up our concerns with LU. We will add some links for further reading and keep you posted of any developments.

Check out the TetraWatch website