Monday, December 30, 2013

Are mobile phone towers a health hazard? - YES

Currently, there are more than 90 crore cell ...

Currently, there are more than 90 crore cell phone subscribers and over five lakh cell phone towers. Cell operators are allowed to transmit 20W of power per carrier from a single cell tower antenna. One operator may have four-six carrier frequencies and there may be two-four operators on the same roof top or tower. Thus, total transmitted power may be 100 to 400W. On May 31, 2011, WHO (World Health Organisation) reported, “The electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Class 2B)”. The Interphone study released in May 2010 reported 5,117 brain tumour cases and stated that people who use cell phones for 30 minutes per day over a duration of eight-ten, have doubled to quadrupled chances of getting brain tumour, and that's why it was classified as Class 2B. Use of cell phones is a personal choice, but what about people who live in the vicinity of cell towers? They are exposed to the radiation 24x7. Cell operators claim that tower radiation is less intense than the sun’s rays, but tower radiation is continuous and different in the way it impacts the body.

The Bio-Initiative Reports of 2007 and 2012 have proposed a safe radiation density of 1 milliWatt/m{+2} for outdoor, cumulative radiofrequency (RF) exposure and 0.1 milliWatt/m{+2} for indoor, cumulative RF exposure.

Adverse health effects occur within a few years of continuous exposure at 1 milliWatt/m{+2}. The most common complaints are: sleep disorder, headache, irritability, memory loss, depression, hearing loss, joint problems. More severe reactions include seizures, cardiovascular problems, miscarriage, irreversible infertility, and cancer.

An expert group formed by Environment Ministry, India, submitted its report in October 2011 on “Impacts of communication towers on Wildlife including Birds and Bees”. They cited 919 scientific/technical references and mentioned that 593 papers reported adverse effect, 130 papers reported no effect, and 196 papers reported inconclusive or neutral effect.

The people must convince policy makers to adopt stricter radiation norms of less than 1 milliWatt/m{+2}. This will compel the operators to reduce power transmitted to 1-2W. This will reduce the coverage range. The solution is to have more cell towers with lesser transmitted power. Each tower may cost Rs 15 lakh; so, if the number of towers is increased by 5 lakh, the additional cost will be Rs 75,000 crore. To save this cost, cell operators keep saying that there is no concrete evidence of health hazards. However, this cost can be recovered in three years by increasing per minute usage charges by just 5 paise, as mentioned in my report to the Telecom Secretary in December 2010.

(The author is Professor, Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay.)
Also read: Are mobile phone towers a health hazard? - NO