Are you afraid that the cell phone tower near your house or office is affecting your health? Now the government is coming up with a portal to empower citizens to check for themselves the radiation levels of towers. “When Taransanchar portal is launched, people will be able to check information about any cell phone towers located in their areas. They will be able to find out their radiation levels too,” said J.S. Deepak, Secretary, Department of Telecommunications. He said that the government is also thinking of a public awareness drive to alleviate fears in the minds of people regarding health hazards of cell phone tower radiation.

“About 25,000 studies have been conducted internationally to find if there is any negative health impact of cell phone tower radiation but no connection has been found between any diseases and the radiation. Activists have gone to court, seeking relief against cell phone towers in their areas. But, all the 16 judgements in different courts in our country have concluded that mobile tower radiation doesn’t harm human health,” he said.

The World Health Organisation too has made a similar comment this year on the electromagnetic field of cell phone towers. “Current evidence doesn’t confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic field,” it has said. “The common myth is that radio frequency radiation is harmful. But we forget that every gadget around us radiates, including TVs, refrigerators, microwave ovens. ICNIRP, which is a part of the international EMF project launched by WHO, has assessed data on this matter,” said Dr R M Chaturvedi, Deputy Director General (CS), Department of Telecommunications. 

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is an independent organisation which “provides scientific advice and guidance on the health and environmental effects of non-ionizing radiation (NIR) to protect people and the environment from detrimental NIR exposure. NIR refers to electromagnetic radiation such as ultraviolet, light, infrared, and radiowaves, and mechanical waves such as infra- and ultrasound. In daily life, common sources of NIR include the sun, household electrical appliances, mobile phones, Wi-Fi, and microwave ovens.” This is how the organisation has described itself on its official webpage.

Over 50 countries have adopted the ICNIRP guidelines till date, to translate them into their regulatory framework. “In fact, India is stricter than ICNIRP on the electromagnetic radiation from towers. The radiation level allowed in India is 500 times less than the threshold norm,” Chaturvedi said.

Fear has been looming over the harmful effects of cell phone tower radiation on human health. People have claimed that the towers radiating electromagnetic waves too close to their houses have caused severe health impairment and diseases like cancer. 

‘The common myth is that radio frequency radiation is harmful. But we forget that every important gadget around us radiates. It may be the TV, the refrigerator, the microwave oven.

“If radiation from cell phones or cell phone towers would have caused cancer, we should have seen a rise in the number of brain tumour patients globally. There is no such trend. What does it tell us?” asked Dr Aniruddha Kohli, head of radiology at the city’s reputed Breach Candy Hospital. “It is a perpetuating myth that there is a rise in people suffering from cancer due to cell phone tower radiation. As diagnostic methods improve, there is detection of more cancer cases. But the individual variations too have to be taken into consideration to understand,” he said.

While talking about the effects of cell phones and cell phone towers, Dr Suresh Attili from Grace Cancer Research Foundation said, “You have to understand that the low level electro-magnetic field has two kinds of effects: biological effect and health hazard. Biological effects are measurable responses to a stimulus or to a change in the environment, and are not necessarily harmful. For example, the phone heats during conversation. You put it away till it cools down, and then use it again. Whereas health hazards are changes that are irreversible and stress the system for a long period of time.” 

Check your phone for its radiation figure

Dr Attili told this correspondent a simple method to check the level of radiation emitted by every phone. Just “Type *#07# on the device. You will see the radiation level of the phone. The regulatory information gives out Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of the head and body. For the head, SAR of more than 1.6 is dangerous. Anything below 1 is safe. For the body, SAR above 5 is dangerous. But today, we have no such phones which have SAR more than 5. Our regulatory norms prescribe that SAR has to be less than 2 for the body.”

“Research till now has found that radiation from cell phone towers and cell phones cannot cause infertility or cancer,” he added.

The government plans to have five lakh cell phone towers in the country for seamless connectivity in the urban, rural and tribal areas. “Mobile connectivity is important for the growth of GDP. If we say that we want 24-hour connectivity, broadband, good network in every room of our house, and then we say that we do not want towers in residential areas, it is self-contradictory,” Deepak said.

“Our standards on electromagnetic radiation from mobile towers are very strict. In fact, they are stricter than the international standards. These limits on radiation are strongly enforced. Random tests and surprise checks are carried out routinely by the TERM teams. There is stiff penalty for each transgression. According to the Indian Telegraph Act, the violators have to pay Rs 10 Lakh for each transgression. Since the past seven-eight years, we have hardly found any towers radiating above the norms,” he added.

Shivendra Bhatnagar, senior Deputy Director General of TERM said that there are 12,25,821 BTS towers across the country. Of them, 3,10,869 have been tested by this June. Of these, 192 were found to have flouted norms. Of the 192, 131 are in the State of Maharashtra alone. The number of BTS towers in Maharashtra is 1,47,858. More than 31,000 of them have been tested.

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