No Cancer From Towers

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Goa government should fund cancer specialists to study health effects

The Goa government has decided to install 62 new mobile towers to increase network connectivity in the state. In the second phase of the plan 138 more mobile towers will be set up. The government decision is welcome as cell phone users face connectivity problems in several spots in the state. Cell phones are fast becoming the preferred tool for not only personal communications but also for professional, educational, industrial and commercial communications. Desktops and laptops are still not on their way to becoming history, but  mobiles are ascending newer and newer heights in importance. During the coronavirus pandemic the need for strong connectivity has been felt all the more. Schools and colleges had to be closed for months and when the imparting of education started it started through the online mode. Students in several parts of Goa had to struggle to download the study materials; many had to run about here and there or to go to long distances to avail it. The pandemic forced industrial and commercial employers to adapt to the growing western work culture of working from home, and there again poor connectivity came in the way in several areas. The dependence of industrial and commercial employers on strong telecom connectivity is only going to increase phenomenally in the coming years.

The state government has to build the telecom infrastructure with a combination of zeal and pragmatism. We say pragmatism, because it has been common for telecom companies to face opposition to building of towers and the state government cannot ride roughshod over local people’s sentiments. The opposition can only be met by two ways. One, the tower should be located not very close to habitations. Two, the government should spend time, money and manpower in spreading awareness among people that telecom towers do not cause cancer. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant should take Health Minister Vishwajit Rane on board in order to get cancer specialists and medical scientists to convince people that till now no compelling evidence has been found that exposure to the radiofrequency (RF) waves from mobile towers causes cancer or any other disease or any adverse effects on a person’s health. According to the American Cancer Society, RF waves are a form of energy whose intensity lies between FM radio waves and microwaves. Like FM radio waves and microwaves, RF waves are a form of “non-ionizing radiation.” Non-ionizing radiation does not directly damage the DNA inside cells. In contrast to RF waves, x-rays, gamma rays and ultraviolet (UV) rays are forms of “ionizing radiation” which can damage human cells and cause cancer.

The US Federal Communication Commission and other US regulatory authorities have set limits for safe exposure to the human body and found that the amount of energy radiated by RF waves is “hundreds to thousands of times less than the limits for safe exposure.” This is true even at the base or in the close vicinity of the mobile towers. “It is very unlikely that a person could be exposed to RF levels in excess of these limits just by being near a cell phone tower,” the American Cancer Society says.

That said, the Goa government, like all governments, has to remember that even though there is no strong evidence yet of any adverse health effects from the radiation from mobile towers, it does not mean that RF waves have been proven to be absolutely harmless. Even the American Cancer Society and other US and world organisations of medical experts say that the human exposure to the RF waves from the mobile towers cannot be declared to be “absolutely safe” unless more research into the subject is done. Though there are no short-term effects on human health found yet, the possibility of long-term effects cannot be ruled out.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant should first ensure that the mobile towers are set up away from habitations. Secondly, he and Health Minister Rane should get cancer specialists in government and private hospitals to examine the health parameters of people living close to mobile towers over a sufficient length of time to know of any ill-effects from the exposure to the RF waves. The government should set aside special funds for their research.