Thursday, March 31, 2016

Cell Phone Worries

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
- Sir Winston Churchill

Microwave radiation from cell phones (mobile phones) and cell phone towers has been a subject of concern for all ever since the use of cell phones became popular. In India the number of cell phone users has increased at an alarming rate even in rural areas in spite of relatively low per capita income.
In spite of the popularity of mobile phones, there has been growing concern on possible adverse health effects of microwave radiation from mobile towers and mobile handsets. Microwaves are electromagnetic waves similar to radio waves, with the important difference that their wave length is smaller. Infra red rays (heat rays), visible light, ultraviolet rays, x-rays and gamma rays are also electromagnetic waves with wavelength decreasing progressively and all these are members of the electromagnetic spectrum. Electromagnetic waves can be treated also as particles called quanta or photons since their energy is concentrated in the form of packets. An x-ray photon or a gamma ray photon can cause changes in the properties of the atoms of the materials on which they are incident and that is why you have to be very cautious with their use.
In the case of microwaves used for mobile phones, the energy of the photon is small so that there is no effect on the atomic properties. They cannot remove electrons from the atoms of the materials on which they are incident. In other words, microwaves cannot ionise. This is why they are safe to use in mobile phones and microwave ovens. However they can cause heating effect in our body. In microwave ovens a metallic shield is provided to prevent microwave radiations from reaching your body. But in mobile phones and mobile phone towers microwaves have to be allowed to travel from transmitter to receiver and you cannot shield them. Both the mobile phone and the tower act as transmitter as well as receiver.
Apart from the thermal effect (heating effect) of microwaves, there can be certain non-thermal effects which may be of concern in relation to our health. In India the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on 24-08-2010 consisting of officers from DoT, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Department of Biotechnology and Ministry of Environment and Forest to examine the effects of Electro-magnetic Field Radiation (due to the microwaves) from base stations (mobile towers) and mobile phones. The IMC examined many international and national studies and reference papers related to microwaves used in this area and finalised a report which stated that most laboratory studies were unable to find a direct link between exposure to radio frequency radiation and health; and the scientific studies as yet have not been able to confirm a cause and effect relationship between radio frequency radiation and health.
The term ‘radiation’ itself causes fear and suspicion in the mind of the common man since it is usually associated with the treatment of cancer. The general public must understand that ‘radiation’ is a very common term which stands for all type of energy emissions including harmful gamma rays and harmless radio waves. The energy of the gamma ray photon or x-ray photon is much greater than the energy of a microwave photon. It is because of the high photon energy that gamma rays and x-rays can cause havoc in the materials on which they strike. The microwave photon is much safer in this respect and that is why microwaves are used commonly in various popular gadgets.
Heat radiations are technically called infra red radiations and their photon energy is greater than that of the microwaves. A farmer working in a paddy field for hours together is often exposed to infra red radiation but Mother Nature does not cause any serious harm to him. However, precautions to prevent sun burns are always advisable here also
Mobile phones have become part and parcel of our daily life and we are therefore exposed to microwave radiations emitted by the mobile phone towers and the hand sets. The current scenario is that we are not fully sure whether microwave radiations are harmful or harmless to our health. It is therefore advisable to get exposed to them to the minimum possible extent. This does not mean that we have to be unduly scared about them. For example, we need not relate the decrease in the bird population solely with the increase in the number of mobile phone towers. With the ever expanding concrete jungles and modern methods of waste disposal, bird population is destined to decrease even if mobile phone towers are absent. Thermal effects caused by microwaves can be easily sensed by our body but non thermal effects may not be easily felt. A reasonable amount of caution is therefore well advised.
There have been various instances of popular groups, health activists and resident organisations objecting to the erection of mobile phone towers. But this can affect the mobile phone users adversely in the form of call drops and greater exposure to microwave radiation! If the signal strength is smaller, your hand set (mobile phone) will have to produce microwaves of greater intensity. Since you hold your hand set very near your body you get more radiation from your hand set. Of course you get radiation from the mobile phone tower as well, but the intensity of this radiation is much smaller since the tower is away from you and it decreases with distance, obeying the well known inverse square law.
It is certainly better to have more mobile phone towers of smaller power spread over the service area than to have fewer towers of larger power to cater to the needs of the customers in the same service area. Don’t you know that in an auditorium you will be much more comfortable with a larger number of loud speakers of smaller power (spread judiciously) than a fewer number of loud speakers of larger power?
It is very unlikely that people will refrain from using the mobile phone in spite of the health issues whether real or imaginary. Fortunately in India the safety norms for the microwave radiation from mobile towers are 10 times more stringent than that recommended by W.H.O. On your part, as a mobile phone user, remember the following points:
1. Keep the mobile phone as far away as possible from your body.
2. Do not encourage children to use mobile phones.
3. Normally the mobile hand set can give you more microwave radiation than the mobile tower.
4. It will be beneficial to use the phone in the loud speaker mode since you can then keep the phone away from your ears.
5. As far as possible avoid keeping the mobile phone in your hip pocket.
6. Use the mobile phone only when the signal is strong (as indicated by the bar pattern displayed on the screen of the phone).
7. Never keep the hand set under or near the pillow when you sleep.
8. Don’t be scared of this useful gadget. All types of scares will affect your well being.

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