Electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiations from mobile towers - Are they really harmful?

Electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiations from mobile towers - Are they really harmful?

Radiation is a word that can have bells ringing in your ears at the very mention of the word due to news and images from nuclear disasters like Chernobyl and other incidents. So whenever we hear about mobile phones or mobile towers emitting radio frequency radiations, we are worried about their ill-effects on our health as well. In a way, we are equating radiations coming out from cell phones and cell towers to those that we have heard exploded out of Chernobyl and Fukushima. However, is there a need to be so concerned?

Electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiation is the radiant energy released by certain electromagnetic processes. Visible light is an electromagnetic radiation. Other familiar electromagnetic radiations are invisible to the human eye, such as radio waves, infrared light and X-rays. Radiations, which are a part of nuclear explosions are high energy radiations that have frequencies beyond ultraviolet, i.e x-rays, gamma rays, etc. These radiations are referred to as "ionising radiations" and they, in moderate to large doses, can destroy matter or living tissue, thereby causing major damage to humanity, flora and fauna. But our concerns arise when we understand this energy to be synonymous with the ultra weak radio frequency emitted from mobile towers and phones. This is the time fears regarding cell phone radiations spread like an epidemic.

Let us comprehend energy levels in a little more detail. Energy is measured by a unit called as electron Volt or eV to be precise. To have a deep look at the difference, we need to know that ionising radiations like ultraviolet rays have an energy of 100 eV or lesser while X-rays have an energy level around 100 eV to 1 lakh eV. Human beings are enveloped in radiation from all corners. Ionising radiations reach us from space and are also emitted by the radioactive elements that are used on Earth. Even the Sun shining so brightly above us emits radiations but we are comfortable with their energy level. As a rule of thumb, energy levels emitted by cell phones and cell towers is hundreds of times lower. Radiations emitted by mobile phones are standardised under SAR limit or Specific Absorption Rate Limit and almost all phones operate a huge level below this limit. And the cell towers operate at a hundred to thousand times lower radiation levels than cell phones. The World Health Organisation (WHO) noted in 2013 that research has mostly targeted mobile phones and not mobile towers because exposure to electromagnetic frequency fields emitted from towers is a hundred to thousand times weaker than that from mobile phones. Continuing about the amount of energy that various sources of electromagnetic radiations have, visible light is around 1 eV. And those emitted by mobile towers and phones range from one-thousandth to one-millionth part of an eV. 

So, from the above, we can easily infer that radiation coming from cell towers and phones is one-millionth the value of that coming from ionising radiations like X-rays, ultraviolet rays and even normal visible light. This amount of energy cannot even excite electrons inside atoms of matter, let alone damaging the living tissue at all. This energy is called as "non-ionising radiation" and the fact is that the radiations emitted by mobile phones and mobile towers are non-ionising radiations instead of ionising.  

In India, there is a growing apprehension about the effects of EMF radiations emitted by wireless devices. However, in December last year, the Himachal Pradesh High Court dismissed multiple petitions filed in the Court against the setting up of mobile towers citing health concerns. The Himachal Pradesh High Court states, "It is evident from the aforesaid reports that the exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) does not have any notable impact on the health of human beings. Evidently, the studies conducted till date by the two premier organizations, i.e., WHO and SCENIHR go to indicate that despite a large number of studies being carried out in the last two decades to assess the potential health risk on account of emission of EMF, no major adverse health effect has been noticed." The Himachal Pradesh High Court had referred to previous judgements by other High Courts as well as other committees which were formed to look into the matter. Additionally, an Expert Committee comprising of 13 researchers was also set up by Allahabad High Court to understand hazards caused by mobile phone usage. In their detailed 55-page report, they came to a conclusion that EMF radiation from mobile towers and human health cannot be linked. Other courts like Kerala and Gujarat High Court as well as a group of 25 professors from IITs and IISc Bangalore have also concluded through various studies that there is no need to panic about EMF radiations from mobile towers. 

Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, Hon’ble Union Minister, Ministry of Communications and IT, Government of India has also said at a conference held in IIT Delhi, “As responsible citizens, it is our duty to understand the importance of this conference. Misplaced concerns of mobile tower radiation could seriously jeopardise India’s path to greatness as seamless mobility could be affected by such unfounded fears. Thousands of research has been done on the subject and so far there is no conclusive evidence to link mobile tower emissions to human health hazards.” He also added that around 30,000 research samples put forth by the World Health Organization (WHO) since 1971 corroborate that there is no tower radiation impact on human health. The Indian government has actually adopted one of the strictest global safety norms for EMF, which is one tenth of the emission levels (recommended by WHO) followed by most of the countries in the world. The government also closely monitors mobile towers and TERM cells have been established to ensure mobile operators conform to the rules and regulations.

Another issue that people are dramatically worried about is that wireless systems and gadgets cause Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity or EHS in short. They describe various symptoms like headache and fatigue in adults and children along with life threatening issues like pregnancy problems and cancer arising apparently due to prolonged usage of wireless devices. According to these people, wireless devices emit harmful electromagnetic radiations. These wireless channels include mobile phone signals, Wi-Fi routers, Wi-Fi hotspots, tablets, laptops and a slew of other gadgets that we are surrounded by almost all the time. The issue of EHS arose currently when a French court allowed disability allowance to a 39-year old woman who claimed she was experiencing discomforting effects from electromagnetic frequencies of wireless devices. She was ordered to live a life away from the Internet and wireless gadgets. But according to WHO, there is no evident diagnostic criteria for EHS and no scientific studies prove the linkage of EHS symptoms to electromagnetic frequency radiation exposure.

The importance of cellular towers cannot be overstated. We need a more connected India which would help the country grow economically, culturally as well as socially. Without proper provision of these towers, we won't only be detached from each other but from the entire world too. The mobile tower radiations do not cause any harm to human beings. In fact, the term "mobile tower radiation" is grossly misleading, rather calling them "ultra-weak radio frequency emissions from mobile towers" is far more appropriate and far more accurate in every sense.

Confucious, the great Chinese teacher and philosopher once put everything into perspective very precisely and beautifully, "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."

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