Radiation levels emitted from phone towers dangerously high across city; Mirrorexamines seven spots and finds people there are exposed to the gravest possible health risks
Photographer: Deepak Turbhekar
Radiation levels emitted from cell phone towers across Mumbai are alarmingly high and pose serious health hazards to millions of Mumbaikars, an investigation done by this paper in association with a group that measures excessive electromagnetic radiation (EMR) levels has revealed.
Mumbai Mirror got Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd, a noted Delhi-based company, to measure EMR levels at seven spots across the city. At five of these spots, the meter showed that radiation levels were far beyond acceptable limits. High radiation levels are known to cause brain damage and heart problems, apart from raising a host of other health issues.
The levels outside Mantralaya, the World Trade Centre and near Breach Candy Hospital were found to be unacceptably high. And if you thought your walk on the Marine Drive promenade was doing you a world of good and letting you breathe some fresh air, here’s the truth: EMR levels there are among the highest, and experts say “being there is like being in an X-ray machine.”
Ever since the debate on health hazards posed by phone tower radiation began worldwide nearly a decade ago, Mumbai has seen at least a few thousand such towers arise. The study done by Cogent reveals it’s now time to look at their ill-effects on our health.
Electromagnetic radiation or EMR levels emitted from telecom towers all over Mumbai were measured by a Delhi Company called Cogent at our request. At public places, homes and even the Mantralaya, radiation levels are so shockingly high, that they go beyond what the HF (high ferequency) 59 B Analyzer can measure. Mumbai is now radiation city.
READING Outside World Trade Centre
From 60 to 80 microW / squarem (Just past ‘weak’ into ‘strong’)
The electromagnetic radiation (EMR) fluctuates from 60 to 80. “The reason is telecom towers or reflectors hidden from view on top of buildings surrounding the centre,” says Zafar Haq, CEO, Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd. “It’s a misconception that EMR is high only near the source. It can be high at a distance too, if the radiation from the source hits the spot directly.”
READING Outside Mantralaya and the Vidhan Sabha
From 190 to beyond 200 microW / squarem (Far beyond a ‘strong’ reading)
The fact that the pinnacles of state in our city can be so unprotected from EMR leaves little hope for the rest of us common citizens. A nearby policeman on discovering what we found comments, “It’s because of so many mobile phones with one MP.” Haq has a better diagnosis as he points: “It’s because of towers and reflectors put on those 3 buildings.” One radiation source is a small tower on top of the Shipping Corporation Of India building. Two more sources are on old eight storey buildings nearby.
READING On Marine Drive
Beyond 200 microW / squarem consistently. (Far beyond a ‘strong’ reading)
Even as couples held each other and enjoyed the waves crashing on the promenade, the meter showed its worst reading of the day. “One would imagine that all this sea wind would make the meter fluctuate, but there’s no movement,” Vishal Rahel, the man taking the readings says. “Being here is like being in an X Ray machine.” The sources are a Vodafone tower on a building named Meghdoot, and a Reliance Communications as well as an Airtel tower on one named Shantiniketan. To add more injury to injury, the corners as well as some verandahs of the buildings are hung with powerful reflectors, intensifying the radiation.
READING In Mahesh Gokani’s Home, opposite Breach Candy Hospital
Beyond 200 microW / squarem consistently. (Far beyond a ‘strong’ reading)
“My daughter has been having severe headaches since the last three years, My mother can’t sleep at night inspite of endlessly popping these Nitrest tablets,” says furious computer hardware dealer Mahesh Gokani. “And I had to have an operation two years ago because my retina got detached from my eye.” Understandably, for not more than two metres from his daughter’s, his mother’s and his bedroom lie five towers belonging to various telecom companies. “It’s eyeball to eyeball!” Gokani exclaims at something that cost his own eyeball dearly. “The regulations say the towers have to be 150 metres ‘above ground’,” Haq explains a legal loophole. “They don’t stipulate what should be done when residents in an adjacent building are right next to the towers.” Gokani finishes with an even more terrifying thought: “The towers which did this to my family, also face Breach Candy Hospital. Can you imagine the effect they’ll be having there?”
READING Outside Kalpataru Heights, a 23 storey building in Parel.
From 180 to beyond 200 microW / squarem (Far beyond a ‘strong’ reading)
“The telecom tower on this building is supposedly the highest in the city,” says Haq. And no wonder that the level of radiation received from it soars as well.
READING Outside Mannat, Shah Rukh Khan’s home, Bandstand, Bandra.
50 to 60 microW / squarem (Just beyond a ‘strong’ reading)
“The sea wind here makes the meter fluctuate from 25 to 160,” says Rahel. “But we could take the average reading to be 50 to 60, which would be one of the better readings received in this city.” No telecom towers are visible, but some may lie in buildings beyond sight. The comparatively lower level called for some relief, but not much. The bandstand is a popular jogging area, where the aged and young work out to escape pollution. Knowing that they are succumbing to a different kind of health hazard isn’t heartening.
READING Outside Jalsa, Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan’s Bungalow, Juhu.
80 to 90 microW / squarem
This Bungalow marks not just its owner, but the corner of an important Juhu Junction. While not a ‘public place’, we hope its occupant – an influential man – takes appropriately precautionary measures – for himself as much as for the crowds that flock to stand outside his house on holidays.
HOW WE DID IT:
It is no big secret that excessive electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is harmful for the human body. On not being able to find anyone in Mumbai to measure these EMR levels for us, we approached Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd., a well known Delhi based company to do so. The HF59B Analyzer, used to measure EMR in the unit microW/squarem, was used to take readings in six spots throughout Mumbai. These spots were chosen because they would include seats of high office and star residences as well as a common Mumbaikar’s home and public places we visit for ‘fresh air’. They were also chosen to represent the city as well as its suburbs.
5 QUESTIONS FOR ‘THE ANTI RADIATION PEOPLE’
These questions were asked to Zafar Haq, CEO of Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd.
Define EMR for us, simply.
Electromagnetic radiation is an energy signal sent from one location to another. While using mobile phones, for example, voice energy changes shape into EMR which penetrates into the body to create problems.
Why have the readings in Mumbai been higher compared to other cities?
Exposure to radiation is higher in public and private places because there are very few open spaces compared to Delhi or Bangalore. Also, the higher population has led to many mobile subscribers and hence mobile towers, antennas and reflectors – big and small.
How can people protect themselves?
There are products manufactured the world over, as by my company. Products like a heart-guard, to protect your heart from mobile radiation while carrying a mobile phone in the shirt pocket. Also products like a radiation-safe window film, that reflects radiation from a mobile tower, but lets in enough signal to take the phone call.
What should legislative and executive authorities do?
The Indian government recently drafted policy implementing guidelines laid by the International Council For Non Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), backed by the WHO. But these guidelines are cited, even by the WHO, as a stop-gap arrangement till ongoing research yields results. The government will finalise things in this direction after a research involving 5000 human beings is completed.
What inspired Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd.?
In 2003, with multiple licences to telecom companies and call rates being cut, we foresaw an opportunity in this field. We started with a decision to conduct an audit, but since then have tried to provide solutions too, with our products.
THE STANDARD AND WHAT IT MEANS:
The EMR levels have been gauged as per standards set by SBM, an autonomous German agency. According to Haq, these standards are “the result of the most recent research conducted on human beings.” The standards read thus:
Less than 1microW / squarem : ‘Ideal’
1 to 50 microW / squarem : ‘Weak Anomaly’
50 microW / squarem onwards : Varying degrees of ‘Strong Anomaly‘
According to these standards the radiation at Mantralaya, Marine Drive and Mahesh Gokani’s Breach Candy residence were about 200 times more than ‘ideal’. “A radiation level of above 1 is required to catch a signal,” explains Haq. “But one should at least keep it below 50.” Even this was unattained by any of the readings.
Health issues due to radiation levels this high begin with constant headaches, sleep disorders and heart problems. They have been known to intensify in many a case into leukemia, brain tumour and other cancers. Known effects to the brain include increase in ODC (Ornithine De Carboxylase) activity and decrease in the brain metabolism. Special risk lies to pregnant women and children. Children due to thinner skulls and increased mitotic activity in their cells, and pregnant women because the EMR continuously reacts with the developing embryo. Also at great risk are patients carrying pace makers, which the radiation may interfere with to a point of fatality.
SILENCE IN THE TELECOM INDUSTRY
Despite repeated requests, our findings did not elicit any reaction from the lobby:
“I cannot comment till I receive a detailed report, so as to be able to determine what scientific basis your readings have.”
Navin Chopra CEO, Vodafone-Essar, Mumbai Circle.
“I don’t know why this issue should come up in the first place. All the laws of the land have been adhered to. First we need a detailed access to your study. Only then will we comment.”
Pradeep Shrivastav, Chief Marketing Officer, Idea Cellular
“The government departments are talking to each other regarding the same issue, so its better we stay out of it. If you can, abstain from mentioning Reliance Communication’s name, but if not then take a “No Comment” from us.”
Spokesperson, Reliance Communications.
“I won’t react till you send me all the details of your study.”
Despite repeated attempts and an elucidation of the issue, spokespersons from Air Tel and Tata Telecom were unavailable for comment.
HOW YOU GET A TOWER
The Wireless Planning & Coordination wing (WPC) allocates frequencies for the area the tower is to be set up in. These have to be abided by. Then approval has to be granted by either an IIT or the CRRI (Central Road Research Institute). A final approval is obtained from the BMC. In New Delhi or West Bengal, approval has to be gotten from Resident’s Welfare Associations as well. This is not necessary in Maharashtra, unless the association owns the roof the tower will be set on. So, if the roof is owned by a single flat owner, or one building out of more that comprise a Resident’s Welfare Association, the use of the roof to set up a tower does not require the Association’s permission. Where it does, the association is paid a handsome rent of upto Rs 70,000 per month (the rent for a tower on the Marine Drive buildings we featured), and bound to contracts for upto three years so they can’t back out. Many committee members, that we spoke to, on condition of anonymity, have spoken thus: “Important office bearers of the association are bribed with pay offs and free telephone connections, by a lobby that is today as powerful as the tobacco lobby.”
WHAT OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE THAT WE DON’T
US, UK and Canada have regulations stating that telecom towers should be 150 feet above the ‘level of human habitation’, not above ground.
Canada does not permit telecom towers within residential areas
Australia and UK assign to autonomous agencies the task of independent audit of levels of radiation emitted from telecom towers
Canada has the Safety Code 6 and USA the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) Bulletin as separate legislations for controlling radiation emission (India doesn’t have any – when they do, we recommend they start with implementing it around the Mantralaya).
This article first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/7pus
TOWER OF DOUBTS ARTICLE — RED ALERT ON CELL TOWER RADIATION; JULY 28, 2008
Iam a student and do not belong to any telecom company. I believe your cover story is misleading and lacks research. 1. The company ‘Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd’ uses guidelines set by some BM agency of Germany, which is not even locatable on the Internet. How did you verify whether the standards are correct? 2. All the locations covered by you seem to be well within the internationally accepted limits OR you blundered in typing m2 instead of cm2. 3. Agencies that set guidelines for radiation are ICNIRP (http://www.icnirp.de/), FCC & NCRP (USA) and several others in various countries.
4. European countries use 450 microW/cm2 and Salzburg Resolution of Austria uses a much more stringent EMR limit of 1 microW/cm2.
After converting to m2, which is used in your report, the limits become much more relaxed to 45,00,000 microW/m2 to 10,000 microW/m2.
5. Mumbai Mirror has simply given publicity to Cogent.
R1. To begin with, it’s not BM but Standards for Building Biology Testing Methods. Its latest standards are called SBM 2003 and are based on the most recent study done on human beings by Bau-Biologie, an independent body of German scientists.
Their website is buildingbiology.net.
The study can be found at www.baubiologie.de/downloads/english/SBM2003_engl_neu.pdf.
The standards are not for the telecom industry alone. They have been taken note of by courts, politicians, authorities and industry, including Gigahertz Solutions of Germany, Nova Institute of Germany and the Public Health Department of Salzburg,Austria.
Some countries have set more stringent standards than what SBM 2003 prescribes.
In the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, various agencies and institutions consider them the most sensible reference limits for testing, equipment manufacture, education and laboratory work.
R2&3. The readings are in microW/m2.
Till research is concluded, internationally accepted limits are only recommendations. Countries adapt these standards based on local conditions. For example, SBM 2003 states that EMR above 50 microW/m2 may be harmful to humans but New Zealand has set the limit at 200 microW/m2.
R4. Parameters vary with each country. The ones you have quoted are countries with stringent guidelines for installing mobile towers (mentioned in our article). For example, many countries don’t allow mobile towers on rooftops, near hospitals, schools and residential areas. In our test, we set the parameters to the EMR limit harmful to humans.
R5. Cogent EMR Solutions Ltd was the only company we could find to conduct these tests.
Thanks and keep writing.
This correspondence also first appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/w5rj
There were many other reactions to this article as well, which I’ll be posting here soon.