Using of Mobile Phone has been rapidly spread globally to provide proper networking coverage. But effects of mobile phone tower radiations are seen in many countries and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the use of mobile phone has increased over the past few years with the total number of mobile phone active subscribers reaching 120 million at the end of December 2017. At the same time there has been a significant increase in the installations of mobile base stations, accompanied by public concern for possible environmental and health impacts associated with exposure to electromagnetic waves spreading from towers. The wide use of mobile phones has inevitably raised the question of whether there are any implications for nature and public health. In this paper, objectives are evaluating the radiation status of mobile base stations in study area as well as assess the impacts of radiation from cell phone towers towards nature and public health.
Setting the Scene
Currently, there are more than 12 cores cell phone users and nearly 21,600 cell phone towers in Bangladesh to meet the communication demand. The amount of Grameenphone towers is 9,500, Banglalink is 5,300, Robi is 3,056, Airtel is 1700 and Teletalk is 594. As a result, people have been debating about associated health risk due to radiation from cell phone and cell tower. In Dhaka city, cell towers are mushrooming all over the places. GrameenPhone, Banglalink, Robi, TeleTalk, Airtel are major mobile carriers in Bangladesh. Due to great demand of mobile phone in Bangladesh various operator have built their tower and networking system through antenna all over the country. In Bangladesh, there are three types of mobile towers are used. These are, Roof Top Tower, Green Field Tower and Green Field Roof Top Tower.
Results and discussion
To carry out this fundamental study, data were also collected from government and non government organizations (1. Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission; 2. Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited; 3. Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, Dhaka; 4. Department of Biomedical Physics, University of Dhaka; 5. Department of Theoretical Physics, University of Dhaka; and 6. Department of Environment) as well as document review and by key informant interview with some experts. In general, there are 3 indicators to measure radiation which are explained below:
Power Density: Power density is the amount of power per unit volume. In energy transformers like batteries, fuel cells, motors, etc. it refers to a volume. According to the world health organization (WHO), the safety limits of radiation levels at different frequency bands are;
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has carried some measurements of radiated power density from all cell phone tower sites in Dhaka city and found the following outputs;
Electric Field Strength: Electric field strength is a quantitative expression of the intensity of an electric field at a particular location. According to the world health organization (WHO), the safety limits of electric field strength at different frequency bands are;
According to Bangladesh telecommunication regulatory commission electric field strength through different frequency bands from all cell phone tower sites in Dhaka are;
Specific Absorption Rate: Specific absorption rate is related to electric field value and absorption of human tissue, can be used to check safety hazards. The world health organization has given the standard rate 1.66 w/kg. But the situation of Bangladesh on absorption is different.
Environmental and Public Health Risks
Radiation from Cell phone and cell tower affects the birds, animals, plant and environment. One would never see a bee, sparrow, pigeon, or any bird flying and staying near the cell tower. The reason is that surface area of a bird is relatively larger than their weight in comparison to human body, so they absorb more radiation. In several countries, an abrupt disappearance of bees has been several years back and was associated with the rising electromagnetic pollution. This is known as Colony Collapse Disorder where bees cannot find their way back to the hive as a result of consistent electromagnetic back ground noise that seems to disrupt intercellular communication within individual bees. When honey bee colonies were exposed with radiation, the honeycomb weight and area were reduced and returning time of honey bees increased compared to similar non-exposed colonies. The current vanishing of honey bees can have serious consequences for human health. When birds are exposed to weak electromagnetic fields, they disorient and begin to fly in all directions, which explain migratory birds undermining navigational abilities. A large number of birds like pigeons, sparrows, swans are getting lost due to interference from the new "unseen enemy". During recent decades there has been a marked decline of the house sparrow population. A stable house sparrow population indicates a healthy ecosystem for human beings in terms of air and water quality, vegetation and other parameters of habitat quality. Whereas, a declining population of the bird provides a warning that the urban ecosystem is experiencing some environmental changes unsuitable for human health in the immediate future. It is proved that cows grazing near cell towers are more likely to experience still births, spontaneous abortions, birth deformities, behavioral problems and general declines in overall health. Moving cattle herds away from such towers has reportedly led to immediate health improvements. Exposing dairy cows to magnetic fields can also result in reduction in milk yield, changed milk composition and fertility problems. Similarly, impaired immune system in sheep, reproductive and developmental problems in dogs and cats, anxiety and alarm in rabbits, frequent death of domestic animals such as, hamsters, and guinea pigs living near base stations of mobile telecommunication towers has been observed. Apart from bees, birds and animals, electromagnetic radiation emanating from cell towers can also affect vegetables, crops and plants in its vicinity. Studies show definitive clues that cell phone tower radiation can choke seeds, inhibit germination and root growth, thereby affecting the overall growth of agricultural crops and plants. Trees located inside the main beam, have much lower fruit yield, have dried tops, show slow growth and high susceptibility to illnesses and plagues. Also, electromagnetic radiation generates heat, which may kill micro-organisms present in the soil near it. This in turn harms those organisms which feed on them and disturbs the ecological cycle. I have seen different problems among the people in Dhaka city. Different mobile operators have established their tower at populated zone. As a result, nowadays people are facing inimical problems. Such as sleeping disturbances, headache, dizziness, changes in anxiety, depression, generalized burning sensation, episodes of shaking, fits, mood disorders, palpitation, diarrhea, skin rash, libido disease, fatigue, irritability, memory loss, hopelessness, heaviness of chest etc. But people of Dhaka city are still unaware about electromagnetic radiation and its impact.
Defensive Measures of Electromagnetic Radiation
In addition to the continuous radiation from cell towers, there is radiation from cell phones, wireless phones, computers, laptops, TV towers, FM towers etc. We are exposed to all these radiations which are additive in nature. If people in the mobile companies think there is no health hazard, then let them stand in front of their own transmitting tower at 1m distance in the main beam for 6 hours – are they willing to take the risk? Context demands some primary methods can be taken: guidelines of World Health Organization can be functional to upright tower and transmission frequency; towers both ground based and roof based should not be installed within 50 meters from schools or hospitals — new towers should be located 50 meters away from school and hospital buildings, installation of towers in the residential areas must be avoided, 24 hours monitoring of cell tower radiation must be done at urban/rural areas, antennas should be mounted on or above 30 meters from ground, warning sign must be installed near cell towers to warn people about the danger of radiation, hotline must be hanged where people can call or write their problems regarding radiation.
Cell phone tower radiation is worse than smoking; as one cannot see it or smell it, and its effect on health is noted after a long period of exposure. Even if people are aware of the radiation hazard, they may not have the choice to move away from it if the tower is installed near their office or residential building. If mobile companies accept that radiation causes serious health problems, will people stop using cell phones? Not really, since the cell technology has its several advantages. However, researchers/technocrats will come out with possible solutions, which may be expensive but that cannot be greater than the health risk faced by humans, birds, plants, animals and environment.
The Writer is an Environmental Analyst & Associate Member, Bangladesh Economic Association.