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     Volume 7 Issue 51 | January 2 , 2009 |

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Wireless Concerns

Obaidur Rahman

Radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems,
preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to
their hives.

The mobile phone is undoubtedly one of the greatest scientific blessings that has, without a doubt, made our life faster, easier, and of course better. A piece of electronic apparatus that started out simply as a talking device has now evolved into the single most sought-after electrifying gadget and simply ascertains the notion that owning a mobile phone is like having the world in one's own pocket. It is indeed true that mobile phones are essential for today's lifestyle; however, the health and environmental aspects that are associated with it are certainly a matter of great concern and should be taken very seriously since a huge number of people use it on a frequent basis.

A recent study found out that there are now approximately two billion mobile phone users throughout the world and the numbers are rapidly increasing. This widespread use of mobile phone technology is a growing concern for medical researchers who believe that there could be both short-term and long-term health risks associated with it. Central towards understanding the effects is to first learn how the mobile phone works and exactly where our vulnerability mostly lies. Mobile phones communicate with base stations using radiofrequency (RF) radiation and RF radiation at a significant level has a thermal effect, which means that it raises body temperature. And this electromagnetic RF radiation from the mobile phone even to some decent extent heats up the brain tissue and may even damage them as the cell phone is usually kept close to the ear, which is very near to the brain. Research has also shown that along with the increase of the temperature of the brain, it is also possible that the radiation raises blood pressure thus acting on the whole central nervous system. So the next time you are having a heated argument over the mobile phone, the chances are, it's nobody's fault!

Studies have also found out that some cell phone users are hypersensitive to the electromagnetic radiation, experiencing symptoms during and after the use which includes burning and tingling sensations on the skin of the head, fatigue, sleep disturbances, dizziness, loss of mental attention, reaction time and memory retentiveness, headaches, malaise, heart palpitations and disturbances of the digestive systems. And patients who have medical devices like pacemakers, implantable defibrillators and hearing aids, require maintaining some distance from mobile handsets otherwise a deterioration of health could be a result due to the possibility of electromagnetic interference.

Radiation from the mobile phone even to some decent
extent heats up the brain tissue and may even damage
them as the cell phone is usually kept close to the ear,
which is very near to the brain.

Since the widespread use of mobile phones is a fairly recent phenomenon, there is still uncertainty about the possibility of long-term health risks. Probably the worst case scenario concerning this matter that scientists fear would be cancer or brain tumour. Perhaps the most distressing issue of the possible link between mobile phones with brain cancer issue arose with the lawsuit filed in a US court in 1992 by David Reynard, alleging that the use of a cell phone caused his wife's fatal brain cancer. A recent official study from Finland, home of Nokia handset, found that people who used the phones for more than 10 years were 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side they held their handset. But at present, however, the international consensus is that mobile phones do not cause cancer or tumours. This is also far from being the conclusive evidence as there are still unanswered questions in the scientific communities as well as in the World Health Organization concerning the complete safety of mobile phone usage and the research on the long-term health effects is still continuing.

Another health worry regarding mobile phones is the radiation emitted by the base stations which are basically the antennae on the surface that communicate with the phones and this is due to the fact that radiation emission from the base stations are constant and much more powerful than that of the mobile handsets. Depending on the size of the region that they are designed to service, base stations usually transmit power levels from a few watts to 100 watts to even more. Mobile phones and their base station antennae are basically two-way radios and produce radiofrequency energy which is also called microwaves, radio waves, RF radiation (RFR) or RF emissions. Studies suggest that the health risk from mobile phone base stations crucially depends upon the proximity to these electromagnetic sources. Natuarally telecommunication workers who spend a good amount of time at a short distance for the purposes of testing, maintenance, installation of such active equipments, are at risk of much greater exposure than the general population. And it's been reported in countries like France, Spain, Poland and Austria that people who have lived within 100 to 325 meters of base stations have endured fatigue, headache, sleep disruption and loss of memory which many fear was due to the exposure to these emissions. Thus the placing of these base station antennae in safe locations is very important especially in a densely populated city like Dhaka where high-rise buildings are at every corner with almost each having such antennae.

As the mobile phone handsets are constantly getting upgraded the old handsets pose a great danger towards the environment as well and unfortunately the number of unused phones will keep growing year after year risking an adverse impact on the environment. It is the composition of mobile phones and their accessories that worries the environmentalists since the products contain concentrations of toxic, heavy metals like cadmium, lead, nickel, mercury, manganese, lithium, zinc, arsenic, antimony, beryllium and copper. As a result, landfill of these old handsets is certainly not favourable as not only will it create a long-term soil and water pollution but also will expose the population to various carcinogenic and hazardous components increasing the widespread health risk. This is why experts recommend that recycling of mobile handsets is perhaps the only sensible and socially and environmentally responsible solution towards this problem. Inspired by the thought of promoting environmental sustainability some manufacturers have already introduced “bio-plastic” handsets made from natural materials extracted from corn and other eco-friendly materials instead of from common plastic produced from petroleum.

And yet again regarding the radiation, there have been evidence that the effects of radiation from cell phones and their base stations is not limited to human beings only as scientists inform that bees that pollinate crops are mysteriously disappearing which in effect they fear that could cause massive food shortages in future. Traditionally known as Colony Collapse Syndrome (CCS), scientists explain that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home. This alarming incident of CCS has been spread to USA, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and presumably in England as well. It may seem insignificant at first but realise that most of the world's crops depend on pollination by bees and as Albert Einstein once said , if the bees disappeared, "man would have only four years of life left".

Nobody can deny the significance of mobile phone and the role it has played in the improvement of our lives but unfortunately the health and environmental concerns associated with it are also quite worrisome. As for efforts toward protection, experts's recommendation includes choosing a mobile phone model that has a low specific absorption rate (SAR), using a landline phone if one is available, keeping calls on the mobile short, not to carry it close to the body when it is switched on, not to telephone in a car without an external antenna, keep the mobile phone away from children and not to establish mobile telephone base stations near schools, hospitals, or other "sensitive" locations including densely populated areas.


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