Michael Repacholi, Founder Chairman, ICNIRP and former head of the World Health Organization´s EMF Project, comments on the radiation issue in India and takes a few tough questions.
Is it basically a technology investment that cellular operators need to make if they have to reduce the radiation levels from base stations? (Because it is then a simple explanation as to why they aren´t doing it)!
Base stations are engineered to provide radio frequency (RF) signals to a given area called a ¨cell¨ (this is why they are sometimes called cell phones). The strength of the signal is just sufficient to allow the mobile phone user to make a good quality call. If the RF level of the base station is lowered, then the calls will either be low quality or voids will occur in the area covered so no call can be made. Obviously everyone wants to make good calls, but you need sufficient RF signal to do this.
India has adopted one-tenth of ICNIRP´s norms for RF signals from base stations. Does that mean the ongoing agitation against cell site towers in India has no basis? Base station RF signals are normally extremely low, some 100s to 1000s of times below ICNIRP limits. So making the ¨political¨ decision, not ¨health-based¨ decision to reduce the standards to one-tenth of ICNIRP does mean that the ongoing agitation against cell site towers in India has no basis. However, if base stations are removed then coverage is lost and people will not be able to make calls. Alternatively, the base stations and the mobile phone try to increase their signal strength so the person using the phone is subjected to much higher RF levels. In addition, people living near base stations that have to increase their signal to communicate with the mobile will also receive higher RF exposures.
In India, you also find tower clusters. Some traffic police have complained of being unable to continue working beyond a week at a stretch, at one such location in Mumbai.
Clusters of base station occur because different operators want to use the same location. Being near a high traffic area appeals to operators since their base stations will be used more. In this case however, the regulator must ensure that the RF signals from the cluster of base stations still complies with the Indian standard. There is no health reason why police could not work in areas where there are many base stations.
Is it all right to set up base stations in the midst of urban settlements and schools without regard to maintaining guidelines with respect to distance, number of towers, i.e., unplanned growth?
People should realise that the RF signals from base stations are generally lower than the RF signals from TV or radio stations. Also, the RF signals from TV and radio stations are absorbed by the human body to a much greater extent than base station RF signals. Secondly, the greater the number of base stations, the lower RF signals everyone receives. This is because with more base stations the mobile phone will be closer to a base station when making a call and so need a lower RF signal. A base station on top of a school or hospital actually provides the lowest exposure beneath the antenna. While there is parental sensitivity about base station near schools, there is no health reason not to have the base station on top or nearby. There are a number of countries where base stations have been installed illegally and so the regulator should require all illegally installed base stations to be removed. Also, the regulator must ensure the base stations comply with ALL appropriate regulations.
ICNIRP guidelines set exposure norms for high-intensity, short-term, tissue-heating thresholds and do not protect us from low-intensity, chronic exposures common today.
The ONLY established effects of exposure to RF are caused by short-term heating of tissue. NO adverse health effects have ever been established from long-term low-level exposures. ICNIRP and WHO have been studying this issue for decades and still no well-conducted scientific study has found any carcinogenic or any other long-term RF exposure effect on human health. If they did, they would have a case to lower the limits significantly. Besides radio and TV signals, at higher strengths and causing higher RF exposures than base stations have been around for many decades with no increase in cancer risk. There are increasing numbers of researchers and academics who are arguably seen as more credible, independent, without any links/and/or not funded by the industry, who advocate far stricter norms. According to the BioInitiative report (BIR), the safe radiation density is 1 mw per msq for outdoor and 0.1 for continuous indoor exposure. The BIR was written by ¨scientific activists¨ who have no credibility as research scientists. This report has been strongly criticised by many government agencies for being selective with their studies and accepting the results of very low quality studies to promote their preconceived agenda. Such a report has no credibility with mainstream science.
While there can be variations in studies done by different groups of people, could you provide say why there is such a difference of opinion on what is essentially a technical, empirical issue, and not a subjective one?
Mainstream science requires that studies be conducted to a high quality level. Otherwise, there can be no confidence that the results of low-quality studies are accurate or provide any useful information.
Are the ICNIRP guidelines any indicator of actual safety levels? They have long been criticised as being non-protective and developed by a self-selected group of industry insiders. I believe ICNIRP may be currently revisiting these limits.
ICNIRP guidelines are now used by over 50 countries around the world. The limits ICNIRP promotes are very protective, by at least a minimum of 50 times below any RF exposure likely to produce an adverse health effect. ICNIRP has no relationship with industry, and it is forbidden for any ICNIRP member to have been a member of any industry group, or to receive any funding from industry. ICNIRP is funded only by government agencies and international organisations such as WHO, and is an entirely independent scientific commission. You should get the facts about ICNIRP from its website at: www.ICNIRP.org Yes, ICNIRP is currently revising its RF guidelines and they should be ready for public comment later this year.
The WHO´s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified Radiofrequency radiation as a Group 2B ¨Possible Carcinogen¨ in 2011. However, WHO continues to ignore its own agency´s recommendations and favours recommendations made by ICNIRP. Why is this so?
IARC did classify RF as possibly carcinogenic. However, this has been widely misinterpreted as meaning that RF exposure could cause cancer. This is not true. In fact, the 2B classification merely means that there are a couple of studies suggesting RF may cause cancer, but the vast majority of studies do NOT show RF causes cancer. As a result, WHO issued a fact sheet following the IARC classification clarifying the IARC statement by noting that RF has NOT been shown to cause cancer.