Is cell phone radiation a health hazard?

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Mumbai:  Worli Sagar in upmarket south Mumbai is home to some of Maharashtra's top politicians. Among them is union Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Residents of this building have demanded that the cell phone tower on top of their buildings be removed fearing that it would be a health hazard.

There may be no proven link so far between Electro Magnetic Radiation (EMR) emitted from cell phone towers to health problems but there are growing concerns about its potential to cause health hazards.

Even experts are saying their radiation levels need to be monitored.

"What I would like to see from the residents is not anxiety but insistence that cell phone operators provide a certification that the EMR levels are within permissible limits done on a within periodic basis," said Dr Jagannath, Senior Oncologist, Leelavati Hospital, Mumbai.

Mumbai has the highest density of cell phone towers in India, many of them erected on towers on top of residential buildings, schools and hospitals.

In the West, as a precautionary measure, towers are built at a height of 30 metres above the building where as in India it's just 2-3 metres.

Radiation levels around cell phone towers in many countries are closely monitored by independent bodies but not so in India.

Dr Girish Kumar has been studying the impact of EMR for the last 15 years.

"Each antenna is transmitting with a gain of approximately 50, so we are looking at 4-5 kilowatts of power being transmitted by these antennas. Microwaves use only 500 watts of power and that too you cook food for just a few minutes. These towers are transmitting 24 hours so you are absorbing radiation 24 hours. The solution is that cell phone towers should transmit one tenth of the power they are currently transmitting," said Dr Girish Kumar, Prof, Electrical Engineering, IIT Mumbai.

Concerns, the Maharashtra government is trying to address by setting up a committee of doctors and scientists from BARC, who will look into the demands to regulate the functioning of cell phone towers.

"From the data we have, there is no substantive evidence to prove that the electromagnetic radiation from these towers is in any way are linked to any health hazards. The government has formed a committee to look into these issues. The committee would have members from the department of health, environment and urban development," said Valsa Nair Singh, Environment Secretary, Maharashtra.

A 2008 report, "Health Hazards and Mobile Phones: An Indian perspective", published in the journal Association of Physicians pointed out that mobile phones may be responsible for a wide variety of health hazards.

Mobile phone risks
Tissue damage due to exposure to high Radio Frequency levels
High daily usage could trigger brain tumours
Fatigue, Nausea and Digestive disturbances
EMR can affect functioning of pacemakers
*Source - Nov 2008, Journal of Association of Physicians of India

In a statement to NDTV, the Cellular Operators Association of India said, "There is no convincing scientific evidence that Radio Frequency signals from wireless networks cause adverse health effects."

Not an argument many are buying.

"Radiation of any kind is bad whether X Ray or Ultra Violet, so until we know what the studies show for sure we should not take a chance," said Captain UC Saxena, Retired GM, Air Safety, Air India.


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