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A Journey for EMF

A.  Introduction

1.  Telecommunications have been recognized the world-over as an important tool for socio-economic development of a nation. It has become core infrastructure required for rapid growth and modernisation of various sectors of the economy. There has been a phenomenal growth of the telecom sector in terms of subscribers and revenues over the past one and a half decades in India. Today, India is amongst top three of largest and one of the fastest growing telecom markets in the world. The Indian telecom industry has grown from a tele-density of 3.58% in March 2001 to 78.13% in February, 2015. This great leap in both the number of subscribers and revenues from telecom services has contributed significantly to the growth in GDP and employment.

2.  The next information revolution will be brought through the use of mobile broadband/ internet. However the penetration of mobile internet is very low in country in comparison to other nations. Large investments and efforts from industry as well as Government are required to expand the mobile telephony related infrastructure, which include tower, with a view to expand the mobile telephony based services and take these to rural and remote areas. This needs to be done, so that the dream of broadband for all can be realised and benefit of this technology can be reaped by all sections of society. According to various reports increase in 10% penetration of mobile broadband leads to more than 1% increase in GDP of country.

3.  Telecom towers are critical installations on which the backbone of mobile communication rests. These are essential for realizing the vision of inclusive growth. The success of initiatives like Digital India, Smart Cities and right to Broadband, which the Government intends to implement in mission mode, depends on this critical and essential infrastructure. Mobile communications play important role in social and economic growth and disaster management for which mobile towers are a pre-requisite. A robust and scalable mobile infrastructure including towers is must for universal access to communication, effective delivery of services to citizens and financial inclusion. Realizing the significance of mobile towers, Government of India has included it in the harmonized list of infrastructure vide its Gazette notification dated 27-03-2012. Simplifying the sectoral policy for Right of way, for laying cable network and installation of towers, has also been incorporated as one of the strategies for achieving the broad objectives of the National Telecom Policy, 2012.

B.  Health effect due to Electro Magnetic Frequency (EMF) Radiations - International Research

4.  There is a public concern over possible health effects from Electromagnetic Field Radiation (EMR) exposure from diverse EMR sources especially Mobile BTS antennae and mobile. In this regard, several studies have been conducted in different countries, under the aegis of World Health Organization (WHO). WHO has referred to approximately 25,000 articles published around the world over past 30 years, and based on an in-depth review of scientific literature, has concluded: “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic field”. Since the effects on human beings are to be studied over a long period of time, further studies are going on around the world.

5.  With reference to Electromagnetic Radiation emanating from cellular mobile towers, World Health Organization (WHO) in its Fact Sheet No. 304, May 2006 on Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health (Base Stations and Wireless Technologies) has concluded that “considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak Radio Frequency (RF) Signals from base stations and wireless networks caused adverse health effects.  From all evidence accumulated so far, no adverse short or long term health effects have been shown to occur from the RF Signals produced by based stations.” 

6.  In September 2013, WHO in online question and answers, have mentioned that "Studies to date provide no indication that environmental exposure to RF fields, such as from base stations, increases the risk of cancer or any other disease."

7.   In respect of EMF radiations from mobile handsets, WHO in Fact Sheet 193 published in June 2011 has concluded that “A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use”.

 

C.  International EMF Project

8.  As part of its charter to protect public health and in response to public concern over health effects of EMF exposure, the World Health Organization (WHO) established the International EMF Project in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence of possible health effects of EMF in the frequency range from 0 to 300 GHz. The EMF Project encourages focused research to fill important gaps in knowledge and to facilitate the development of internationally acceptable standards limiting EMF exposure.

9.  Since the commencement of the EMF Project, over 50 national authorities have been involved.  Apart from the national authorities the project is overseen by 8 international organizations[1] and independent collaborating institutions[2] and together they review scientific information related to public and occupational health, and environmental management of the EMF issue. It is pertinent to note that many of these studies have been going on for years so as to understand the effect of EMF over the period of time and these studies are not specific to developed countries alone. While summarizing the key points on health effect of EMF radiation, WHO website mentions the following:

“…..WHO's International EMF Project was launched to provide scientifically sound and objective answers to public concerns about possible hazards of low level electromagnetic fields.

Despite extensive research, to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health...”

D.  EMF Radiations – Recommended International safety standards

10.                   WHO recommended that ‘National authorities should adopt international standards to protect their citizens against adverse levels of RF fields. They should restrict access to areas where exposure limits may be exceeded. 'WHO has recommended adoption of international standards, namely International Commission for Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)/ Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers(IEEE). The main conclusion from the WHO reviews is that EMF exposures below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP international guidelines do not appear to have any known consequence on health. The WHO says -

"All reviews conducted so far have indicated that exposures below the limits recommended in the International Commission for Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) 1998 EMF guidelines, covering the full frequency range from 0-300 GHz, do not produce any known adverse health effect. However, there are gaps in knowledge still needing to be filled before better health risk assessments can be made."

ICNIRP continually monitors the science to ensure its guidelines on safe exposure limits remain up to date.

E.  Steps taken by Department of Telecommunications

11.                   Department of Telecommunication (DoT), since 2008, has been monitoring global developments and has already taken necessary steps and adopted stricter norms for safety from EMF radiation that are emitted from mobile towers and mobile handsets. Government of India has been taking due precautions and necessary actions in respect of EMF radiation emitted from mobile towers and mobile handsets by issuing various guidelines and norms taking into account the international standards/norms prescribed by International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) as recommended by World Health Organisation.

12.                   EMF safe exposure Limits from mobile towers adopted in India – As mentioned above, Government of India adopted the ICNIRP guidelines in the year 2008 for basic restriction and limiting reference levels of Electromagnetic radiation from Mobile towers and inserted the additional clause in the Access Service Licenses vide its amendment letter dated 4/11/2008 (Link to Document)[PDF](256.42 KB). Based on the recommendations by Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), these norms for exposure limit for the Radio Frequency Field (Base Station Emissions) have been further made stringent and reduced to 1/10th of the existing limits prescribed by International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).  Directions in this regard have been issued to the Mobile Operators on 30.12.2011. These directions have been further revised on 10.01.2013 (Link to Document[PDF](54.91 KB)) and 26.06.2013 (Link to Document[PDF](51.49 KB)). As per latest directions of 26.06.2013 -

“Licensee shall conduct audit and provide self certificates after every two years as per procedure prescribed by Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC) /or any other agency authorized by Licensor from time to time for confirming to limits/levels for antennae (Base Station Emissions) for general public exposure as prescribed by Licensor from time to time.”

The present limits/levels for antennae (Base Station) EMF emissions for general public exposure are detail below –

Frequency Range

E-Field Strength

(Volt/Meter (V/m))

H-Field Strength (Amp/Meter (A/m))

Power Density (Watt/Sq.Meter (W/Sq.m))

400MHz  to 2000MHz

0.434f ½

0.0011f ½

f/2000

2GHz to 300GHz

19.29

0.05

1

                                                                                (f is frequency in MHz)

13.                   Keeping the precautionary EMF safe exposure limits for the Radio Frequency Field (Base Station Emissions) as 1/10th of the safe limits prescribed by ICNIRP for all areas in India, eliminates the need for fixing lower limits for specific areas like schools, hospitals, residential premises, children playgrounds; a segregation of which is impractical in densely populated localities.

F.   Recent review of exposure limits by Committee constituted in compliance of direction by Hon’ble High Court Allahabad:

14.                   In a Writ Petition filed in Hon’ble High Court Allahabad, Lucknow bench, the Hon’ble Court vide its order dated 10.01.2012 constituted a committee including Members from Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) Kharagpur, Kanpur, Delhi, Roorkee, Bombay and from other scientific institutions of the country including Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and All India Institute of Medical Science  (AIIMS) Delhi who submitted its Report on 17-01-2014. After due consideration of the human health concerns on account of EMF radiation being raised in public and the Report of the Committee, the Government has decided in February 2014 that the present prescribed precautionary EMF safe exposure limits are adequate and need no further change at this stage (Link to Document[PDF](103.22 KB)).

G. Ensuring compliance to various safe limits standards :

15.                   Safe limits for emission from Base Transmitting Stations (mobile towers) - As detailed above, the norms for exposure limit for the Radio Frequency Field (Base Station Emissions) in India have already been made stringent and reduced to 1/10th of the existing limits prescribed by ICNIRP. In order to ensure that all Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) should be compliant to prescribed EMF reference limits/ levels, DoT has issued instructions directing all Cellular Mobile Telephone Service (CMTS)/ Unified Access Services (UAS) licensees that all BTSs should be compliant to prescribed EMF reference limits/ levels and all BTSs should be self certified as meeting the radiation norm. Self certification is submitted to respective Telecom Enforcement Resource & Monitoring (TERM) Cells of DoT. All new BTS sites starts radiating commercially, only after self certificate has been submitted to relevant TERM Cells. In order to ensure compliance to the prescribed stricter precautionary norms of EMF radiation from mobile tower, the extensive audit of compliance of self-certificates being submitted by telecom service providers and Base Transceiver Station (BTS) sites is carried out by Telecom Enforcement Resource & Monitoring (TERM) field units of DoT. This is regularly done by TERM units for the purpose of limiting the EMF radiation exposure and keeping general public areas in the vicinity of towers safe. In case, any BTS site is found to violate the prescribed EMF norms, actions are taken to put a penalty of Rs. 10 lakh per BTS per incidence (Link to Document[PDF](1.11 MB)) including closing of BTS site as per the prescribed procedure. Additionally, the BTS sites against which there are public complaints are also tested by TERM Cell. The testing is done as per procedures prescribed by Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) from time to time. TEC has published the Test Procedure for measurement of EMF from BTSs vide document no. TEC/TP/EMF/001/01 SEP 2009 (Link to Document)[PDF](891.33 KB).

16.                   Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) safe exposure Limits from mobile handsets adopted in India - With respect to radiation from Mobile Handsets also, ICNIRP has prescribed values for Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) limit as 2 Watt/Kg averaged over 10 gm tissue.             Based on the limits provided by ICNIRP, DOT, in the year 2008, notified for compliance of Mobile Handsets being manufactured in India as well as the handsets being imported to conform to SAR limit of 2 W/kg (averaged over a mass of 10 gm tissue) localised for head and trunk in the frequency range of 10 MHz to 10 GHz (Link to Document[PDF](72.06 KB)). Based on the recommendations by IMC, SAR level for Mobile Handset has been revised from 2 watt per Kg averaged over a mass of 10 gram human tissue to 1.6 Watt per Kg averaged over a mass of 1 gram human tissue. Directions in this regard including other recommendations related to Mobile Handset have been issued to Mobile Handset Manufacturers on 25.01.2012 (Link to Document[PDF](181.43 KB)). These directions have now become effective since 01.09.2013. From 01.09.2013, the mobile handsets with revised SAR value of 1.6 Watt/Kg averaged over a mass of 1 gram human tissue are only permitted to be manufactured or imported in India for domestic market.

17.                   SAR value testing Lab - A laboratory has been set-up in the Telecommunication Engineering Centre (TEC) for testing of SAR value of mobile handsets imported/manufactured in India.

H. Public Awareness

     DoT has issued an informative guide on ‘Mobile Communications-Radio Waves and Safety’ (Link to Document[PDF](2.57 MB)). The document covers a basic introduction to radio waves, various terminologies, Do’s & Don’ts related to mobile phone usage, clarification of various myths regarding deployment, use of Radio waves / Safety Standards and frequently asked questions relating to Mobile phones & Human health. Advertisement for ensuring safety from radiations of Mobile Towers & handsets has been issued by DoT which has been published in National (Link to Document[PDF](916.85 KB)) & Regional Newspapers (Link to Document)[PDF](175.32 KB).

I.    EMF Web portal

18.                          Telecommunication Engineering Center(TEC), a wing of DoT, is carrying out a pilot project on EMF web portal for implementation of online database for EMR of BTS towers. The pilot trial of web portal is being conducted in three circles Mumbai, Haryana, Karnataka and the city of Hyderabad. Based on the results of the pilot trial, decision will be taken to scale up the implementation throughout the country. The portal is envisaged to provide a public interface for viewing the EMF compliance status of mobile towers, anywhere in India. The portal is meant to generate confidence among the public about effectiveness of the EMF compliance process in India.

J.   Guidelines for Installation of Mobile Tower

19.                   Broad guidelines for issue of clearances for installation of Mobile Towers were forwarded to all the State Governments on 23.08.2012 (Link to Document)[PDF](42.91 KB).The above guidelines have been further revised with effect from 01.08.2013 and are also available on DOT Website (Link to Document[PDF](188.36 KB)).  

 K.    India Specific research in the field - Committee Constituted by Department of Science & Technology:

20.                   As far as India specific studies are concerned, Department of Science & Technology (DST), Government of India, is working on this issue for conducting  study on possible impact of EMF Radiation exposure from mobile tower and handset on life (humans, living organism, flora & fauna and environment) and related initiatives. Based on the recommendation of the Committee consisting of former  Director General(ICMR),  representative  from IIT Chennai, Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, Department of Telecom, Ministry of Environment & Forest, ICMR and DST;  Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) has invited R&D proposals in June, 2013 (Link to Document)[PDF](30.59 KB) on the possible impact of EMF radiation exposure from mobile towers and handsets on life (humans, living organism, flora & fauna and environment) and related initiatives from eligible Scientist/Organizations-public or private, individually or in collaboration. The SERB has constituted an Expert Committee/Task Force comprising of various experts from Medical & Engineering Institutes on 04 September 2013 to evaluate R&D proposals (letter on constitution of committee)[PDF](358.73 KB).

L. Conclusion:

21.                   EMF radiations from a mobile tower, which are below the safe limits prescribed by ICNIRP and recommended by WHO, have no convincing scientific evidence of causing adverse health effects. Department of Telecommunications have prescribed stricter precautionary norms for exposure limit for the Radio Frequency Field (Base Station Emissions) which is 1/10th of the existing limits prescribed by ICNIRP and recommended by WHO.  Further, Government of India has taken adequate steps to ensure that Telecommunications Service Providers strictly adhere to  these prescribed norms.

M. Other relevant documents/ links:

i.   Advisory to all State Govt and Union Territories to set up State Level Telecom Committee and District level Telecom Committee in order to effectively address PG relating to installation of towers and issues relating to Telecom Infrastructure[PDF](189.33 KB)

ii.  To get the signal levels tested in your area (Only for Mumbai) Click here

iii. For lodging Public Grievance Click here

iv. Contact list of officers of TERM Cells Click here[PDF](290.03 KB)     

 

[1] International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), International Labour Organization (ILO), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), European Commission (EC), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)

[2] Air Force Research Laboratory USA,  Australian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA),  Health Protection Agency - Radiation Protection Division, United Kingdom, Institut für Strahlenhygiene, Germany and R. Samuel McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment