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The lethal network

Posted by seumasach on July 23, 2012

Already burdened with more patients than it can deal with, CNCI’s Biswas worries that when cancer cases from prolonged exposure to electromagnetic radiation begin to pour in three to four years from now, it may assume catastrophic proportions.

Times of India

12th March, 2012

MUMBAI: On the seventh floor office of Everest Building on Chowringhee, employees of Superintendent Co. of India have been frequently reporting sick for the past three to four years. They suffer nagging headaches, feel dizzy and are always tired. “Perhaps I am advancing in age,” wondered senior engineer M K Datta. “Is it bad vaastu?” asks surveyor Milan Adhikari about the office located in the southern part of the highrise offering a view of the city skyline in the south but through a maze of antennas fitted on a cellphone tower atop the roof of the adjoining five-storied office building.

Beyond Manicktala along APC Road, the Seth family (pic above) has been afflicted with similar ailments. Ever since they shifted from the first to fourth floor, they’ve been ill. Parents Madhulika and Prabhakar are particularly worried about 4-year-old Rajiv and 8-year-old Sneha. The Class III Pratt Memorial student complains of headache every morning. “I feel drowsy in class and it’s difficult to concentrate,” said Sneha. Her brother, who studies in kindergarten at St James, is irritable. The family physician diagnosed it as sleep deficiency. But the children are in bed by 9.30pm and in the stillness of night, the only sound audible is the buzz from the roof, where the power room feeds a cellphone tower.

What the staff on the seventh floor office in Everest Building or the family on the fourth floor of 142 B, APC Road are unaware of is the high electromagnetic radiation around them. At both places, the electromagnetic radiation detector (Detex-189) recorded radiation of over 10,000 micro watt/sq m or 0.01 watt/sq m, a level categorized extremely unsafe by Germany’s Bio Initiative Working Group 2007 that carried out extensive research on health effects of electromagnetic microwaves.

Any radiation level between 100 and 1,000 micro watt is of severe concern and that above 1,000 micro watt is of extreme concern. Constant exposure to such levels will trigger health issues in 2 to 3 years. “Radiation affects areas of the body where fluid movement is less, like eyes, brain, joints, heart and abdomen. Localized heating in the body causes boils, drying up of fluids around eyes, brain, joints, heart and abdomen. There can be neuro-psychiatric problems like headache, memory loss, nausea, dizziness, tremors, muscle spasms, numbness, altered reflexes, muscle and joint paint, leg/foot pain, depression, and sleep disturbance,” says ChittaranjanNational Cancer Institute (CNCI) director Jaydip Biswas.

In Kolkata, most cell sites emit radiation of nearly 100 watts. The government argues it has adopted the guideline of 9.2 watt/sq m set by International Convention for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection as a safe limit. What it does not mention is that the norm is for exposure to radiation for 6 minutes a day.

“Also, for every 6-minute exposure, there is a 23-hour-54-minute cooling period. When exposure is for 24 hours, there is no time for the body to cool. Plain logic says it will cause immense harm,” pointed out IIT Bombay professor Girish Kumar, who has been studying effects of non-ionizing radiation for a decade. People living within 50 to 300 m of a cell tower antenna are more prone to ill effects of electromagnetic radiation. With 5,000-odd antennas in the city, lakhs of people are at high risk.

Kumar, along with IIT-Kharagpur professors Sujoy K Guha and Sudarsan Neogi, had done a pilot study commissioned by the state environment department. At six of the seven tower sites where readings were taken, the figure was over 10,000 micro watt. Though environment minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar promised more action, no steps have been taken thereafter.

Yet, case studies in Mumbai sent alarm bells ringing there. In Usha Kiran building on Carmichael Road, situated opposite Vijay Apartments that has cellphone towers on its terrace, six cancer cases were reported from 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th floors apartments that face the towers. The finding has led to an outcry with landlords even refusing to renew contracts for cell towers.

The environment directorate in Chennai and civic body in Patna have woken up to the threat. Last week, a division bench of Rajasthan high court issued a showcause notice to 13 cellular firms besides central and state authorities on the issue of health hazards being caused by high frequency radiations emitted by mobile towers. The court order followed a PIL filed by a retired judge of Rajasthan HC, Justice I S Israni, and others.

Jadavpur University electronics department reader Sudhabindu Roy, who has done a PhD on the subject from IIT Bombay, says there is an urgent need to map microwave radiation hazard in the city. “The government should also set up a non-ionizing radiation hazard board,” he suggests.

Already burdened with more patients than it can deal with, CNCI’s Biswas worries that when cancer cases from prolonged exposure to electromagnetic radiation begin to pour in three to four years from now, it may assume catastrophic proportions.

“One can take precautions about minimizing cellphone use. But how does one tackle electromagnetic radiation from cell sites unless there is a strict monitoring of the cellphone companies and norms are made more stringent, radiation levels are monitored and the public becomes aware of the hazard?” says Biswas. Cellphone towers sprout in the city without following any rules. Neither KMC, nor PCB or any other government department is aware of the number of cell sites in Kolkata. And there is no mechanism to monitor the intensity of radiation from the towers.

“With agencies paying Rs 50,000-100,000 a month as rent for installing cell towers, people are easily tempted. Though TRAI limits radiation to a level that it contends to be safe, it is often violated,” says Tapas Das, a crusader against violation by cellphone towers.

According to Kumar, standards adopted by various countries show that telecom coverage is possible at much lower levels. “We must reduce transmitted power at once. The coverage area will shrink, requiring companies to put up more towers or install repeaters. The companies are aware of the health risk, but are turning a blind eye because acknowledging the problem will mean huge additional investments,” the IIT Bombay professor said.

Sources in the telecom industry say turning down the power will trigger coverage problems. “Seamless coverage will be affected and call drops will go up. Indoor reception will be poor. All this has to be tackled by installing over 1,000 repeaters in a city like Kolkata with each costing Rs 15-25 lakh,” a senior official of a leading telecom firm argued.

The choice, hence, is between seamless coverage and longer life. “Human lives are at stake. Nothing will happen unless we all make a noise. Only then can tougher norms come into place,” he said.

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