08 january 2013
New Delhi, India.
Your fear about excessive use of mobile phones causing serious health problems was not illfounded after all. Months after World Health Organization classified radiofrequency electromagnetic field (EMF) as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’, another global report has redflagged the use of such technology, citing health risks, including growth of brain tumour and loss of fertility in men.
BioInitiative 2012 –which is a collaborative effort by 29 authors from 10 countries, including the chair of the Russian national committee on non–ionizing radiation, a senior adviser to the European Environmental Agency and two professors from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi – calls for a review of public safety limits.
It says "bio–effects" occur in the first few minutes of use at levels associated with cell and cordless phone use. These can also take effect after just minutes of exposure to mobile phone masts or cell towers that produce wholebody exposure. Infants, children, elderly, those with preexisting chronic diseases and those with developed electrical sensitivity have been described as being the ‘sensitive population’ that should have the least exposure to this radiation.
"Many of these bio–effects can reasonably be presumed to result in adverse health effects if the exposures are prolonged and chronic... they interfere with normal body processes, prevent the body from healing damaged DNA (and) produce immune system imbalances, metabolic disruption and low resilience to disease," the report says.
"Essentially, body processes can eventually be disabled by incessant external stresses (from system–wide electrophysiological interference) and lead to pervasive impairment of metabolic and reproductive functions," it adds.
Cindy Sage, co–editor of the report states, "Human sperms are damaged by cellphone radiation at very low intensities (0.00034 – 0.07 microwatt per centimetre square). There is a veritable flood of new studies reporting sperm damage in humans and animals, leading to substantial concerns for fertility, reproduction and health of the offspring. Exposure levels are similar to those resulting from wearing a cellphone on the belt or in the pant pocket or using a wireless laptop computer on the lap."
The researchers have profiled 155 new papers that report on neurological effects of radiofrequency radiation (RFR), published between 2007 and mid–2012, in the report. Of these, 98 (63%) showed the effects and 57 (37%) didn’t show any.
Lennart Hardell, MD at Orebro University, Sweden, who participated in the study, said there is a consistent pattern of increased risk for glioma (a malignant brain tumour) and acoustic neuroma (a slow–growing tumour of the nerve that connects the ear to the brain) with use of mobiles and cordless phones. "The existing public safety limits and reference levels are not adequate to protect public health," he added.
The government of India has taken several steps to deal with the health concern, said R K Bhatnagar, advisor (technology), department of telecommunications (DoT). He said that the radiation exposure limit for cellphone towers has been reduced from 9.2 w/m2 to 0.92 w/m2, and the specific absorption rate (SAR), a measure of the amount of radio frequency energy absorbed by the body while using a phone to 1.6 watt per kg from 2 units.
The DoT has also issued a public advisory on how to use mobile phones safely which includes use of a headset, keeping the handset away from the head and limiting the length of mobile calls. "The data on neurological damage and fertility–related issues is not conclusive. We need more large–scale epidemiological study on humans to confirm the cause and effect relation between radiation and its health effects. Till then, precaution is advisable," says R S Sharma, deputy director general of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), who is heading one such study.
Dr Ashok Seth, chief of cardiovascular sciences at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, says he already advises his patients with cardiac implants, for example a pacemaker, to use mobile phones with caution. "We cannot and must not wait for the final conclusive data," he says. According to Dr J D Mukherjee, director, neurology at Max Hospital: "We get patients complaining about a tingling sensation in the head and numbness due to excessive use of phones. But brain tumour cases cannot be related to radiation from phones or cellular towers without a proper study."
Girish Kumar, professor in the department of electrical engineering at IIT Bombay, whose research on hazards of cellphones is being used as a reference for most policy decisions in India, said in India the new radiation exposure limit for cellular towers is still high. "We need constant monitoring of the exposure from towers to ensure that the companies are not defaulting as has been observed in many areas in Mumbai where the government has started a public grievance mechanism to address the issue," he said.BUZZING DANGERS
Prolonged exposure to radiation from cellphone towers, other wireless technologies can cause imbalance in immune system, metabolism, reproductive system
Low exposure Can cause headaches, difficulty in concentration, behavioural problems in children and adolescents, sleep disturbances
Radiation can also affect male fertility. At risk are men who carry a cellphone in their pant pockets, or wear it on their belts