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November 06, 2013
Misconceptions about electromagnetic fields from mobile phone towers and public health

Across the world, mobile telecommunications has been recognised as a driver for speedy socio-economic development of a nation.

The government of India also recognises that the provision of a world class telecommunications infrastructure has significantly contributed to the country’s economic growth. The role of mobile telecommunications as a national growth engine is also exemplified through enhanced access to connectivity, better business productivity and a tool for individual and social empowerment

In India, we already have almost 900 million wireless connections making us the second largest telecom market in the world. The teledensity of the country has risen phenomenally to over 70, meaning 70 out of every 100 people have access to mobile telecommunications in India today. This represents a huge leap in connectivity as compared to 1994, when 8 out of every 1,000 people in the country had a telephone.

But the exponential growth in mobile services has also given rise to concerns with regard to exposure to emissions from telecom towers and mobile phones.

There are many myths which have been escalated by certain sections of the society without understanding and verifying the considerable credible scientific evidence and facts available. Some people say that mobile towers increase the risk of certain alleged health problems. But till date there is absolutely no evidence of this sort having been reported by any credible health governing body including the World Health Organisation (WHO). People say mobile phones are powerful enough to damage your brain which is also untrue as the output of mobile phones is less than 1 Watt which is of no harm to human beings. Also RF emissions from Mobile Base Stations lie in the non-ionizing part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which has no known health hazards. The average level of RF exposure from a base station is well within the guidelines recommended by international agencies of repute such as ICNIRP and IEEE which by themselves are based on the precautionary approach principle. Thus, it is imperative that people be made aware of the true facts amidst all the misinformation and false allegations which are leading to enhanced anxiety and loss of credibility in work that the government and industry has done to address this concern in the public.

In fact, very recently, in its latest advisory on health risks associated with mobile phones and their base stations, both the World Health Organization (WHO) and a French government expert group  ANSES (AgenceNationale De Securite Sanitaire - French Organization for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety) have stated clearly that there is  no health hazard from mobile phone emissions.

The WHO in its advisory dated 20th Sept 2013 has said, “Studies to date provide no indication that environmental exposure to RF (radiofrequency) fields, such as from base stations, increases the risk of cancer or any other disease. Scientists have reported other health effects of using mobile phones including changes in brain activity, reaction times, and sleep patterns. These effects are minor and have no apparent health significance.” The advisory further added that, “Because exposure to the radiofrequency (RF) fields emitted by mobile phones is generally more than a 1000 times higher than from base stations, 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…. In particular, with the recent popularity of mobile phone use among younger people, and therefore a potentially longer lifetime of exposure, WHO has promoted further research on this group and is currently assessing the health impact of RF fields on all studied endpoints.

 In another related development the French government agency ANSES,in its recommendation said – “Biological effects corresponding to generally reversible changes in the inner functioning of the body can thus be observed, as is also found in the case of exposure to different stimuli of everyday life. However, the Agency’s experts were unable to establish any causal link between the biological effects described in cell models, animals or humans, and any possible resulting health effects. Given this evidence, proposing new exposure limits for the general population on health grounds does not seem justified.”

 In India, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), and the cellular industry have taken up the joint exercise to regulate all issues with regard to tower installation and functioning and to allay the unfounded fears about emissions from towers. Apart from complying to the new norms of emissions level to one tenth of the international norms; thereby making Indian EMF exposure standards one of the most stringent in the world, we are also engaged in formulating uniform guidelines for all State governments and local administration for the installation and operation of mobile towers.

The Indian telecom industry is sensitive to the concerns of the people, and has undergone significant transitions and redesigning in the networks, so as to ensure that the revised norms can be implemented. The industry is fully committed to the need to ensure public health, and takes stringent measure to comply to the regulations in this regard. However, any decommissioning/removal of towers due to unfounded concerns on EMF adversely affect the Quality of Standard parameters and the customers in turn, have to bear the inconvenience of poor connectivity and lack of services. We should be able to take decisions on such vital issues based on scientific rationale so as to ensure that the immense benefits of mobile telephony, which has translated into phenomenal development of the socio-economic quotient of the country; does not get undermined due to the fear psychosis caused by half-truths and vested interests.

This technology has in the recent past provided the most significant value addition to the quality of life of the “aam admi” and we all must take measures to facilitate the further expansion of the telecom networks which are moving from voice centric past of 2G to the broadband era of data services through rapid expansion of 4G.



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