Amidst plagiarism row, stringent mobile radiation standards comes into effect today in India

From today, mobile radiation standards in India will become 10 times more stringent than “90 % of the countries” in the world. The government has issued guidelines to control electromagnetic radiations and asked operators to cut radiation levels by 1/10th from the existing standards, making India one of the few countries to have strict controls on radiation levels.

The standards have been put in place just a few days after the ministry of environment and forest submitted its report “on possible impacts of communication towers on wildlife including birds and bees,” which is said to have been plagiarised and misrepresents facts to support one side of the argument. Based on the report, the department of telecommunications had come out with a set of guidelines for mobile phone towers.

Dr R Prasad, notes in The Hindu

The “Report on possible impacts of communication towers on wildlife including birds and bees,” is a textbook example of how not to write scientific reports… The report begins by emphatically stating that “adverse effects… from mobile phones and communication towers on health of human beings are well documented today!” Nothing can be more incorrect than this.

The article goes on to highlight that large scales studies have not found any significant risk due to mobile phone radiations and that though the world health organisation had labelled electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic” it soon clarified that no consistent evidence was found to prove its adverse effect on humans.

The world health organisation and the international agency for research on cancer classifies electromagnetic fields into Group 2B which means that it could be “possibly carcinogenic.” The group 2b carcinogens, among others, include lead, coffee(wth!?), diesel, gasoline and pickled vegetables!

Occupations such as carpentry, dry cleaning, fire fighting, printing and textile manufacturing are also considered “possibly carcinogenic.” The classification is the lowest level of confidence that the IARC uses when classifying something as carcinogenic, followed by Group 2a (“probably carcinogenic to humans”), and Group 1 (“carcinogenic to humans”).

Dr Prasad however adds a caveat and suggests that its prudent to adopt a precautionary approach despite the lack of evidence. And on the precautionary side, we have the new set of guidelines.

Here are the highlights

Mobile Towers

  • Electromagnetic frequency exposure limit (Base Station Emissions) has been lowered to 1/10th of the existing exposure level, effective today.
  • Government cells have been formed to conduct audits on the self certification furnished by the Service Providers.
  • Test procedure to measure radiation has been revised.
  • For non-compliance of standards, a penalty of Rs 5 lakhs per station per provider.

Mobile Handsets

  • All the new design of mobile handsets shall comply with the specific absorption rate (SAR)  values of 1.6 W/kg averaged over 1 gram of human tissue.
  • The mobile handsets with existing designs which are compliant with 2.0 W/kg averaged over 10 gram of human tissue, will continue to co-exist up to 31 August 2013. Only phones with lower sar value (1.6 W/kg  ) will be manufactured or imported.
  • Mobile hand sets will be randomly checked for compliance.
  • All cell phone handsets sold in the market in India will comply with relevant standards and shall be available in hand free mode.

A scientific study in India-specific context is being undertaken jointly by the telecom department and the department of science and technology in collaboration with the ministry of environment and forest and others.

Full guidelines here (pdf) here (pdf) and here (pdf).

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