– Shubham Chaktrovarty, Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology, UMBC
Ever since the discovery of radiation by Madame Curie and her consequent death because of it, just the word causes people to sit up. Author Andrew Smith put it best when he said,
“People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer”
Radiation is of two kinds – ionising and non-ionising. The latter is the one that emanates from communication technology and is at the centre of much fear mongering and myth. To put it simply, numerous studies conducted over the last few decades have found that there is no proof that non-ionising radiation is a health hazard. Non-Ionising radiation refers to any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum (photon energy) to ionize atoms or molecules—that is, to completely remove an electron from an atom or molecule. Instead of producing charged ions when passing through matter, the electromagnetic radiation has sufficient energy only for excitation, the movement of an electron to a higher energy state. Essentially, it just doesn’t have enough energy to make the change in matter that can cause any health hazard. Ionizing radiation mainly occurs at low frequency range. However, over a certain level, extended exposure is sure to cause problems, however minor they may be.
New technologies are evolving every day. But of all, communications technologies are growing the fastest and bring about the most socio-economic change. The explosive number of people using the mobile phones has led to a growing concern that electromagnetic radiations emitted by the mobile phones itself as well as telecom towers are harmful to health and can even cause cancer.
Extended exposure to high levels can cause problems like headaches, severe pain in ear, blurring of vision, memory loss, itching, burning sensations, feeling asleep, hypersensitivity and exhaustion. But most of these symptoms can be due to many other causes as well.
For non-ionising radiation to be harmful, the person would have to be exposed to the point of radiation from a very close range. The energy from a telecom tower is directed toward horizon (parallel to the ground), with some downward scatter. Cell phones communicate with nearby cell tower mainly through radiofrequency waves, a form of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum between FM radio waves and microwaves. Like FM radio waves, microwaves, visible light, and heat, they are forms of non-ionizing radiation. They cannot cause cancer by directly damaging DNA.
All reviews conducted so far have indicated that exposures below the limits recommended in the International Commission for Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) 1998 EMF guidelines, covering the full frequency range from 0-300 GHz, do not produce any known adverse health effect.
Despite that the government has chosen to take the side of precaution and kept the precautionary EMF safe exposure limits for the Radio Frequency Field (Base Station Emissions) as 1/10th of the safe limits prescribed by ICNIRP for all areas in India.
But then again, ionising radiation that is known to cause tumours in the brain, has also been found to be useful in removing cancerous cells from the brain.
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