Telecom tower radiation explained: Not all kinds of radiation are known to cause adverse health effects

India has one of the harshest norms in the world when it comes to telecom infrastructure radiation.

There are various kinds of radiation all around us, even gravity is a kind of radiation. Some of the radiation that humans are exposed to, are known to be destructive to the body cells, and can potentially cause cancer. The kind of radiation that can knock electrons off atoms and create ions is known as ionising radiation, and studies have linked this kind of radiation to adverse health effects on the body. Common ionising radiation that humans are exposed to include gamma radiation, x-rays and ultraviolet rays. The natural sunlight is actually potentially more harmful to your body than telecom towers.

Telecom towers use non ionising radiation. This is not the kind of radiation known to be destructive to human cells, and known to cause cancer. The radiation is similar to microwave radiation, and can potentially heat up tissue if the radiation is really concentrated. However, radiation from cellular towers are intermittent, and are not nearly powerful enough to have adverse health effects on humans. Fears of cell tower radiation have lead to arbitrary take downs of telecom infrastructure, including dismantling the towers or cutting off the electricity supply. This has aggrevated the call drop problem, and some telecom operators have responded by using smaller infrastructure, that is less likely to scare people.

India has one of the harshest norms in the world when it comes to telecom infrastructure radiation. The levels of radiation allowed for cellular infrastructure is one tenth the globally accepted standards. The regulations in India are more than adequately cautious. The harsh norms apply to the handsets as well, and the exposure to the emissions from handsets is actually more than the exposure of humans to telecom infrastructure. From September 2012, mobile handsets are only allowed a Specific absorption rate (SAR) level of 1.6 Watt/Kg averaged over a mass of 1 gram tissue. The SAR level is an indication of the exposure to cell phone radiation.

India has strict norms for emissions from both towers and cell phones. Image: Nokia

India has strict norms for emissions from both towers and cell phones. Image: Nokia

Telecom operators, the regulatory authority, the department of communication and independent doctors have all tried to allay the fears that people have when it comes to radiation from telecom infrastructure. Recently, Communications Minister Manoj Sinha recently launched the Tarang Sanchar web portal, which allows citizens to test the levels of cell tower radiation anywhere in the country. The tests will be carried out by the Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring (TERM) on payment of a nominal fee of Rs 4,000, after which the results will be handed over to the individuals who requested the test.

At the launch, Sinha said, "We always talk about no call drops, but we do not want towers near our house. Radiation has no adverse impact on human health. During the last 30 years, the World Health Organisation has conducted some 25,000 campaigns on this subject and never stated that mobile tower radiation has adverse impact on human health."

DoT Secretary J.S. Deepak has commented on the issue, saying "There is no scientific evidence backing the claim that EMF radiation from mobile towers, which are below the safe limits prescribed by the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), can cause adverse health effects. Our EMF norms are much stricter than what is followed by many developed nations, including the US, the UK and most parts of the European Union. The government has taken adequate steps to ensure that telecom service providers strictly adhere to these prescribed norms."


Trai Advisor Agneshwar Sen has said "A number of judgements delivered by the High Courts in Gujarat, Kerala, Allahabad, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh have ruled that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that EMF radiation emitted from mobile towers has adverse effects on health. Thus, they cannot potentially harm humans. Trai and DoT have implemented stringent emission norms that ensure no adverse effects on human health from mobile tower emissions."

The Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Shripad Naik has said, "The Indian Council of Medical Research, the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, clarified that there is no scientific evidence indicating using mobile phones will cause mental or physical disease."

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), in a statement has said "India’s mobile emission safety norms are strict and radiation from telecom towers is not a cause for concern."

Ajay Kumar, a former president of the Indian Medical Academy and the sole Indian member in the World Medical Council has said, "There is no conclusive scientific fact which can directly link cellular tower radiation with cancer. Till the theory of the health hazards of cell phone radiation and towers gets a reliable backup of scientific proof, it would be highly unfair to censure the most wonderful technological advent of the 20th century for health risks and diseases as serious as cancer."

Even the Delhi high court has put to rest fears of harm caused by telecom infrastructure, noting that "It is clear there is no scientific data available to show that installation of mobile phone towers and the emission of the waves by the said towers is in any way harmful for the health or hazardous to the health of citizens. There is no conclusive data to the said effect. The petitioner has not been able to produce any data whatsoever showing any such harmful effects on the health of human beings."

Dr. Rajesh Dikshit, Department of Epidemiology, Urology (DMG), and Tata Medical Centre has said "“A number of researches and studies have been conducted around the globe to ascertain if there is any relationship between the radio frequency (RF) emissions from the mobile phone and cancer. However, there is not enough evidence proving mobile phones cause cancer in humans."

The DoT Secretary S Deepak has said, "We are absolutely committed to protecting the health of our citizens." while initiating a campaign to educate the public on the fears of radiation from telecom infrastructure. The campaign included pamphlets, reports and videos explaining to the people that there is no cause to worry about adverse health effects from telecom infrastructure, and the kind of radiation used for mobile communication is not the kind of radiation known to cause cancer.


The most convincing evidence comes from the web comic, XKCD. The radiation dose chart tracks the various kinds of exposure to harmful radiation that humans may be exposed to. Dental x-rays, flying in an airplane, a brick house, sleeping next to someone, or eating a banana are all activities that exposes humans to more harmful radiation than cell phones or telecom towers. In a year's worth of average exposure of humans to ionising radiation, about 85 percent is because of natural sources, and the remaining 15 percent is mostly because of medical scans.

The XKCD radiation dose chart

The XKCD radiation dose chart


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