Radiation ghosts decoded: Why you should not worry

  • M Rajendran, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 24, 2015 01:11 IST
The cell site on top of Airtel chief Sunil Mittal’s estate, Akshram, in New Delhi (Virendra Singh Gosain and Saumya Khandelwal/HT Photo)

The use of electricity for lighting is in no way harmful to health, nor does it affect the soundness of sleep.

Such signs were common in the early 1880s in places that used electric lighting.

Every age has its own battles. That disclosure, with some modifications, could be used these days by telecom companies, which are going blue in their face trying to tell people that radiation from mobile towers is not harmful.

Sunil Mittal, who has built Airtel into one of the world’s largest mobile carriers by charting his own course, has his own way of making statements. His house, on New Delhi’s Amrita Shergill Marg, has a mobile site on the rooftop. This is the operative part of a mobile tower.

As actions go, that unit on Mittal’s house speaks louder than reams of research. But many more of the kind could be needed, for the clamour against mobile radiation has been rising and towers are being taken down.

At first the telecom companies did not take the anti-tower campaign too seriously. They probably thought it was another fad by the bored, well-to-do people that would die a natural death. It did not, it grew in intensity.

Several residents’ welfare associations (RWAs) are saying no to installation of mobile towers on roofs of multi-storey apartments. Instances have been reported from places like Hyderabad of neighbours campaigning to bring down a tower on top of a standalone house, much to the chagrin of the house owner who was getting Rs 15,000 a month from the company that had put up the tower.

In many localities in Delhi and Mumbai, there have been signature campaigns against mobile towers. There have also been court cases. As many as 2,000 towers have been taken down across the country. “Cases of cancer have been reported due to radiation,” says Prakash Munshi, convenor of Citizens Groups of Mumbai. This campaign comes in the way of the government’s plan to spread broadband services and the telecom companies’ attempts to fight the rising menace of call drops. The country has some 400,000 towers but that number is nearly not enough. Estimates say at least 30% more are needed.

In this lose-lose situation, the only winners are dubious entities trying to cash in on the radiation fears by peddling anti-radiation curtains, paints, film and fabric.

Finally, telecom companies have woken up and lined up a raft of reports and experts, including from the World Health Organisation, that say there is no evidence of harm from the radiation from mobile towers and phones.


“... Vodafone India will continue to collaborate with the government and industry bodies to further raise awareness on this subject and adoption of a scientific approach to EMF standards and compliance, ” Vodafone’s India head Sunil Sood said in an email to HT.

EMF stands for electromagnetic field. Radio waves, which carry telecom signals, appear at the lowest end of the waves in the EMF spectrum and are generally accepted to be non-ionising, that is, they may make things heat up without triggering a chemical reaction. “There are misconceptions about radiation from mobile sites,” says Rajan Mathews, director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, the industry lobby.

The radiation is there, of course. Just as it is from several things one uses as a matter of routine: mixer grinder, hair dryer, electric shaver, airport scanner, and that most unavoidable thing: sunlight. “There is radiation in everyday life. The question is whether the radiation from telecom towers is harmful. It is not... And it is strictly monitored,” communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told HT.

Many courts, including the high courts of Kerala, Allahabad and Gujarat, have taken the same position as Prasad (see graphic). As have experts.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, the Pulitzer-winning oncologist at the Columbia University in the US, has been quoted as saying: “If there is a link between electro-magnetic force and cancer, it must be occurring through a mechanism that lies outside anything that we know. One would have to invent a novel mechanism of carcinogenesis in order to understand how radiation in that part of the spectrum can cause cancer.”

Romal Shetty, telecom expert with consultancy firm KPMG, puts it more simply. “There is no conclusive evidence that radiation from sites causes health problems.”

Mumbai-based Phimetrics Techno­logies, which specialises in testing of radiation levels from telecom sites, says it has been called by many RWAs to test towers in their areas. “We have not come across any site in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai radiating more than the prescribed limit,” says Kartik Raja, Phimetrics’ founder and CEO.

There will be no need to test the one on top of a certain house on Amrita Shergill Marg.


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