More mobile towers essential to reduce cellphone radiation. Here’s how

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Updated: May 3, 2016 7:55:18 AM

Better signal reduces electric and magnetic field (EMF) exposure, improves optimal functioning of mobile phones

Better signal reduces electric and magnetic field (EMF) exposure, improves optimal functioning of mobile phonesBetter signal reduces electric and magnetic field (EMF) exposure, improves optimal functioning of mobile phones

Recently, the capital city witnessed a unique conference in IIT Delhi, conducted jointly by Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC), Grace Cancer Foundation, Health Environment Foundation and IIT Delhi. The event featured many domestic and international experts make interesting presentations on the health implications, if any, of electromagnetic emissions (EMF, commonly referred to as radiation) from mobile antennas (installed on towers). It was a great event; however, here we are not attempting a summary of the proceedings, but merely highlighting a few facts and lauding the real superstar of the conference, the communications & IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

Minister Prasad, in his inaugural address, most passionately exhorted the naysayers (who criticise that not enough has been done for protection from EMF radiation from mobile towers) to talk with well-established facts and scientific evidence instead of emotions, apprehensions and subjective outpourings. He also asked them to understand and appreciate that the WHO has recommended the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection) limits based on experts’ review of over 25,000 research reports and having in-built safety margin of 50 times or 5,000%. Most countries follow WHO/ICNIRP limits. However, the minister pointed out that India follows more stringent, future-proof limits, which are 10 times tighter, with a humongous 50,000% safety margin, not warranted by scientific evidence, but introduced by the government purely as a precautionary measure to help address some unfounded concerns in certain sections of the public.

He rightly demanded to know whether the government should believe the world’s highest body (independent and non-commercial) for healthcare advisory that has advised on the basis of over 25,000 works of scientific evidence or on a few dissonant research findings that are not validated or replicable or peer-reviewed. It is a perfectly reasonable question which should make us pause and reflect. The minister’s speech was an epitome of clarity and brilliance in its espousal of an evidence-based approach and finely set the tone for the discussions during the three-day international conference cum workshop in the scientific environs of IIT Delhi.

When discussing EMF radiation from mobile base stations (towers), one is reminded of our former President, the late APJ Abdul Kalam, who used to lament the negativity and scepticism in the country. The mobile tower EMF situation is one of the unfortunate examples of this. We have EMF exposure control limits that are far more stringent than in most countries. On top of that, we have one of the toughest checking of compliance norms. Instead of being legitimately proud of this, we tend to get lost in a morass of unjustified questioning of our own norms and, more unfortunately, tend to encourage, or at least tolerate, some persons with strong commercial/vested interests who work to create unjustified concern and alarm amongst the unknowing population by spreading misinformation.

An Expert Committee set up by the government, as per the directive of the Allahabad High Court, noted that “on one hand he (the complainant/professor) is spreading misinformation and creating misconceptions and unfounded apprehensions in the minds of the public by sensationalising and blowing out of proportion the effects of EMF radiation. On the other, he is promoting his family’s business on related products (which do follow any national/international standards), thus throwing professional ethics to the winds … the Committee repeatedly requested Prof … … to provide scientific evidence/data in support of his claims. However, he did not provide any and stated that he does not agree with the conclusions of the Committee. He was also given ample opportunity to question the scientific rationale behind the conclusion/observations of the Committee, but he did not.” This demonstrates the lack of credible substance and the mala fide intent behind such complainants’ action.

Clearly, plain, unvarnished facts stare us in the face.

“A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as caused by mobile phone use.” (WHO Factsheet No 193. Reviewed October 2014);

“Using phones in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power.” (WHO FS 193). This obviously supports the fact that more base stations (towers) mean better coverage and hence less EMF radiation exposure from mobile phones;

“Because the exposure to the radio-frequency (RF) fields emitted by mobile phones is generally more than 1,000 times higher than from base stations (towers), and the greater likelihood of any adverse effect being due to handsets, research has almost exclusively been conducted on possible effects of mobile phone exposure.” (WHO). Simply put, a thousand towers is roughly equivalent or less in EMF radiation exposure to one cellphone!

Ostensibly concerned with the misinformation regarding tower EMF radiation, 24 scientists and engineers from IITs and the Indian Institute of Science came together to issue a statement, extracts from which are: “RF radiations (from cellphone towers) … we consider the recommendations of DoT, government of India, to be sensible and based on the international best practices at this point in time … caution should be exercised to avoid ad hoc decisions regarding restrictions on tower locations as long as they meet the stringent guidelines, and to avoid unnecessary panic and fear among citizens.”

Based on the Allahabad High Court Committee, comprising of medical, scientific and engineering experts, the government unambiguously concluded that “after due consideration of the human health concerns on account of EMF radiation recently being raised in public and the report of the Committee, it has been decided that the present prescribed precautionary EMF safe exposure limits are adequate and need no further change at this stage.”

Research is ongoing and must be fully supported. The WHO and ICNIRP are reviewing fresh facts and findings. It is expected that the draft ICNIRP guidelines from the review will be issued for a 90-day public consultation post the ICNIRP conference (May 9-11). India should also participate and contribute robust comments/inputs. This is a golden opportunity for the country to align with global recommendations and best practices.

One could go on and on. However, the available evidence is clear and the conclusions inescapable—that we are following very stringent, future-proof radiation limits, and have no basis to be concerned about possible effects of mobile tower radiation on human health. It is also well-established that towers are the backbone on which mobile communication rests, and that the latter is absolutely essential for Digital India, Smart Cities and the socio-economic development of the country. In such a situation, can we afford to remain silent spectators to ill-informed activists, to peddlers of misinformation and to vested interests with clear commercial agenda who aim to profit by creating panic and fear in minds of the innocent public and harm the progress of the nation? Surely, not. Rather, as affected citizens and consumers, we need to arise and ensure we have enough towers around us, not only to guarantee optimal functioning of our mobile phones, but, more importantly, reduce the EMF exposure from phones to the designed low levels. Only then can we realise our vision of Broadband for All, Digital India and Smart Cities.

The author is honorary fellow of the IET, London, and president, Broadband India Forum.

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