As researchers and service operators argue over the possible ill-effects of cell phone towers on fauna and flora, experts call for multi-disciplinary studies
Every time we receive a call on our fancy mobile phones and spend hours talking over it, little do we care to think about the effect the gadget could have on our bodies and the environment as a whole. But while the service operators compete with each other to add more customers to their accounts and put up cell phone towers in every possible corner of the country to expand network coverage, experts feel that it is high time that multi-disciplinary studies should be undertaken to understand the impact of radiation from cell phone towers on the environment.
The issue was taken up at a workshop ‘Cell phones and Towers: Hazards and Solutions’ at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, recently where the participants rued the lack of necessary research in the field even as the industry is expanding by laps and bounds.
“In India, there is not much research on the impact of cell phone towers on birds. Of the 30 papers we examined, 23 said that the towers impacted the birds. There are no studies yet on the impact of tower on the wildlife in protected areas,” Dr. Asad R. Rahmani, director of Bombay Natural History Society, said.
Dr. Rahmani was part of an expert committee appointed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests last year to find out the impact of communication towers on wildlife, including on birds and bees. According to the report, 593 of 919 papers examined showed that there was an impact, 130 papers claimed there was no impact and the remaining 196 papers said it was inconclusive.
“We have recommended that laws should be introduced for the protection of urban flora and fauna from the emerging threats like electro-magnetic radiation,” he said, pointing out that no conclusive evidence has been found to link the emission of radiation from the towers to the disappearing bees. “It is not just one reason. We have to look at various reasons,” he said.
According to a recent research by Dr. Amarjot Dhani, Associate Professor of Lovely Professional University at Jalandhar, usage of cell phones in cars exposes an individual to extremely high health hazards. “In a car, the radiation may be amplified, because car is a metal body, which acts as a Faraday cage where the radiation gets trapped. The impact is heightened with the use of Bluetooth. Drivers exposed to radiation felt sleepy faster,” Dr. Dhani said.
“Power density levels were observed to have increased 80 per cent inside the car with the windows rolled up as compared to outside,” she added.
Rajan Mathews, director general of Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), argued that the conclusions should be based on scientific studies.
“Radiation is affecting not just human beings, but the entire environment,” Girish Kumar, professor at IIT-B, said. “The current exposure safety standards are mainly based on the thermal effects, not on non-thermal effects. This is inadequate as the non-thermal effects are several times more harmful than thermal effects…Temperature of ear lobes increases by one degree Celsius when the cell phone is used continuously for around 20 minutes,” Mr. Kumar said, adding that long and continuous usage of cell phone might lead to ear tumour.
He claimed that important information about cell phone usage is not shared with Indians. “In USA, maximum Specific Absorption Rate limit for cell phones is 1.6Watts/kilogram which is for six minutes. So a person should not use cell phone for more than 18 to 24 minutes per day.”
There was a debate among the telecom company representatives and some doctors and professors about whether there are any ill-effects of the cell phone towers and usage. Mr Kumar said RIM, which produces BlackBerry, has issued instructions to pregnant women and others for the usage of the device.
“The World Health Organisation, too, has acknowledged this. It has stated, ‘International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of WHO, designates cell phones as “possible human carcinogen” [Class 2B]. Found evidence of increase in glioma and acoustic neuroma brain cancer for mobile phone’,” he pointed out and cited the example of Usha Kiran, a housing society at Worli in Mumbai where six cancer cases were found on consecutive floors directly facing the mobile phone towers there.
Mr. Kumar said that though telecom companies adhere to ICNIRP, the international guidelines for power density, the guidelines themselves are not intended to protect the people against biological effects such as cancer, genetic damage, but only from short-term gross heating effects.
Doctors said that they found frequent complaints of dizziness, palpitation of heart, visual disorders, buzzing in the head, altered reflexes, depression and fatigue.
“Some studies have shown that the radiation can damage the DNA and sperms, too,” Mr. Kumar said.