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Health Hazards of mobile phones & towers

Er Neeraj Dubey
The mobile phone industry has been one of the fastest growing industries in modern history. At present, India has 875.48 million mobile phone users and nearly 7,36,654 towers which emit electromagnetic radiations. By the end of 2014, this proportion is bound to grow as the access and affordability of mobile phones continues to increase. In the years ahead, an ever-increasing number of people will be exposed for long periods of time to radiation from mobile phones. Mobile phones, by various bio-physical mechanisms, may be responsible for a wide variety of health hazards. This article attempts to present the basic bio-physics of these devices and explain the health hazards of electromagnetic radiation exposure in terms of thermal and non-thermal effects. Wireless telephones are two-way radio transmitters. When a call is made, voice (sound energy) is converted to radiofrequency (RF) waves (electromagnetic energy). Radio waves travel through the atmosphere to the nearest base station and, at the call receiver’s end, waves travel from the base station to the receiver’s wireless phone.  The receiving instrument re-converts radio frequency waves to sound energy and the receiver hears this as voice in the ear piece. In mobile phone technology, there are two main transmission protocols. The Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) was established in 1987 and is the dominant protocol used in India and most European countries. Another protocol, founded by Qualcomm (a USA-based mobile service provider), is the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) standard. It is the major protocol used North America and was introduced in India a few years ago. In India, GSM phones use transmission frequencies in the frequency ranges of 890-915 MHz or 1710-1785 MHz for uplink (handset to base station) and 935-960 MHz or 1805-1880 MHz for downlink (base station to handset). The CDMA phones use frequencies of 824-849 MHz for uplink and 869- 889 MHz for downlink. Additional frequency ranges may be opened in the near future, to accommodate technologies such as the 3G (third generation) protocol. Radio waves are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Like gamma rays, X-rays or visible light, they form a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. These waves are generated by the movement of electrical charges in a conductive metal object (such as a transmitting antenna). Similarly, the waves can also be intercepted, i.e. by a receiving antenna. Each type of radiation has a specific frequency and wavelength, which decides the identity of the waveform. The wavelength (? ) is the distance covered by the wave in one second and the frequency is the number of waves formed per second. The electromagnetic energy absorbed by a unit mass of tissue is known as the specific absorption rate (SAR) and is expressed in watts per kilogram (W/kg) or milli-watts per gram (mW/g). In addition to mobile phones, electromagnetic radiation emission occurs from numerous devices that are frequently encountered by people. These include microwave ovens, radars, industrial heaters, cardiac pacemakers, televisions (especially plasma screens), refrigerators and washing machines, to name a few. The identified whole-body threshold level of exposure in terms of Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is 4 watts per kilogram (4 W/kg). The whole-body human absorption of RF energy varies with the frequency of the RF signal. The most restrictive limits on whole-body exposure are in the frequency range of 30-300 MHz where the human body absorbs RF energy most efficiently. For exposure of the general public to mobile phone radiation, the US FCC (Federal Comm. Commission) limits RF absorption (in terms of SAR) to 1.6 W/kg, averaged over one gram of tissue. The Government  of  India  Department  of Tele-communications (DoT) adopted the guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and released a set of draft guidelines. The salient points from these guidelines are: – 1). It will now be mandatory for handset manufacturers to display the radiation levels on mobile phones through the menu options, making it easier for consumers to know the exact RF levels for each mobile device before purchase. These proposals are being framed by the Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC), which is the technical arm of the DoT. 2). The draft guidelines also propose that children under 16 years of age be discouraged from using mobile  phones, while adding that setting up telecom base stations within the premises of schools and hospitals may be avoided because children and patients are more susceptible to electromagnetic fields. 3). Thus, all wireless phones sold in India will have to follow safety guidelines. Each agency has the authority to take action if a wireless phone produces hazardous levels of RF energy. This implies that Base Station operators will have to conduct an audit and provide certification that they are meeting the prescribed standards. At a later stage TEC may also set up a conformity assessment body (CAB) to measure radiations and provide certifications. Unfortunately, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has opposed the regulation demanding display of SAR values emitted by the handset. Most mobile phone providers give information about the SAR values on the batteries of these phones. Further information can be obtained from their websites, which mention SAR values according to the mobile phone models. People with pacemakers should take some simple precautions to be sure that their cellular phones do not cause a problem. For example, holding the phone to the ear opposite the side of the body where the pacemaker is implanted will add some extra distance between the pacemaker and the phone. And since cellular phones transmit electromagnetic energy whenever they are “on” (even when they are not being used), pacemaker wearers should avoid placing a switched-on phone in close proximity to the pacemaker (i.e. in a shirt pocket). Practicing safe mobile phone usage habits and avoiding excessive use will go a long way in minimizing biological hazards from these devices.
Now a day’s mobile towers of different phone companies are seen in every nook and crannies of our country. Almost all use mobile phones. But how many of us know about the adverse impact of mobile phone and mobile towers on our body and environment. Many scientists after carrying out lot of researches have found that mobile towers emits a lot of electromagnetic radiation which causes different types of diseases like heart disease, leukemia, hypertension, brain tumor, brain cancer. It affects those badly who are living within one kilometer from the tower. Children are the worst victims of this harmful radiation. Even the birds, insects and trees will also be affected. What is more worrying is that almost all the towers have been installed near public places such as schools , colleges, clinics, hospitals and residential apartments by directly violating the rules and norms of the govt. The Govt. should formulate innovative policies for handling this threat and strictly deal with the phone companies for the sake of people’s health & environment.
(The author is Asstt Professor GCET, Jammu)


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