IIT professor and international expert say fear around mobile technology is unscientific
There seems to be no end to the debate on the impact of radiation from cell phones and cell phone towers on human health. The launch of a book, “Mobile Phones and Public Health - Myths and Reality”, edited by a professor of IIT-Kanpur, seems to have intensified the debate further. Those who spoke at the book launch on December 5 included Michael Repacholi, formerly with World Health Organization’s (WHO's) Radiation and Environmental Health Unit, and Ravi V S Prasad, editor of the book, aggressively put across the point that mobile technology cannot have health hazards. They questioned the methodology of scientific studies done so far to indicate a relation between mobiles and adverse health conditions. The book also says that the fear around mobile technology does not have scientific basis.
Independent researchers, however, contest the view and point to the reasons why the technology can be questioned.
Repacholi, who is also chairperson-emeritus of International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), said: “From all the high quality studies that have been published and the reviews of all the studies by public health authorities, it has not been established that using mobile phones or towers are associated with any health risk.” Referring to the two studies that have been quoted widely and used by WHO to suggest precautions to concerned users, he said the studies were biased.
"The methodology is very problematic. They asked cancer patients about their use of mobiles. A patient is obviously biased. There was no comparison with people not affected by cancer," he said. The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the WHO lists radiation from mobile in Group 2B. The group consists of agents which are "possibly carcinogenic to humans". Repacholi says that this classification is not relevant as Group 2B has agents which have not been proven to be not carcinogenic. "Group 2B does not mean that a listed agent is carcinogenic. A negative cannot be proved. The list even includes things like pickle because no study has been done to prove that it is not carcinogenic," said Repacholi.
Prasad said that the radiation level permitted by Indian government is much lower than the WHO norms. "WHO's permitted limit is 4.5-9 megahertz (MHz) of frequency. India, on the other hand, permits only 0.45-0.9, which is one tenth of the WHO norms. There is no need to feel scared at all," said Prasad. Repacholi said that the move to make the norm more stringent was because of public pressure, and does not have any scientific basis.
However, both of them accepted that a long-term study is needed to establish whether any radiation from cell phone and mobile towers pose health risks or not. Also, there is no study regarding lifestyle changes. Thus, even if health risks have not been established, they have not been ruled out either in absence of studies that include life style changes.
Last year, increasing cancer cases near newly erected mobile towers created a scare in Jaipur. On February 24, last year, two people filed a petition in the Rajasthan High Court. They urged the court to take action against cell phone service providers and the regulatory authorities.
"Radiation affects all life forms. It is established that their normal behaviour gets affected. Usage of a mobile, putting it close to the ear, affects one's brain.” said Y K Vijay, an expert in mobile radiation and professor of physics at the University of Rajasthan and director of the Centre for Development of Physics and Education. He said exposure to frequency is also dependent of the density of mobile phones in use. “As the number of mobiles has increased tremendously in the past decade, all of us are exposed to more radiation. It is not enough to know radiation exposure from individual mobile phones and tower," he added. Vijay said that in India it is difficult to implement simple practices like making a radius of 20 metre around a tower a no-man's land.
He added that there can be no one particular safe limit for all humans. "Everyone has different sensitivity to radiation. That has to be decided at individual level. There is a device in the market that calculates radiation one is exposed to. People could buy that and see if they are exposed to more radiation than their body can take," said Vijay. He said we should not stop using mobiles, but learn to manage and keep the health hazards at bay.
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