Mobile Phone, Tower Radiation: Is it all Hype?

By Anusha Ashwin

Lack of clarity on the difference between ionizing radiation and non ionizing radiation is said to be the cause of widespread radiation fears, however, long-term studies are ongoing, and to date there’s no convincing evidence on the increase in the risk of cancer due to towers and mobile phone radiation. Research on the subject continues.

Citing a study by the World Health Organization involving 30,000 research samples spread over almost half a decade since 1971 Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently emphasized that radiation from mobile towers does not impact human health. He stated that the government in India follows many times stringent norms related to acceptable levels of radiation when compared to the rest of the world.

“The government has stipulated a fine of Rs 10 lakh for violation and imposed a penalty of more than Rs 10 crore till now for exceeding the prescribed limit for radiation from telecom towers,” he said reiterating that no scientific evidence has emerged to demonstrate health hazards due to telecom infrastructure. A number of case have been filed against tower installations is various courts and in a number of those cases rulings have gone in favor of telecom companies.

While every Indian wants better call quality and no call drops but at the same time there is resistance to installation of mobile towers because of radiation fears. To address this “call drop paradox” problem, a number of Indian scientists, including some from famed Indian Institutes of Technology in the country have expressed support in underlining that radio-frequency radiations from mobile towers are non-ionizing electromagnetic radiations and they can’t break chemical bonds or cause ionization in the human body.

At a recent brainstorming conference at Dehradun held in February 2016, leading doctors and telecom experts discussed about scientific facts pertaining to electromagnetic radio frequency (EMF), rejecting any relation between mobile tower radiation and cancer or other health hazards.

Denying any link between EMF emissions and human health, a leading panel of experts at the conference that included Dr N Eshwar Chandra, Member Grace Foundation and Member of Indian Radiological and Imaging Association, S S Sirohi, Ex-officio Secretary and Former Member, Telecom Commission, Government Of India and T V Ramachandran, noted telecom expert and President, Broadband India Forum, debunked myths of health concerns due to mobile tower radiation.

Seeking to clarify the truth behind such misplaced concerns, Dr N Eshwar Chandra of the Grace Cancer Foundation said, “So far, there is no scientific data to indicate the existence of cancer risk from mobile tower emissions. Studies done by the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) and other reputed organizations have found no scientific evidence to establish a link between ailments like cancer and infertility and radio frequency (RF) radiation.”

Dr Chandra, one of the doctors who works for the Grace Cancer Foundation — an organization that provides education on early detection of the disease, treatment support and help for the needy — has been leading the fight against cancer and has been researching the issue of mobile tower radiation and human health. Understanding the need to explain why radiation from mobile towers is not harmful, the speakers at the event emphasized that radiation emanating from mobile towers are non-ionizing in nature akin to radio waves and not harmful to human health in any way.

Banishing fears of emissions from mobile towers, noted telecom expert T V Ramachandran said, “Radio frequency radiation from mobile towers and phones is minuscule — one-thousandth to one-millionth of an electronvolt (eV). It means the radiation from mobile towers is lakhs of times weaker than X-rays or UV rays, even visible light. There is absolutely no need to have any concern whatsoever as regards the radio-frequency radiation from mobile towers.”

US FDA has also noted that while RF energy doesn’t ionize particles, large amounts can increase body temperatures and cause tissue damage. Two areas of the body, the eyes and the testes, are particularly vulnerable to RF heating because there is relatively little blood flow in them to carry away excess heat. The fear has been hyped in India and across the globe.

Lack of clarity on the difference between ionizing radiation and non ionizing radiation could be the cause of the myth that has taken root in the consumers’ mind. Although long-term studies are ongoing, to date there’s no convincing evidence on the increase in the risk of cancer due to this.

Counter Arguments 

Blogger Mitra Kisalay, a retired senior citizen, turned social activist, working for the last few years to fight illegal installation of mobile phone tower in residential areas of West Bengal, reasons, “There is a plethora of research linking mobile phone radiation and similar wireless exposures to a long list of illness and diseases, heart attacks, brain tumors, cancer, DNA damage, arthritis, rheumatism, lymphatic diseases, vaginal discharge, leukemia, memory loss, depression, miscarriage, infertility, and sterility. The cell phone industry has obscured the facts about RF radiation through lobbying and manipulating public opinion through its own biased research. The studies revealed that mobile phone radiation is not only dangerous but potentially lethal mobile phones have only been used in high volume for a few years, the long time effects are worrying.”

Inferring from his observations, Kisalay commented, “Our homes are not safe because of Wi-Fi, cordless phones, wireless toys, mobile phones, microwave oven, etc. The contribution can be even greater from mobile towers. Radiation from towers increases with altitude and the first floor rooms facing the tower show 10 times higher radiation than ground floor rooms. The terrace showed 100 times increase in frequency of RF waves. The radiation density reduces with distance from the tower. Concrete walls block radiation to a limited extent, but trees definitely absorb radiation from towers.”

In response to global public and governmental concern, World Health Organization (WHO) had established the International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence of possible adverse health effects from electromagnetic fields. WHO proposed to conduct a formal risk assessment of all studied health outcomes from radiofrequency fields’ exposure by 2016.

In addition, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a WHO specialized agency, has reviewed the carcinogenic potential of radiofrequency fields, as from mobile phones in May 2011. Interphone was therefore initiated in 2000 as an international set of case-control studies in 13 countries around the world focusing on four types of tumors in tissues that most absorb RF energy emitted by mobile phones. The Interphone Study Group published their results in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The paper presents the results of analyses of brain tumor (glioma and meningioma) risk in relation to mobile phone use in all Interphone study centers combined.

Quoting more research evidence, the report by The BioInitiative Working Group emphasized that the 13-country World Health Organization Interphone Final study (2010) produced evidence that mobile phone use at 10 years or longer, with approximately 1,640 hours of cumulative use of a mobile and/or cordless phone approximately doubles glioma risk in adults. Gliomas are aggressive, malignant tumors where the average life-span following diagnosis is about 400 days. Because mobile phones usually are held near the head when being used, the main concern has been whether they might cause or contribute to brain tumors and gliomas.

A study performed by doctors from the German city of Naila monitored 1,000 residents who had lived in an area around two mobile phone towers for 10 years. During the last five years of the study they found that those living within 400 meters of either tower had a newly-diagnosed cancer rate three times higher than those who lived further away.

In India, the issue was first brought to light by Professor Girish Kumar from IIT Mumbai, who has been primarily researching on mobile tower radiation hazards and solutions. In December 2010, Kumar submitted a detailed report on Cell Tower Radiation and its effects on human health to the Department of Telecommunications. He believes that the mobile phone industry is as good as a cigarette industry that claims smoking is injurious to health but around the world people have incurred severe health hazards due to smoking. He says that radiations from mobile towers are worse than smoking as its effects on health is noted after long periods of exposure to radiation.

In the recent years, there have been allegations by environmentalists and health experts across the globe that radiation from mobile towers and phones bring significant damage to the environment and human health. There have also been numerous public objections to the installation of mobile phone transmission facilities because of a fear of cancer induction. Transmission towers are based on the electromagnetic waves, which over prolonged usage have adverse impacts on humans as well as on other fauna.

The adverse effect of electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and communication towers on health of human beings are being documented by researchers.  In 2012, the electromagnetic fields from mobile phones and other sources have been classified as ‘possibly carcinogenic to human’ by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Although a substantial correlation between the two has not been elucidated, arguments and continued research on this topic persist…

Meanwhile, mobile phones continue to rise in adoption and are fast becoming critical to inclusive governance, and digital economy. According to India Telecom Minister, unless there is clear data linking radiation to adverse impact on human health there is no rationale to sabotage and jeopardize digital India initiatives.



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