Mobile Week with GSM

August 23, 2009

Mobile Phone use: Expert calls for strict adherence to rules

By Emmanuel Elebeke
To decisively tackle the possible health problems from mobile phones and base station Electro-Magnetic Radiation (EMR) rather than relying on uncertain situation, a University Lecturer and Consultant on Radiation Oncologist to College of Medicine, University of Ibadan , Dr. Abbas  Abdus-Salam said there is need for some precautionary measures to be applied.

Some people have expressed fear that mobile phone and network base stations are capable of causing  some health hazards to the users and those who living close to them.

They have made references to many research studies conducted by both technology and health experts to unravel the myth behind the  possible  health problems from mobile phones and base stations. Yet, none of the reports have been able to substantially justify the fears, a challenge researchers still need to work on  to be able to fully establish the truth about the   safety of  the electr-omagnetic radiation coming from mobile phones and base stations.

Dr. Abdus-Salam who spoke at a forum in Lagos recently said rather than relying on situation of uncertainty and inconclusive research findings on the truth about the safety of mobile phone and base station radiation, it is more reasonable for the users to first of all take precautionary measures to guide against the suspected possible health problems  pending when the experts finally come up with a consensus and conclusive report. To do this, he said users must minimize their  rate of cell phone usage, limit the use by at-risk population (children) and adopt mobile phones and micro-cells “ALARA” principle levels of radiation which says that long Call should be reserved for landlines.

Also, he said antennas should be erected in such a manner that the radiating surfaces are at adequate distance from living areas,  particularly when the antennas are located on the roofs of inhabited buildings rather than masts.

“Even though, it is yet to be established that mobile phone and  base stations constitute health hazards, they ought to apply first a self defense strategy, which includes;   minimizing the rate of their phone usage, regulating the high risk class of people like children. When antennas are located like this, access to the roofs of such buildings should be controlled”said the University Don.

For drivers who see nothing wrong in making phone calls while driving, he condemned the act in its entirety, saying that such calls apart from exposing the driver to  possible health hazards, had led to many road accident cases that claimed lives.

“If people use mobile phones properly without necessarily subjecting it abuse, I don’t see how it could pose any health risk to them. But a situation where they keep abusing it even when the situation doesn’t warrant its use, then anything can happen.”  Said   Abdus-Salam.
According   Abdus-Salam, to ensure a total hazards free environment,   facility sharing should be encouraged among network providers to reduce the overall number of antennae and base stations in the country, adding that efforts should also  be made to improve wired networks so as to reduce overall dependence on mobile phones.

He called on the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) to ensure strict enforcement of the regulatory guidelines in collaboration with other relevant agencies of Government.

On the link of mobile phone radiation and cancer, he said the two were linked because radio waves used in mobile phone transmission are part of the electromagnetic (EM) band, but insisted that the EM radiation from mobile phone differs from the cancer-inducing ionizing radiations like gamma and x-rays, even  though they all belong to the same category.

On some epidemiological studies carried out by medical experts to evaluate empirically the safety or otherwise of mobile phone, most especially in relation to cancer risks, he said, of all the  numerous studies conducted, only a few demonstrated potential cancer risks from mobile phone exposure, adding  that some of the studies that find some risks were refuted by other similar studies with greater experimental and statistical control.

“The position of knowledge therefore is that the risks of cancer through EM radiations exposure from mobile phone frequencies has not been established. This is applicable to both the mobile phone handsets and the base stations,”  he Posited.

One major difference between mobile phone radiation and cancer-causing gamma rays the consultant said is  the high frequency and that energy of the gamma rays they can break molecular bonds and   lead to changes in the structure of the DNA which can lead to various kinds of abnormality including cancers and birth defects because they are non-iodized, whereas the radiation from mobile phones and base stations had passed the international ionization test.

However, he said all the radiation from the cell phones is not as simple as the ultra-violet (UV) light from other radiation emitting home appliances such as television, which is also non-ionized and causes cancer of the skin by another mechanism.

“Because of the high frequency and energy of the gamma rays they can break molecular bonds and lead to changes in the structure of the DNA which can lead to various kinds of abnormality including cancers and birth defects.

“It should be noted that mobile phone frequency is inadequate to cause ionization and is certainly unable to cause cancer by this method.
While advocating for collocation among service providers, Abdus-Salam said facility sharing should be encouraged among providers to reduce the overall total number of antennae and base stations in Nigeria.

According to him, efforts should be made to improved wired networks to reduce overall dependence on mobile phones. He further called for  strict application of enforcement and  regulatory guidelines by the regulatory body and other relevant agencies of the Government.
“What is however obvious is that there is still so much to learn to be able to fully rest our mind about safety of mobile phone radiation.
Indeed, the lack of consistency in regulatory guidelines for mobile phone handsets and base stations all over the world today is a serious pointer to the confusion about the safety or lack of it of mobile phone radiations” he averred.

He said  some few peculiarities about Nigerian situation that may warrant extra studies such as  low access to wired lines by Nigerians, the fact that most phone calls are made via mobile phones due to low access to land lines increase the overall exposure to mobile phone radiation to average Nigerian phone users compared to their counterparts in developed world.

He faulted the  poor services by the providers which he said result in many Nigerians regularly carrying  on themselves several handsets, hence creating an additional source of extra and increased exposure.

He warned dealers against turning Nigeria into a dumping ground for used phones from other country which according to him may exceed regulatory limits like increased SAR, regretting that Nigeria has become a major market for phones from grey markets in China with potentially poor regulatory compliance.