Radiation hazards from mobile handsets

It is estimated that
2 out of 3 humans in the world use mobile phones. There are over 4 billion
mobile phone subscribers the world over while the global population has just
crossed 6 billion mark. Even considering that many of the subscribers will be
multiple handset users there are over 3 billion users for sure. India is
world’s second largest market by customer base behind China with over 880
million subscribers on record of which at least 550-600 million are unique and
active subscribers. To service these subscribers there are over 500,000 BTS
units across India. Subscribers, irrespective of the service provider or the
handset brand are equivocal in acknowledging the benefits of mobile telephony
and how these have changed their lives for good.

However, scientists
have started sounding warnings about the hazards posed to human health by the
Electro-Magnetic Radiation (EM Radiation) from mobile handsets and Towers/BTS
units. Whereas those 500,000 towers are increasing the average ambient EM
Radiation level, the Radiation from handset is personal as the device is close
to the user’s body-mainly head and upper limbs. Scientists and researchers
opine that EM Radiation is carcinogenic and that it can cause cancer or brain
tumour.There are feelings and perceptions that high usage of mobile phone could
cause sleep loss or hypertension. Some believe that the ill effects are more
likely in case of children and expecting mothers. Naturally therefore the
scientific community and Organizations working in the public health domain are
quite concerned about the increasing EM hazards and want Governments to set up
stringent controls on permitting usage of Telecom equipment including mobile

Not surprisingly, the
Telecom Industry has called these fears totally unfounded. In the opinion of
Cell phone service providers, Equipment suppliers and Handset manufacturers the
EM Radiation risk from Telecom equipment is insignificantly low and that there
is no reason to panic.In support the Industry cites various research findings.
Over last 2 decades many studies have been conducted in Europe to check the
relationship between occurrences of cancer or brain tumor and the EM Radiation
from mobile handset.However, none of these have been able to establish an
unimpeachable co-relation between the two. The surveys and studies could not
come up with statistical analysis that could even link minor ailments like
sleep loss or headache to use of mobile phones. Similarly the multi-geography
IARC (International Agency for Research in Cancer) study did not come up with
any proof of mobile handset radiation causing cancer. Few years ago a 13
country survey was commissioned to again probe the link between human health
and usage of cell phone. This study named Interphone” failed to provide any
evidence of a direct relationship between mobile phone usage and cancer/tumour.
Interphone study covered countries from Europe as well as some countries of the
Asian and Australian continents.

However, there is agreement
between the Public health organizations and Telecom services providers that
scientifically EM Radiations are carcinogenic. The point of disagreement is
related to the intensity of such radiation and the duration of exposure that
can impact health of the user. Service providers are of the opinion that for
normal usage of mobile phone there is no real risk of anything going wrong. In
absence of a concrete proof that links handset radiation to cancer or other
health hazards, scientists have classified mobile radiation under Group
2B-possibly carcinogenic but with no evidence.

Besides the
carcinogenic effects it is seen that long usage of mobile phone leads to
temporary rise of surface temperature of body-ear and lower head. Whereas
surface heating is reversed soon after the call, some scientists feel that the
increase of surface temperature is only symptomatic. The real cause of worry is
the internal tissue heating. Some would like to compare this internal heating
to microwave cooking and in this case the tissues are getting cooked” causing
long term damage. The counter view in this case talks of human body reaction
that triggers faster blood circulation in the affected areas to ensure that the
heat is quickly dissipated not allowing any cooking” to happen. It is also
argued that such temperature rise is just a fraction of a degree-insignificant
compared to the ambient temperature changes in most parts of the world.
Therefore the ill effects are unlikely on this account.

So, where does all
this leave the subscribers-those billions of cell phone users? It is noticed
that most of the users are completely unaware of any health hazards as far as
their handsets are concerned while most do not even know what EM Radiations
are. A small number that is up to date on information have heard of EM
Radiation but are not sure whether the dangers are real. A still smaller
fraction understands the dangers but has resigned to fate as they feel that
mobile phones are an unavoidable necessity and if that be so the attendant risks
are part and parcel of the deal.

In this situation
every one-scientists, health organizations, service providers and better
informed need to work together to spread the awareness about EM Radiation from
mobile handsets and the possible hazards howsoever small. Customers should be
provided guidance in using handsets with Radiation within prescribed limits.
While in US mobile handsets must have Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) below 1.6
watts/kg of body tissue; Europe and most of the emerging economies allow SAR of
up to 2 W/kg. So, selecting a handset that meets these norms is recommended.
Also the radiation effect is inversely proportional to square of distance from
handset and therefore using a mobile phone by keeping it 2-3 cm away from ear
helps. Since the tissue weight in the head of a child or fetus is very small
children and expecting mothers too need to minimize use of mobile phone. Use of
hands-free and devices like cell guard help too. However, above all, user
should reduce talk time as reduced talk time will lessen the overall exposure
to EM Radiation. Cutting down on usage can be a real challenge in India with
world’s lowest tariffs and Indians’ propensity to talk!


By Pradeep Phadke,
CEO, Phadnis Telecom

[email protected]