The Fools on the hill: the ‘Hermitage antenna’

In the autumn of 2012 a French construction company plans to install an 18metre high television antenna on the top of the hill of l'Hermitage. The hillside whose escarpment dominates the Rhone Valley, is home to some of the greatest vineyards in the world which produce wines based on the Syrah grape. The purpose of the 'Hermitage antenna' is to provide coverage for the transition of tv channels in France to digital. Needless to say locals and wine-lovers around the world are united in their condemnation of such a defacement of this beautiful landscape. The new pylon is to be located at the very heart of La Chapelle vineyard – only 50-meters away from Hermitage Hill’s famed Chapel of St. Christophe ('La Chapelle'), which has been owned by Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné for almost 100 years.

The definition of a 'landmark' is appropriately ambiguous. On the one hand it can mean a building of cultural or historical significance and on the other a conspicuous object in a landscape. The two are rather at opposite ends of the spectrum. Unfortunately, it is inconceivable that a television aerial which rises 18 metres above the ground on top of the hill could be disguised as anything other than it represents. Hilltops having certain exceptional characteristics are always going to be targets for radio broadcasting of one form or another - these might be mobile telephones, radio, and television. It's also quite possible that once an antenna has been sited its usefulness will be attractive to other companies and before long the whole thing will look like a Christmas tree burgeoned with wonderful toys. A TV antenna tower, whether bracketed or self-supporting, is made largely of metal. At a height of 18m above ground it is already visible almost 10 miles away. Perched on the top of a hill with an elevation of 300m it will be visible by anyone in line of sight from almost 40 miles away. All boats passing the along the Rhone, which in 2010 saw a significant increase in traffic equivalent to the levels of the 1980s, would see the mast from miles away - it is hardly the site for a lighthouse.

Objects and buildings are constructed to link the imagination of the viewer to the theme of their appearance as in churches, museums, skyscrapers, statues, advertising hoardings etc. This can even extend to a figure of speech - metonymy - where, for example, 'Hollywood' comes to represent US cinema. A TV antenna oddly has none of these associations - it is simply an eyesore. Strange that something which is a conveyance of something so hugely popular has never established itself in peoples' consciousness as anything other than an object of distaste. The siting of a pylon on the colline de l'Hermitage is a desecration as potent as if it were installed on a Pyramid.

Legend has it that the knight Gaspard de Stérimberg returning home from the Albigensian Crusade was given permission to build a refuge on top of the hill to recover from his ordeals. He lived there as a hermit for his remaining days (hence the name of Hermitage). A chapel was subsequently built in honor of Saint Christopher and is today owned by the negociant Paul Jaboulet Âiné. Saint Christopher is an important saint (although now dropped from the Catholic universal Calendar) and is the patron saint of travellers, ferrymen, mariners, boatmen, sailors and perhaps significantly for Hermitage, fruit dealers and for people who lift and carry (as one might in a harvest). He also works against lightening and hailstorms. Ironically, Christopher could not accept becoming a hermit, and instead he asked if he could help people crossing a dangerous river. He reputedly carried Christ himself.

Wine made on the hillside of Hermitage - an Appellation in its own right since 1937 - is largely made from the Syrah grape but some white wines are produced from Roussane and Marsanne. Louis XIII designated wine from this hill as a 'wine of the court' after being offered a glass during a visit to the area in 1642. The vines grow on the south western slopes of the hillside and are divided into a number of vineyards - Les Bessards, L'Hermite, and La Chapelle on the top of the hill with Le Méal, Les Gréffeiux, Bessards, and Murets to the east. The whole Appellation is 345 acres and produces just under 750,000 bottles each year.

Health risks associated with TV antennas have been studied. According to one such report1 "The communications industry often denies that there could be a problem from radio and TV transmitters, saying that we have had these forms of broadcasting for a long time, without reported health problems. This is not strictly true as can be seen from the results of several studies.2 In 2002 the Human Sciences Department of Lincoln University, New Zealand published the report Health Effects in the vicinity of Radio/TV towers and mobile phone base stations by Dr Neil Cherry O.N.Z.M. It found the following:

that TV towers (amongst other EMR) are risk factors for:
• Cancer across all body organs, especially brain tumour, breast cancer and leukaemia,
• Cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack and heart disease,
• Neurological effects, including sleep disturbance, learning difficulties, senility, depression and suicide.
• Miscarriage, congenital malformation, Sudden Infant Death syndrome, early childhood cancer, especially Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).

The UNESCO World Heritage Site convention, for which l'Hermitage is a candidate, starts in its policy document by citing the following: "Noting that the cultural heritage and the natural heritage are increasingly threatened with destruction not only by the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing social and economic conditions which aggravate the situation with even more formidable phenomena of damage or destruction..." It is odd to contemplate that all of this may take place in a country which may not only recognise the need to preserve its patrimony but significantly the users of the new TV antenna - the media companies within France - are all owned and run by, if not merely wine enthusiasts, nonetheless owners of some of France's greatest estates. For example: TF1 a major French television channel is owned by Martin Bouygues (who with his brother own Château Montrose in Bordeaux). Bernard Arnault (France's richest man3 ) is an investor in Bouygues Construction, he is also the owner with Albert Frère of two of France's greatest wine estates - Château Cheval Blanc and Château d'Yquem. France Télévisions (who claim that 4 out of 10 who watch television watch their channels) is managed by Emmanuelle Guilbart (head of programming): her grand-father was a viticulturist (Chinon). "My colleagues and friends must all consume at least 100 bottles of Chinon each year!".4. M6's Métropole Télévision with a 13.6% nationwide broadcasts such TV gems as Desperate Housewives, Friends and Sex and the City not to mention the x-Factor and Wife Swap is co-owner of the Girondins soccer club of Bordeaux whose President is Jean-Louis Triaud owner of Chateaux Gloria and Saint-Pierre. Le Groupe Figaro, presided over by Serge Dassualt are owners of Château Dassault, St Emilion, France. Vincent Bolloré are owners of Domaine de La Croix in the South of France but in his day job he is head of Direct 8 which claims an audience of 2.3% of French TV audiences. They are partners with Le Monde and Le Figaro. According to their website Bolloré Média they had "reinforced their position in 2010 by acquiring a second chain", Direct Star, a musical channel in the new TNT (Télévision Numérique Terrestre) firmament, which is what this is all about. Albert Frère independent Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Metropole Television SA is also a shareholder in Château Cheval Blanc and Château d'Yquem.

The irony of any antenna construction in this area is that it is not required. If one visits a website5 to determine digital coverage in the region and keys in the zip-code for La Maison Jaboulet - 26600 - this confirmation follows: " Zone de réception : Rhône-Alpes La région Rhône-Alpes est passée à la télé numérique le 15 juin 2011. Depuis le 15 juin 2011, vous devriez recevoir les chaînes TNT. Vous pouvez recevoir la télévision numérique depuis les émetteurs suivants : L'émetteur de Avignon Mont Ventoux - Mont Ventoux." In other words the area already has TNT reception.

Returning to the UNESCO declaration about heritage sites:

" Considering that, in view of the magnitude and gravity of the new dangers threatening them, it is incumbent on the international community as a whole to participate in the protection of the cultural and natural heritage of outstanding universal value, by the granting of collective assistance which, although not taking the place of action by the State concerned, will serve as an efficient complement thereto" - so, with or without an official declaration this is a call to arms.

Please link to this article and raise your voice against the 'Hermitage Antenna'.


  2. Holt was probably among the first to report that cancer could develop faster in a radiofrequency field [Holt 1980].

    Dolk found that there was a significant increase in adult leukaemia, skin and bladder cancer in England with proximity to the frequency modulation (FM) broadcasting tower near Sutton Coldfield [Holt 1997a]. They carried out a second study on 20 high power TV and FM transmitters in Great Britain in order to test the conclusions obtained from Sutton Coldfield. They reported a similar trend for individuals who lived various distances from FM and TV towers, but the effect was less pronounced than in the first study and was not statistically significant [Holt 1997b]. However, this second study had a number of shortcomings and was mainly carried out "to re-assure the public".

    Residents on Lookout Mountain, a residential community that contains numerous radio and TV transmitters that broadcast to the entire Denver metropolitan area, had statistically significant increases in the number of white blood cells that are immune system markers (such as T cells and lymphocytes) [Reif 2005]. This study was a follow up to previous findings, in July 2004, that there were a higher number of residents with brain tumours than would be expected in the area. Bruce Hocking had not found an increase in brain tumour incidence or mortality on ill-health and proximity to TV towers [Hocking 1996]. However, he did find a link with increased childhood leukaemia incidence and mortality, and his findings were replicated in 2007 [Ha 2007]. In an earlier paper, Ha found a significant increase in the incidences of leukaemia and brain cancer in the vicinity of AM radio transmitters [Ha 2003], and Park found higher mortality rates for all cancers and leukaemias, especially among young adults aged under 30 years [Park 2004].

    In studies by Michelozzi (2001, 2002), the researchers found that "The risk of childhood leukaemia was higher than expected up to 6 km from the high-power radio station and there was a significant decline in risk with increasing distance both for male mortality and childhood leukaemia." [Michelozzi 2001, Michelozzi 2002]. Maskarinec also found an increased risk of childhood leukaemia within 2.6 kilometres of radio towers in Hawaii [Maskarinec 1994].

    The incidence of malignant melanoma (skin cancer) has been increasing steadily in many countries since 1960, but the underlying mechanism causing this increase remains elusive. However, it has been linked to the distance to frequency modulation (FM) broadcasting towers.

    In two studies by Hallberg and Johansson the authors showed that melanoma incidence increased with the amount of time the population of 4 different countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the USA) had been exposed to FM broadcasting and was a function of the number of active FM stations at each location, rather than the power density of the transmissions [Hallberg 2002, Hallberg 2005]. The authors suggested that there was a strong association between FM broadcasting at full-body resonant frequencies (85-108 MHz) and increasing melanoma of the skin on the central parts of the body (where it is predominantly found), and induced currents at resonance are likely to be highest.

    The Schwarzenburg radio transmitter in Switzerland was shut down in 1998, and Altpeter and his colleagues did a 'before and after' study on sleep quality and melatonin excretion (a measure of melatonin availability) in nearby residents. They found an improvement in sleep quality and melatonin excretion after the mast ceased broadcasting, depending on the previous level of RF exposure, but only in poor sleepers [Altpeter 2006]. They accepted that there may have been a psychosomatic element in their result.

    People who live near RF transmitters often report sleep problems, which can have significant knock-on effects on health, as sleep recharges the brain, repairs important neuronal connections and helps it organise data. Sleep also gives the cardiovascular system a break and helps damaged cells mend themselves. Sleep deprivation results in a reduced ability to make sense of what is seen. There can be severe drops in visual processing and attention, affecting work efficiency and driving safety, among other aspects of daily living.

    The interaction between RF exposure and sleep problems could explain some of the symptoms experienced by residents living near RF sources.

    Kolodynski & Kolodynska found that school children living near a Radio Location Station in Latvia had memory and attention problems, their reaction time was slower and their motor functions were poor [Kolodynski & Kolodynska 1996].

    A study by Clark showed that there may be a sensitive subgroup of women who react to RF transmissions with a reduction in melatonin levels, especially post menopause [Clark 2007]. As this is such a potent hormone with respect to our health, this deserves further investigation.

    It certainly seems that FM broadcasting may not be as safe as was thought. It is possible that the mixture of transmissions at different frequencies may have different resonance effects on living systems. This may mean that as we add to the quantity of 'electrosmog' that surrounds us and that the interaction of exposures may stress the body's repair mechanisms beyond their ability to cope, resulting in more ill health consequences than any of the exposures would result in if considered separately. 

  3. Forbes  

  4. Mes collègues et amis doivent aussi consommer au moins 100 bouteilles de chinon par an !