United, we stand

Oct 04, 2012, 07:55 IST | Asha Mahadevan

Activists protesting against cell phone tower radiation can now conduct their work from a city-wide platform

Whether you are a resident of SoBo or of the suburbs won’t matter anymore, if you are suffering from the harmful effects of cell phone tower radiation. The Bandra West Residents Association (BWRA) is now gearing up to expand the scale of its operations to the entire city. It has formed Action Against Cell Towers (AACT) with the aim of bringing together all local organisations working towards creating awareness about the health hazards caused by cell phone tower radiation. The two groups organised a seminar on these health hazards at the Bandra Gymkhana on Sunday (September 30) evening. All those who attended were encouraged to write down the names of buildings that they had complaints against, regardless of which part of the city they lived in.

Prakash Munshi, Darryl D'Monte
Working for change: Prakash Munshi (right) and Darryl D’Monte (second from right) listen to their fellow speakers. Pics/atul kamble

Darryl D’Monte, who is the president of BWRA, said that this is the first such initiative that he knows about. “We hope that this will form an umbrella-like organisation so that anybody can come and inform us and we can take it forward. That’s the whole idea. We expect that in a movement like this, the issue is not taken up only as a local issue but as one affecting the entire city. After all, the problem exists in all localities. Mumbai is by far the most dense city in the country so by definition there are going to be more problems in the city. We will cover all the issues – legal issues, technical issues – and what are the alternatives.” He said that AACT has already begun to look at ways in which they can partner with other local organisations fighting on the same issue. “If the Peddar Road residents take these people (cell phone operators) to court, we will examine whether we can join them or not.”

Suresh Prabhu, former Union Cabinet Minister of Environment
Suresh Prabhu, former Union Cabinet Minister of Environment

Prakash Munshi, who has been working for the cause for several years now, revealed that the city was well-represented at the seminar. “We had invited organisations from all over Mumbai, including the eastern suburbs and the Fort area and they attended the event,” he said. “People have to be made aware of the harmful effects as only then they will protest. The cell phone companies are telling us to prove our claims and we are telling them to disprove it. Right now we are stuck at that.”

Health issues
Munshi also cited a charitable organisation that is hosting several antennae that he compared to “flowers in a flower pot” and alleged that each tower earns the host an average of R1 lakh per month. “Everybody is wooed by the cell phone companies with money power. We have only voice power but it has proven to be successful,” he declared. Money, he says, is the main hurdle when it comes to convincing people about the dangers. “One antenna earns a housing society R1 lakh per month, so if a society has 10 antennae, they get R10 lakh per month. It works out such that the members don’t have to pay any maintenance charges at all. They don’t care about the effect that the radiation is having on their neighbours.”

Agrees Reshma Gurnaney, a Napean Sea Road resident who is affected by radiation from her own building. “Because of the money the general body is getting, they are not going deeper into the truth.” Jayshree Patel, who attended the seminar, is facing a similar problem. The Pali Hill resident says a building near her house has a cell phone tower. “My husband has never had any other health problems. Yet he recently began to have headaches and sleep disturbances. When two people from a cancer research institute checked the radiation levels in our master bedroom, they found that it was in the highly dangerous range. The readings were lower in the hall. Now my husband sleeps only in the hall and refuses to enter the bedroom at all. He is feeling much better too. We’ve also found other people in surrounding buildings who are suffering headaches because of the tower.”

However, it is tough to convince officials of housing societies who install such towers about their harmful effects, she says. “Those who have problems will know, others will say you can’t see it, you can’t measure it how can you say it is harmful?” The debate continues.

Doctor speak
But for Dr Ashish Mehta, there is no debate. The spinal and neurological surgeon explained at the seminar how every cell in the human body has a membrane and these are electrically charged. The Electromagnetic Field (EMF) radiation that is emitted by the towers and cell phone handsets themselves interfere with the functioning of these electrically charged cells. This can affect any part of the body, depending on where these cells are located. “EMF can cause anything from changes in DNA to tumours. Some of the common problems are headaches, earaches, ringing ears, poor vision and memory loss.

Even the sweat glands in the skin can be adversely affected,” he said. “But since there has been no double-blind study (where experiments are conducted in a controlled environment), causality cannot be established.” Dr Mehta also added that several studies have proved without doubt that reaction times are affected. “A study conducted showed that if a person drives a car within 30 minutes of using a mobile phone, it would take him or her 200 milliseconds more to switch between the brake and the accelerator than it would have otherwise, and that can be the difference between life and death,” he said. 

Evidence is important, agreed Suresh Prabhu, former Union Cabinet Minister for Environment and Forests, and a special guest at the seminar. He insisted, “Mobile tower radiation is the biggest challenge in health we are facing today. Strong empirical evidence can push through regulation. Mobility need not lead to morbidity.”

Shield yourself
Dr Ashish Mehta’s mantra

>> Grow plants at home. They absorb radiation to a large extent.
>> Switch off mobile phones and other wireless communication devices when not in use. Avoid cordless handsets as they emit more radiation than mobile phones. Bluetooth headsets and earphones are a better choice but they are not fully safe either. If using them, keep the phone at least an arm’s length away.

Dr Ashish Mehta's mantra

>> Do not use cell phones in enclosed metal compartments such as elevators and cars.
>> Using a phone can delay reaction times, so keep a 30-min gap between using the phone and driving a car or taking part in adventure sports.
>> Be aware of passive radiation – you can be affected by the radiation emitted from the handset of the person next to you.
>> The risk from cell phone and tower radiation is especially great for pregnant women and children below 12 years old.  

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