Earlier report of 2007 had dwelt mainly on carcinogenicity of such radiations
Radiation level norms for cell phone towers in most countries, including India, are way above the safe limits and have adverse impacts on human health (photo by Meeta Ahlawat)
A new report that examines the effect of electromagnetic fields (EMF) and radiofrequency (RF) on human health has raised some serious public health concerns. The report—Bioinitiative Report 2012—says that there is enough evidence to link EMF and RF radiations with not just cancer but other health problems as well, including slow DNA damage. It also says that radiofrequency norms worldwide are too lax to protect public health. EMF and RF radiations are associated with wireless technologies like cellular phones and mobile phone towers, Wi-Fi and power lines.
Earlier, in 2011 the World Health Organisation had declared these radiations to be possible carcinogens . The Bioinitiative Report, however, explores all possible health hazards, including impacts on male fertility, effects on vulnerable groups like children and pregnant women, neurological disorders, headache and Alzheimer’s disease apart from cancer-causing effects.
The report, made public on January 7, is the second in the series of bioinitiative reports. It has been authored by a group of 29 experts from 10 different countries who reviewed about 1,800 research outcomes in the past five years. The first report which was released in 2007 had also raised concerns which led to widespread discussions across the globe. Exponential growth in use of cellular technology in the past few years and growing scare among people has made the issue of vital concern. According to the data given by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the number of cellular phone subscribers in India has increased more than 300 per cent between 2007-08 and 2012-13.
No time to lose
The main difference between the bioinitiative reports of 2007 and 2012 are the nature of health hazards and evidences for them. Earlier, there were discussions about the carcinogenicity of RF radiations. “Now, there is evidence to link RF radiations with various health hazards other than cancer. It is important for us to know that these radiations are also associated with our day to day problems like headache and anxiety apart from being cancer-causing in the longer run,” says Girish Kumar, professor of electrical engineering at IIT-Bombay.
As the number of people using cell phones and Wi Fi grew manifold between 2007 and 2012, the evidence for their health hazards have also become clearer. “There is now much more evidence of risks to health, affecting billions of people world-wide. The status quo is not acceptable in light of the evidence for harm,” says David O Carpenter, co-editor of the report, in a media release.
Speaking on how these radiations affect us, experts say that RF radiations may interact with the biosystems, making irreversible changes. “The radiations may cause slow DNA damage which might become irreversible, causing hazards,” says A K Anand, chief of radiation oncology at Max Healthcare in Delhi.
Radiation norms too lax
The report puts a big question mark on the recommended RF radiation limits worldwide. The recommendations of International Commission of Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the international panel of independent scientific experts, have remained the same since they were first proposed in 1998.
“Epidemiological evidence shows that radiofrequency should be classified as a human carcinogen. The existing FCC/IEE (recommending bodies in the US) and ICNIRP public safety limits and reference levels are not adequate to protect public health,” says Lennart Hardell of Orebro University in Sweden and one of the contributors to the report. Many countries in the world, including Russia, China, Hungary and Switzerland have already discarded the guidelines and set their own norms.
India adopted new norms in September 2012 which reduced the allowable public exposure to one tenth of the earlier limits, which were based on ICNIRP guidelines. According to the new regulations, a maximum power density of 0.9 mw/m2 can be allowed for operators of 1,800 MHz frequency range. Power density is the density of power radiated by cell towers at a specific distance from them and is used to regulate and monitor RF radiations.
The report, however, has found health hazards to be reported much below in the range of 0.0005 w/m2 which is about 2,000 times lower that what is still being prescribed. The report points out that the prescribed limits all across the world are 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the lowest levels at which effects have been found.
What needs to be done to address the problem? The report reiterates the need for precautionary action. “The standard for taking action should be precautionary; action should not be deferred while waiting for final proof or causal evidence to be established that EMF is harmful to health and well-being,” it reads. Experts believe that it is time for action. “We have provided the scientific basis.
Now it is up to the regulators to take action accordingly,” says Paulraj Rajamani, assistant professor of environmental sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University and one of the two contributors to the report from India. Kumar puts it succinctly. “If action is not taken today, the impacts will be more visible in five to 10 years down the line,” he says. The regulators seem unmoved. A senior official in Department of Telecommunication said he was not aware about any such report when contacted.
Another important issue raised in the report is the lack of public awareness and unwillingness of the authorities to tackle it. It points out that people are unaware and there is inadequate warning or notice in public. “There is no informed consent,” it reads.