No adverse short- or long-term health effects from emissions, government tells Parliament

The Union government has told Parliament that the exposure limit of radio frequency fields (base station emissions) will be brought down to one-tenth of the existing level from September 1.

This was to have been implemented from April 1. However, on an examination of the impact of the revised Electric and Magnetic Field (EMF) exposure limit on area coverage and exclusion zone, self-certification compliance with the new norms has been extended.

The government’s firm commitment came in response to petitions in High Courts and the Supreme Court on fears of health hazards from mobile tower radiations.

The issue of mobile tower radiations causing cancer has been a cause for concern to people across the country. In the past few months, members of civil society and resident welfare associations across the nation have been opposing the installation of new towers in their localities and questioning the continuance of the existing ones. The government’s move might help to allay some of their fears.

There is a common perception that there is radiation from mobile towers. In reality, radiation is emitted from base stations atop mobile towers and is called radio frequency field (base station emissions).

Not hazardous

To a question in Parliament whether radiation emitted from base stations are hazardous, the government said: “From all evidence accumulated so far, no adverse short or long term health effects have been shown to occur from the RF signals produced by based stations.” In support of its reply, the government quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) in its Fact Sheet No. 304, May 2006 on Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health (Base Stations and Wireless Technologies), which concludes: “Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks caused adverse health effects.” The government also quoted the WHO as recommending that “national authorities should adopt international standards to protect their citizens against adverse levels of RF fields. They should restrict access to areas where exposure limits may be exceeded.”

ICNIRP guidelines

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines of April 1998 say that epidemiological studies on exposed workers and the public have shown no major health effects associated with typical exposure environments. The studies have yielded no convincing evidence that typical exposure levels lead to adverse reproductive outcomes or an increased cancer risk in exposed individuals.

In India, GSM services are being operated at 900 MHz and 1800 MHz frequency band as well as 2100 MHz. For 900 MHz, the permissible power density is 4.5 W/Sqm. In the case of 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz, it is 9 W/Sqm and 10.5 W/Sqm respectively.

The Department of Telecommunications adopted the International EMF norms in 2008 in respect of mobile towers prescribed by the ICNIRP.

As per the ICNIRP’s statement of 2009, the scientific literature published since the 1998 guidelines has provided no evidence of any adverse effect below the basic restrictions and does not necessitate an immediate revision of its guidance for limiting exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields. Therefore, the ICNIRP reconfirms the 1998 basic restriction in the frequency range 100 kHz-300 GHz until further notice.

The government had formed an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on EMF Radiation. In its report, the IMC examined the health-related concerns and indicated that most of the laboratory studies were unable to find a direct link between exposure to radio frequency radiation from mobile towers and health; and the scientific studies as yet have not been able to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship between radio frequency radiation and health. The effect of emission from cell phone towers is not known yet with certainty. However, as a precautionary measure, the IMC recommended reduction of base station emissions to one-tenth of the present limit.

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