Police officers fall ill after using Airwave

The troubled Airwave project to provide police forces with an updated emergency radio system has received a further setback...

The troubled Airwave project to provide police forces with an updated emergency radio system has received a further setback following reports that more than 170 police officers trialling the system complained of feeling unwell after using it.

The figures are based on the results of a questionnaire distributed among officers trialling the system in Lancashire by Steve Edwards, chairman of the Lancashire Police Confederation.

Of the 246 responses Edwards received, 173 - about or about 70% - complained of feelings of nausea, poor sleep patterns and headaches that had either started or got worse since using the system.

Edwards said he had "nagging doubts" about the long-term health risks of the radios, which are made by Motorola and use the European Tetra (Terrestrial Trunked Radio System) standard.

"If any of the studies show that there is a positive health risk we will ask for it to be suspended immediately," he said.

However, Colin Blakemore, who has run safety studies on Airwave for the National Radiological Protection Board and is a member of the Home Office's Tetra Research Management Group, dismissed the findings. "The questionnaire does not provide evidence that Tetra is responsible for these sensations. There is no established evidence at all to show that the Tetra system is unsafe," he said.

A spokesman for O2, the network operator managing the pilot project, denied that the system was unsafe. He said Edwards' questionnaire asked leading questions,

and complained of "sensationalist reporting" in the media. "We would not be part of any project that had health and safety issues," he said.

The digital Airwave network is due to be introduced nationwide by 2005, but the unresolved health fears, including claims that the handsets - which pulse at 17.6Hz - could harm brain tissue, have prompted ministers to review the project.

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