India is waiting with bated breath for the nationwide coverage of 4G, just like we waited for 3G to change our lives a few years ago. I have been on a 4G SIM for the past couple of weeks, and wherever I can get the signal in Delhi-NCR, the Internet speeds are faster and pages do open up a tad faster.
But there will be something about the new 4G phones that no one will discuss, and that is how these phones with a better signal strength will emit more radiation. Technically, anything that can send out or receive signals emits a certain amount of radiation. Most of it is within limits of human endurance though we are not built to adapt to systemic waves—everything has radiation, but natural radiation is not systemic. This is why sustained exposure to cell phone radiation over long periods of time—like when you carry your smartphone in your pocket the whole day, or leave it under the pillow overnight—could have serious health implications. According to the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC), all phones sold within the US come within the recommended levels of RF energy; still, it suggests that it is better to keep the phone a safe distance away if you “must conduct extended conversations”. The safe distance suggested is between 5mm and 25mm. So, keeping the phone next to your ear is certainly not recommended.
This May, 190 scientists from 39 nations requested the United Nations, UN member states and the World Health Organisation to adopt more protective exposure guidelines for electromagnetic fields (EMF) and wireless technology in the face of increasing evidence of risk. “These exposures are a rapidly growing form of environmental pollution worldwide,” they said. This comes in the wake of legal battles in many parts of the world asking mobile phone manufacturers to display cigarette-like health warning on their packaging.
The FCC, meanwhile, says there is no basis on which to establish a different safety threshold than our current requirements, even though it is monitoring all developments. Interestingly, it suggests the use of an earpiece or headset to reduce exposure if you cannot increase the distance between your phone and your body. Or, it wants users to “consider texting rather than talking”. And these suggestions do not underline a lot of confidence in the harmlessness of wireless devices.
Pranav Poddar, director of radiation management firm Environics, says the bigger issue here is that we do not know if there are long-term effects to exposure to this kind of radiation, and that is because wireless phones have not
been there for long. “We are still not sure if this exposure leads to cancer in humans, but it has been proven that radiation leads to increased stress levels and decreased immunity,” says Poddar, whose firm has been fixing natural
radiation issues across the country for many years. The disclaimer here is that Poddar’s firm also manufactures
patches that can “reduce the harmful effects” of radiation from wireless devices by altering the nature of these radiations. Poddar says it is not possible to reduce or stop radiation—both natural and man-made—but it is possible to reduce its impact. His small Envirochip solution is priced between Rs 500 and Rs 1,100 depending on which device you want to use it for.
Experts suggest that the phone is better kept on the table next to you instead of your pocket whenever you can help it. If you keep your present phone a foot away, double that distance when you shift to a new 4G-enabled phone which will have better signal strength. Part of the panel of scientists who moved the UN, Martin Blank of Columbia University wants us to reduce exposure by establishing more protective guidelines. Others like Joel Moskowitz of University of California, Berkeley, are concerned that guidelines set exposure standards for high-intensity, short-term, tissue-heating thresholds, while not really protecting users from “low-intensity, chronic exposures common today”.
It might take years for the world to accept guidelines for mobile phones and it seems unlikely that we will be able to stop using cell phones. But we can sure set some rules of engagement ourselves and ensure that our phone is a safe distance away whenever possible. Use the speakerphone option or a earphone as much as possible and certainly don’t take your phone to bed.
Also, remember that wireless routers and laptops too emit radiation and often at larger levels; so, switch them off when not needed.