Officials from the Government’s telecommunication department and major cell phone operators have denied the findings of a recent BioInitiative report that declared that India’s prescribed standards for radiation emissions from cell phone towers were higher than the safety limit. There has been a growing concern about the hazards of exposure to electromagnetic radiation. An interview was held with Neha Kumar, the director of NESA, which is a firm that designs radiation measurement, analysis and shielding equipment. Neha had spent 3 years studying the radiation emitted from mobile phones and has worked with a lot of people who have been affected by exposure to cell phone/tower radiation for a long period of time, including experts, researchers, doctors and patients.
Electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell phones and towers affect health in a negative way. These health consequences are of two types: thermal and non-thermal. Thermal effects are associated with the heat that is felt when you hold the cell phone near your ear for long a duration. What are more dangerous are the non-thermal effects on the cells, genes and the DNA. Headaches, sleep disturbance, lack of concentration, memory loss, tinnitus and increased risk of brain cancer are caused by an excessive use of cell phones. For people having mobile towers in their neighborhoods, they have greater chances of being affected by severe headaches, sleep disturbance, constant body pain, memory problems, joint pains, etc. More dangerous health problems include infertility, miscarriage, neurodegenerative disorders, cancer and cardiac problems.
Mobile radiations are more harmful for children as their immune system is still in process of being developed and radiation penetrates their thinner skulls deeper. Being far more exposed to radiation than others, women are at a risk of suffering breast and ovarian cancer, hormonal imbalances and miscarriages.
A strong correlation has been found between health problems and exposure to microwaves from cell phones/towers by national and international studies. Having more than 200 references from peer reviewed publications, the Department of Telecommunications (DOT), India received a report from Prof. Girish Kumar of IIT Bombay.
A few tips on limiting radiation from cell phones are:
- Use your mobile phone for a short time and change sides while talking for long durations. Try to converse through text messages or IM, most of the time.
- Instead of using cell phones, use landlines.
- It is better to listen to calls through a speaker phone or earphones while keeping the cell phone at least 1 feet away from you.
- Keep your cell phones away from yourself even when you are not using it because they emit radiation of atleast 1 pulse/minute while trying to communicate with the base station. It should not be kept in the pocket or under the pillow.
- Cell phones with lower SAR values (Specific Absorption Rate) should be used. The procedure of finding the SAR value of a phone involves searching for <Company Name> <Model No.> SAR. A low SAR value is less dangerous. Phones with SAR value -0.2-0.8 W/Kg are ideal.
No standards for safe exposure from cell phones/towers were adopted by the Indian government till 2009. The radiation standards stated by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) of 1998 were adopted by India in 2009. Though, ICNIRP guideline is not up to date because it only takes into account the short term heating effects and not the biological effects, including genetic damage and cancer caused from exposure over a long period. Furthermore, these safety standards took into consideration an exposure of 6 minutes per day and missed out on people living near cell towers.
A report by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on January 2011 talked about the health hazards and called for a reduction in the exposure to one-tenth of that recommended by ICNIRP. Unfortunately, that has not been put into practice uptill now.
There are certain things that one can do if he/she lives near a mobile tower. The operators can be requested to reduce the power transmission or adjust the direction of the antenna to prevent any house from falling in the main beam of the antenna. Radiation Shielding devices are also a possible solution.
To detect whether you are being harmed by the electromagnetic radiation, Cell Tower Radiation Detector, DETEX 189 is a simple, cheap and an easy way of doing so, as conveyed by NESA. Keeping in view the health recommendations, this is suggested by the Bioinitiative group,. To help people know whether they are living in a safe or a dangerous area, it has an LED indicator along with a buzzer. At the moment, no email id or authority is present in India where one can register their complaints. But, writing to TUG/DOT/TRAI is one option that is available for everyone.
To counter these harmful effects, fibre optic solution is being adopted worldwide. In addition to this, people are also going for low power transmitting antennas, in-building solutions and repeaters. Window Shielding Film, Shielding Curtains and Radiation Shield units are examples of radiation shielding solutions that can help people living in high radiation areas.