Italy to pass electromagnetic radiation law

New decree expected to have wide impact on electrical, telecommunications, industries

An Italian decree on electromagnetic fields (EMF) that is expected to be passed by the prime minister in the coming days looks set to cause a major overhaul in the distribution of power lines and siting of television and mobile telephone transmitters around the country.

The decree on "the protection from exposure to electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields" will be Italy's first comprehensive set of EMF rules. Precise limits on the allowable levels of radiation are to be set later, and the location of television transmitters will be decided by each region according to the principle of "respect for public health and environmental compatibility" set out in the new law.

According to one estimate, there are 60,000 sources of EMF in Italy. In a recent reply to a parliamentary question, junior research minister Giuseppe Tognon said that: "In the light of existing research, ... there are no scientific indications of any carcinogenic effects due to exposure to EMF." This, however, failed to satisfy the sceptics.

Despite a lack of damning scientific evidence, calls for caution have gained increasing support in the past few months. An interministerial working group was set up last August to discuss the problem. Officials from the environment, health and telecommunications ministries prepared a draft text of the new law which was handed to the cabinet for approval on 29 October, but a war of words between the various parties involved has been raging since then.

Italy's refounded Communist Party (RC), which supports the government, issued its own proposals on 28 January to protest against the cabinet's delay in passing the new law. According to reports in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, opposition by Italy's main electricity supplier, Enel, is one of the main reasons for the delay. Enel would be heavily hit by the new provisions and is supported at government level by the industry ministry.

Article 7 of the new law, which provides that EMF sources near homes or schools will have to be moved "at the owners' cost," is particularly controversial. It has been estimated that relocating some existing power stations and power lines could cost Enel as much as IL10,000bn (Ecu5.1bn). Enel's chairman Chicco Testa, a former member of Italy's Green Party, has asked for the issue to be decided at a pan-European level, so that "public health is safeguarded without damaging Italian industries and consumers".

However, the environment ministry and others appear determined to get the law through. In the Monte Mario district of Rome, a residential area with an extremely high density of electrical, television and telephone installations, local councillors held a public session on 27 January to announce their intention to start removing illegal transmitters from their territory.

Follow Up:
Italian environment ministry, tel: +39 6 70361.

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