DoT's public outreach programme is an attempt to reassure us that radiation from cell-towers is safe

DoT officials in India have organised a programme to help combat myths surrounding electromagnetic fields (EMF) and their perceived health effects.

Department of Telecommunication (DoT) officials in India have organised a programme to help combat myths surrounding electromagnetic fields (EMF) and their perceived health effects.

Referring to emission standards defined by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and World Health Organisation (WHO), DoT officials have stated that India’s emission norms are 10 times more stringent.

The Economic Times quotes DoT Secretary S Deepak as saying, “We are absolutely committed to protecting the health of our citizens.” The purpose of the program is to educate people on India’s EMF norms and to allay fears that radiation from mobile towers is harmful.

The WHO has examined over 25,000 research papers and published as well as sponsored studies in this field. An EMF is generated wherever there is a flow of electricity. Cell phone towers and power lines do generate an EMF, as does your heart, the firing of neurons in your body, an electrical appliance like an electric heater, your smartphone, and more.

The WHO’s analysis leads them to conclude that the EMF that an average person will encounter in his/her life has little to no measurable impact on our health. Some of the strongest EMFs that a human can be exposed to comes from standing directly beneath power lines. Even in such a case, the EMF has no impact on us. The emissions from cell towers are on a much smaller scale.

It concludes that the electrical impact of EMF is negligible and the only measurable impact, if any, comes from the heating effect of EMF. Studies have shown that this effect has little to no impact on health.

As the WHO points out on its website, EMF can be harmful at higher frequencies (eg. Inside a Microwave oven), but WHO and ICNIRP guidelines prevent these from being used in public spaces.

ICNIRP evaluates scientific research in the field of non-ionising radiation and proposes guidelines. Non-ionising radiation includes radio, microwave, ultra-violet (UV) and infrared (IR) radiation. The ICNIRP’s findings and recommendations are in-line with that of the WHO.

Ionising radiation is a type of radiation that has enough energy to cause an electron to leave an atom or molecule. Non-ionising radiation can only excite an electron to a higher energy state. Nuclear radiation (gamma rays, etc.) are a form of ionising radiation.

Given that WHO and ICNIRP norms are deemed safe for all living organisms, India’s reported guidelines make any such radiation 10 times less harmful.

The whole point of this exercise is to increase the spread of cell towers, thereby improving mobile connectivity in our country. A great number of residential areas still object to the installation of cell towers in their vicinity by citing the potential health hazards of EMF.

PTI reports that Assam’s chief secretary V K Pipersenia and his Arunachal Pradesh counterpart Shakumtala Gamlin vouched for expansion of mobile phone connectivity in their respective states especially for the benefit of those residing in remote, inaccessible areas where road communication is still a “far cry”.

DoT officials also attempted to reassure attendees by stating that special DoT teams “strictly monitor” EMF emissions from cell towers and can fine each installation up to Rs 10 lakh and even shut the tower down.

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