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Ways to protect yourself from mobile phone and tower radiation

October 7, 2008

Last month pre-paid mobile subscribers (85 percent of cell phone users in India country are pre-paid, accounting for 70 percent of revenues) got lucky. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has disallowed the hefty processing fee on recharge vouchers (30-40 percent of the cost of the voucher). Talk time for subscribers could increase substantially. For example a pre-paid customer of Bharti Airtel would get talk time of 150 minutes on a Rs 345 voucher instead of the earlier 90 minutes.

The falling costs of cell phones and talk time is contributing to the growth of this industry and for cell phone companies it means beefing up of infrastructure. But we should say STOP! There are hundreds of cell phone towers in India and many of them are in residential localities as we have not had the regulation to prevent them from coming up within 50 meters of a residential area (this is now changing). But even this is not safe! And cell phones certainly aren’t.

Time to ponder on the health aspect. That heavy cell phone usage and being near cell towers causes/aggravates various health problems is now well known. Health problems can range from tumors, cancers, and infertility to memory loss, headaches, allergies and eye problems. Although the research available on the long term threats isn’t sufficient, scientists are warning us about “unknown risks.” And really smart people are telling us that it’s better to be safe than sorry. In fact it is believed that small animals, insects and birds have been badly hit already.

Here’s what to do to protect yourself. Sources:[1], [2], [3], [4]

  • Reduce talk time
  • Don’t allow children to use cell phones as radiation penetrates their skulls more deeply
  • Place cell phones as far away from your body if using a hands free device
  • Wait for the call to connect before placing the phone near your ear
  • Avoid using cells in an enclosed space as radiation higher
  • Avoid using cells in speeding cars, buses, trains, planes as radiation levels higher. And yes, there is something called second hand radiation too which can harm those next to you.
  • Avoid using a cell when signal is weak
  • Avoid living near a cell phone tower
  • Use a hands-free device, but new research is saying that blue tooths are not necessarily safe. Some blue tooths intensify radiation into the ear canal!
  • Choose a phone with a low SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) but even this does not really keep radiation within safe limits, although it does reduce it.

Considering that the average Indian spends (December 06 data) “more time talking on his mobile than his counterparts anywhere else except the US,” we certainly need to be careful. And add to this the fact that we are the third largest cell phone market after China and the United States.

Wonder what the future will bring. I think some serious protective devices will come up (there are a few already) and soon it might become compulsory to use them.

Update: 25th October 2009: Looks like the future is already here. A new study by the WHO (World Health Organisation)
has found that using a cell phone heavily for more than a decade can cause cancer, specificially brain tumors. This is contrary to the lies which has been told by cell phone companies over the years. My reading is that soon, maybe another 20 years or so, the results will be so clear that cell phone companies will have to put warning signs on their gadgets.Th0s study is one of the most comprehensive ones ever undertaken, and was done in 13 countries, and interviewed 12,800 people.

(Photograph is by me and copyrighted)

Related Reading: Indians do not think it impolite to talk on cell phones during meetings
Loud honking can ruin your hearing!
Pesticides poisoning India
Dangers of plastic bottles and pizza cartons
Newsprint can harm you
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44 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2008 7:55 pm

    85% of people are pre-paid customers.. i was not shocked.It is far more easy to get a pre-paid connection than a post paid, and telecom companies are still not as strict when it comes to a pre-paid connection, i recently got one for my friend and its activated for past one month without any verification.

    Coming to the health hazard i wud like to add one more point.

    Do not sleep with ur cell phones, putting it under your pillow etc.

    As rightly said by you, better safe than sry.

    Talking to much on mobile is not only unsafe because of the radiations, but it becomes irritating for people around you.

  2. October 7, 2008 7:56 pm

    Yipeee… I am the first one to comment :)

  3. October 7, 2008 8:11 pm

    I always joked that in India everyone is a walking-talking call center ;)

  4. October 7, 2008 8:21 pm

    Its one of the things which most of the indians wont avoid despite the health hazards.
    People consider it more like a fancy item rather than a communication device which has a health hazard associated with it.

    Hope sometime in future people realize the fact and use the device in a restricted manner

  5. October 7, 2008 8:40 pm

    “Unknown risks” !! I guess we have unknown risks of aliens conquering Planet Earth right this moment. That doesn’t seem to bother you?

    C’mon! Give it a bit of thought. There’s absolutely *no* proof that cell phone radiation causes anything. This sounds like a typical ‘be afraid’ theory.

    I can do a study on 364 males right now and prove you that men who climb more than two floors by elevators have higher risk of cancer. 364 is wayyy too small sample size for a study like this.

    Moreover, just read this line with me — The study found that men who use their mobile devices for more than four hours per day were far more LIKELY to have problems with SPERM VIABILITY that COULD lead to infertility problems. Do you understand the ambiguity there? There’s no solid proof.

    This is the media — spicing things up, as they like. You, of all people, should not fall into this trap. I actually like your blog.

    You’re making judgement against presented facts, based on pure skepticism.

    and Sharad,
    Unless you have a pacemaker on your heart – you can sleep with the cell phone lying absolutely anywhere.

  6. October 7, 2008 9:01 pm

    @Vivek…

    really njyed reading ur comment… yes there is ambguity… but “better safe than sry” “better late than never”

    one is not going to lose anything if he reduce his talk time or is he?

    and the other side effect of sleeping with ur cell fone is ur brining a “woh” in between pati and patni if ur married.. and if ur bachelor.. do u want to sleep with a cell fone…ahhh…

  7. October 7, 2008 9:27 pm

    hmm…i use a head phone :) but then i stopped the long hours on mob…and i didn’t know about the towers….should warn people…

  8. lallopallo permalink
    October 7, 2008 9:47 pm

    Nita, that was an important post. Though Iam not sure if the current research and data is enough to be definite about anything yet. Till then, we have to take our own calls on this.

  9. October 7, 2008 9:51 pm

    Sharad, thanks for mentioning that extra point about the pillow. I wouldn’t keep a mobile phone under my pillow either!

    Priyank, yeah we Indians talk a lot don’t we! I am sure we comment more too! I mean on blogs.

    Whacky, those who are careful have a better survival of their genes! :) And no I am not just talking of infertility problems. But other things too. Survival of the fittest.

    VivekM, enjoyed reading your comment, like Sharad did. Well, there are many who think the way you do but I am not one of them. There is no need to agree is there? :) But as far as I am concerned there is sufficient ground to worry about cell phone radiation.

    Vishesh, the towers are more dangerous. The radiation emitted from a cell phone tower is far above safety levels if you are in the vicinity and you don’t even need to talk on the phone!

    Lallopallo, I agree. We each of us have to decide whether we believe it or not. Being a health conscious person, I prefer to take safety measures. I don’t lose anything by doing it.

  10. October 7, 2008 11:13 pm

    As you already stated that rates are getting slashed, we are not going to be quiet :)

    Since there are some hazards in using it, we are going to lose anything by reducing the usage

  11. October 7, 2008 11:18 pm

    ..but all of us are addicted to cell phones than anything else. We cant live without them even for a single day.

    Every invention has its own limitations. Over doing anything is always harmful, say-eating more without exercise will cause obesity. When music players were introduced, the catalog mentions a warning that hearing for long hours will cause deafness.

    Its upto an individual as how he makes best use of the technology.

  12. October 7, 2008 11:24 pm

    Nice informative post. People may refute effects of radiation from cell phone but its really better to be safe than sorry! Thanks for the tips.

  13. October 7, 2008 11:38 pm

    Oh Nita I think I have more to worry about what goes in to my plate here than cell phone radiation. What flows out of my tap is another concern. I wonder if cell phones are just a scapegoat for the government because ensuring food and water quality is something that requires some real work.

  14. October 7, 2008 11:52 pm

    Nita:

    I agree with Odzer. Risk is comparative. One can stop using cellphones but one cannot stop eating or breathing or drinking water. The less said about food contamination, abysmal air quality and water potability in India, the better. There has to be proportionality about risk and risk acceptance and hence risk mitigation. That is a relative argument.

    Secondly, Karolinska Institute is the only one to have done longitudinal studies on mobile phone radiation. Scandinavian people have been using mobiles longer than any other humans and they use it more extensively than any other humans. The studies from Karolinska are not conclusive. In fact nearly every new study contradicts the previous one’s conclusions. Also what does it mean to tell a regular guy off the street that his risk of cancer is heightened by X% by using mobiles? If not framed in absolute terms, this % means nothing. Also the risks of cancer in, say, Norway, will differ hugely from those faced by people in India. What do these risks mean?

    Thirdly, on the point ” I think some serious protective devices will come up (there are a few already) and soon it might become compulsory to use them”, I think it is important to understand what sort of devices these mobile phones are. In using bluetooth devices, one is effectively using the phone as a transmission device (or an antenna). In receiving calls, it serves as a reception equipment.

    If the devices that claim to block electromagnetic radiation block anything, they will block the phone from working. Or they have to be either very sophisticated devices (hence so pricey that Joe Public can’t afford them). Otherwise they are just plain exploitative of unfounded health fears. The evidence of the effectiveness of such products is insufficient and of suspect quality. Unless we implant chips inside us, and short of using an old fashioned cord phone (landline), the design problem is unlikely to be solved easily or cost-effectively.

    I am sure Reema (the other engineer here; I am sure there are others but I don’t know them) can add more about antennas here and why these devices are infeasible knowing the limitations of the design of phones.

  15. October 7, 2008 11:54 pm

    Oh and the only certain way to save ourselves from the radiation in modern lives is to go live in the caves in Afghanistan although I hear the Taliban and Osama’s men are using satellite phones and mobiles so no escape there either ;-)

  16. October 7, 2008 11:58 pm

    Sorry to write a third comment. If we implant chips, we will become reception equipment and hence a source of radiation ourselves. May be we will glow in the dark too :-) I can’t wait to find out! I am tired carrying devices.

  17. Nangineer permalink
    October 8, 2008 12:22 am

    It is a fairly ridiculous idea that cellphones produce radiation that is incredibly harmful to humans. Put very simply, all that a cellphone does, is receive and transmit radio waves. Being afraid of cellphone “radiation” is tantamount to being afraid of radio waves; and if that is the case, you have just as much reason to stay away from your radio, your television set, all wireless internet connections, paging devices, computer terminals, telephone sets…you get the idea. In fact, visible light is technically more harmful that radio waves according to the electromagnetic spectrum (greater energy). I like your blog quite a bit, so forgive me if I sound harsh, but this is simply popular fiction, not reliable science.

    Further reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_waves

  18. October 8, 2008 1:47 am

    Nita, I think the benefits far outweigh the risks. See, Microwave ovens are dangerous, and at first Pressure Cookers were considered unsafe?
    And then most of the effects are not proven conclusively, I read it’s not the closest but those who alive a little (some distance was mentioned) away are at risk from the Towers…
    But this much is true that if we keep talking for too long the ears do feel uncomfortably warm unlike the land line phones. So no harm being careful:)

  19. October 8, 2008 7:30 am

    Odzer and Shefaly, yes there are other pollutants that we need to worry about, but that is not the point I was making.

    Shefaly, true studies are not conclusive. I am not a science student but I kind of think of radio waves also risky. Maybe I am wrong, let’s see, we will know in about a decade. And about the devices I think things like paint and radio waves absorbers, mainly to protect those who live near towers. Sorry if I wasn’t clear about that.

    Nangineer, I wish you are right. But if we look at human history it is not advisable to ridicule these ideas (many ideas which were ridiculed were proven right). I disagree that it is popular fiction, but yes I agree it is not completely proved. There are strong indications that these will be proved or disproved soon. Until it happens, I cannot say with certainity that we are safe. Also we do not stick close to tv sets etc, like we stick close to cell phones.

    Indian Homemaker. those who live close to the towers are considered at risk. And those who speak on phones with a weak signal are considered at risk. About your other point of benefit, I am not saying that we should ban the mobile phones but keep it in moderation, until we are a hundred percent sure we are safe.

  20. October 8, 2008 8:12 am

    to Nita and Sharad

    Well, we agree to disagree! :)

    But as already pointed out by many — Even if there’s a risk, it is so small in front of all the pesticides you eat in your fresh vegetables or the chemicals you drink in your clean water and the innumerable harmful gases you breath each and every day.

    Waiting for the call to connect before placing the phone near your ear while walking through the thick dusty south Delhi air … is well … you know it

    VivekM, it is worth reading this article in a recent issue of The Economist which says that although the studies are inconclusive, it is not possible to take a stand either way. Not yet. – Nita.

  21. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 8, 2008 8:59 am

    @ Nita,

    //…we have not had the regulation to prevent them from coming up within 50 meters of a residential area…//

    We don’t need such regulation. The “development” sharks, rapidly converting residential areas to commercial use, will soon compel us all to migrate wa-a-a-ay out to the back of beyond to find a place where the regulation would be applicable.

    Vivek, I know you are just sounding off, but well, even if that happens, we still need the regulation to be enforced. :) it’s in place in developed countries. In Mumbai it is not. – Nita.

  22. October 8, 2008 10:24 am

    @ Nita:

    You say: “..although the studies are inconclusive, it is not possible to take a stand either way.:

    Actually it is _because_ the studies are inconclusive that it is not possible to take a stand either way.

    You also say about Radio waves that we will know in a decade? We have had that around since we had wireless sets and then radios, then transistors in our homes, for which we queued up and paid licence (which may amuse those who are very young). What might we know in a decade? I am confused I think…

    Shefaly, to me it’s very clear. We do not hold radios to the side of our brain the way we do cell phones. That is in fact the argument against cell phones, that is why people talk of blue tooths but again I do not know if blue tooths help that much if we put the phone in our pocket, next to the groin. I just do not know. – Nita.

  23. October 8, 2008 11:05 am

    who cares? cellular telephony has come to be an integral part of modern lives. so what if the brain is damaged? so what if there is radiation hazard? so what if there is a tower on my rooftop?

    when the world is so fast paced, all data and knowledge becomes outdated within a matter of months. so how do u expect the people to keep themselves educated and NOT forget the harmful effects? through ur blog u could educate say, 100 people. if it were an article in newspaper, the number could be a lac.

    even if they’re educated, it takes a lot of practice and self introspection of daily habits to minimise the harm.

    I agree with your last sentence whole-heartedly. Most people are not bothered because these effects cannot be seen and often are simply aggravating factors. – Nita.

  24. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 8, 2008 11:29 am

    @ Shefaly:

    You mean to say you are old enough to remember the days when one needed to have licences for radio receivers? :-)

    Then you would also, perhaps, recall a time when one had to have a licence for a bicycle. This was issued as a small, oval solid brass token (about 20 sq. cm.) with the necessary text punched neatly into its approx. 4 mm. thick body. It was fixed to the crank wheel with a small nut and bolt (surpisingly it was not attractive enough for thieves to remove, possibly because brass was too cheap; the copper coins then in circulation were more profitable to melt and sell for their metal value.

  25. chirax permalink
    October 8, 2008 11:30 am

    @Nita : I think this is not as harmful, atleast that is what I was taught.

    I resonate with Priyank, we are a mobile call center, excuse the pun, either its Girlfriend, Wife, boss, Friends or client. Everything is possible over phone.

    My Mom, dictates cake recipes over phone :) and talk the whole bloody time.

    Chirax, Knowledge about technology and its effects keeps changing and therefore it’s best not to take the preliminary findings too lightly . – Nita.

  26. October 8, 2008 11:51 am

    @ Vivek

    I do not remember bicycle licences. We did not have an adult bicycle at home when I was growing up.

    However the radio licence I do remember. I grew up in a small town where people trusted other people and at a time when children had a lot more freedom of unsupervised, unchaperoned movement. So my parents were happy to let me go to the post office with my sister, when I was about 4 or 5. I remember the licence bit because although I was allowed to go, I was not allowed to hold the money. It bugged me no end. :-(

  27. October 8, 2008 12:29 pm

    I think you really can not do anything about radiations, especially from cell phones. What about the Televisions nowadays, with Tata Sky, Dish TV and Airtel DTH, where are we running away from all the radiations!

    I think use technology, live a peaceful life, you’ll die anyways!

    Aathira, we are getting affected by radiation. Time will prove it. 50 years from now it will be a solid fact…but again that is my own belief. – Nita.

  28. October 8, 2008 12:38 pm

    That’s very useful information Nita, thanks

    you are welcome! – Nita.

  29. vivekmittal permalink
    October 8, 2008 1:06 pm

    I believe that harm due to use of mobiles is not yet established, but i can say for sure that it has been established that mobile phones dont affect the functioning of an aircraft..but still use of mobile phones are banned during a flight at least in India

    Vivek, it’s not been established, but there are numerous studies which cite health problems. Now these studies have been denounced, and so we wait for more comprehensive and more long term studies. In the meanwhile people like me prefer to use the landline when we are near a landline. – Nita.

  30. October 8, 2008 1:16 pm

    Well if not radiations.. there are “other side effects” of using too much of cell fones..

    Sharad, you mean car accidents and the like I guess. But I wouldn’t put my mind at rest about harm from radiation. Preliminary studies do indicate that it might go either way. If preliminary findings said nothing to worry, then perhaps one could go more towards not worrying but the way things are going now, I think the telecom industry is going to use all its might to suppress the truth. – Nita.

  31. October 8, 2008 6:17 pm

    Yes Nita… I mean not using mobile while driving..

    how irritating it is when you hear some stupid ringtone in cinema hall… in meetings… etc… I knw this will come under etiquettes.. not hazards…but still…. you wont lose anything if u keep ur talk to minimum, it should be used a mean, a tool and not something u cannot live without.

  32. October 8, 2008 7:50 pm

    Hopefully we get some protective casing in the future, because everyone knows we cannot live without cellphones. Considering that cellphones’ radiations are harmful, the tips that you have given are really helpful. I am wondering if I should carry the cellphone in my pant pocket anymore!

    Dinesh Babu, yes something like that could happen if it is discovered that there is some harm causes. – Nita.

  33. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    October 8, 2008 9:32 pm

    @ Dinesh Babu,

    //I am wondering if I should carry the cellphone in my pant pocket anymore!//

    Depends on your priorities in the matter of physiology and anatomical functions.

  34. Mayuresh Gaikwad permalink
    October 9, 2008 2:49 am

    Nita,

    Have you seen people in India listen to commentary on their radiosets? They hold it close to their ears.

    Secondly, using a bluetooth makes the blue-tooth close to your ears, so the effects are the same.

    Third, as someone mentioned above, light is more dangerous than radio waves, as it has a higher frequency, and hence, higher penetration power!

    So, the only factor that can cause harm is the amplitude (i.e. the strength of the signal). Research done shows that the strength of the cellphone signal is lower than the strength of light emanating from a 25W light bulb! If placing a light bulb right next to our head is not dangerous, using a cell phone is not dangerous either.

    Mayuresh, well, if you agree that the strength of the signal is the problem, then you will agree that cell phone towers are dangerous. In India they are in residential areas, that too densely packed urban areas. I am glad that you at least concede that. In developed countries it is not allowed to have a tower within 50 metres of a residential area. As far as I am concerned, I would prefer a safer distance. And as for radiation from cell phones, remember the danger they say is only from prolonged and heavy use. Now what effect a relatively weak radio signal has if the quantity of exposure is high, is soemthing I feel we will know soon. I prefer to play it safe. I prefer to limit cell phone use. – Nita.

  35. October 9, 2008 3:24 am

    Re: scientific studies; for people who believe in them blindly, here’s a news item from Boston Globe on how Pfizer tried to suppress a study that suggested that their drug was ineffective.

    The point is that anyone who still thinks that scientific studies are not influenced by corporations and special interests which have the power to decide which studies and results get to the public, or give us the complete picture, needs some reality check. This does not mean that *all* scientific studies are incorrect/false and everything scientific needs to be mistrusted, but simply that it’s good to maintain a healthy skepticism even when it comes to what a “scientific study” says, instead of blindly believing it. Science shouldn’t become the new religion.

    Amit, maybe you didn’t intend to, but you have certainly bolstered my argument. I am quite convinced that the telcom industry is suppressing the truth of the present surveys. It is very easy to demolish a survey or a study! The telecom industry today is extremely powerful, far more than the tobacco industry and the industry is critical to all infrastructure too. I think that those who believe the telecom industry is an innocent bystander in this issue are being very gullible. – Nita.

  36. October 9, 2008 10:39 am

    @ Amit

    That in this case, studies are inconclusive – some suggest increased risk and some do not – and most of them have emerged from the same institution should say something about the fairness of the process. Leading mobile telecom firms are European where there is much more transparency and oversight. The public is also very much for the ‘precautionary principle’ (see earlier comment on risk propensity and risk mitigation) so there is plenty of consumer interest. Much funding for public interest studies actually comes from the EC* – ergo European taxpayers’ cash – and not from these mobile firms. I work on many such multi-country projects and I can assure you that the sponsors, if corporate at all, don’t get a look in. That is why it is so hard to get them to sponsor such studies. It is one of the rare places where the EC is useful.

    Truth be told, most people really do not have the wherewithal to assess and evaluate a scientific paper. Which is why headlines have to be parsed for the public (that was why I used to write my Obesity blog which was about comparing the headline with the research paper’s contents; they were in and out of sync pretty much half and half). And with partial information reported, only partly correct conclusions can be drawn.

    Frankly I would rather have a scientific temper where I am able to question things than take any research as given. That is why the word ‘inconclusive’ is important.

    *EC – European Commission

  37. October 9, 2008 10:54 pm

    Nita, my (tangential) comment was not specific to the cell-phone debate, but rather on the general attitude on how “scientific studies” are viewed by many. It wasn’t intended to promote any fear of using cell-phones, or substantiate any one view over another regarding health risks of cell-phones. :)

    Shefaly, I haven’t done enough research on this cell-phone issue (though I have heard some anecdotal stories or two from mostly reliable sources in the US), and my perception is that in general and for the most part (with a few exceptions), EU has stricter standards, and it is much easier to muddy the scientific debate in the US.

  38. October 9, 2008 10:55 pm

    Correction: “..heard an anecdotal story or two from..”

  39. October 10, 2008 8:01 pm

    Nice post. Well, it takes time to know the health hazards of new things, medicines, equipments that are there to facilitate our lives. Often it takes years. Look at asbestos, teflon, melamine, radium dials, and so many other things. Oral contraceptive pills, thalidomide, aniline, DES, radiation, and so on. While all scientific studies, especially those reported / hyped in lay media should not be accepted at face value, it is reasonable for people to take “precautions” if they want to! And it is helpful to know what the possible precautions could be. Many people would prefer to err on the side of caution.

  40. October 11, 2008 8:06 pm

    Considering that the average Indian spends (December 06 data) “more time talking on his mobile than his counterparts anywhere else except the US

    Thatz really scary..Grr..I have spent lot of my time on this thing…

    Try using hands free and bluetooth options..I guess that helps to some extent..

  41. December 19, 2008 11:22 pm

    Hi, Consumer court india has to take a strong action against the mobile operators, they just not following the norms while installing their tower, most of the tower are installed at the private area like on the roof of the house, they should be installed only at the commercial place, because at least in night their will be no human.

    • mirza ziaulla baig permalink
      July 12, 2009 11:20 pm

      Save our planet now before every living being is killed mercilessly by the most dreadly radiations man has ever known from cell phones and cell phone towers. Its the duty of every human being for the universal salvation.Governments of all the countries, legal institutions, humam rights associations, all religious associations, students and the public should unite to wage a war against all telecom companies to stop killing now and should cure every wound that they have inflicted and should pay maximum compensation man has ever known.

  42. rushikesh patil permalink
    November 3, 2012 12:35 pm

    What to do if u have 3 cell towers within 50 m of your home range?

  43. ulhas s tawade permalink
    November 16, 2012 3:10 pm

    At any given time a body is at all times penetrated by different types of waves of different wavelengths of which mobile radiation is the most harmful. Lessen mobile use

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