Government wakes up to health risks posed by mobile phone towers on residential buildings, appoints expert committee to
suggest new norms
Under mounting pressure from health conscious citizens and members in the Assembly, the state government’s health department has finally appointed a high-power committee to investigate the health hazards posed by cellphone towers on top of residential buildings. The committee, which includes experts and scientists from Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, is expected to submit a report to the government in three months, spelling out new norms for such installations. There will also be interactions with the public and service providers for inputs.
The panellists also include a radiologist and a neuro-physician from Tata Hospital, additional chief secretary (health services), principal secretary (urban development department) and secretaries (environment department, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and Public Works Department).
State Health Minister Suresh Shetty confirmed the development, saying, “We met on Thursday to discuss the probable health hazards caused by cellphone towers. Our expert committee will submit a report soon and we will also examine the telecom authorities’ view on this issue.” A Mirror survey of 2008 had measured electromagnetic radiation
(EMR) levels emitted by cell towers in the city (see box). The results had shown alarming levels of radiation which could lead to several physical disorders. However, the issue of installing cell towers remains a contentious one, with service providers offering generous compensation to housing societies in lieu of the space. Says the resident of a housing society at Tardeo which recently had a tower installed for an annual rent of Rs 4.5 lakh: “This money goes towards the creation of a corpus.
Residents eventually don't have to pay any maintenance. Why will we not allow it?”
In the absence of concrete, actionable data on the health risks posed by the electromagnetic waves emitted from these towers, it is cell service providers who are allegedly taking advantage of the information lacunae -- a reason why there are at least 1,000 cellphone towers on residential buildings across the city.
Dr R K Shegaonkar, vice chancellor and former deputy director, IIT Mumbai, said, “While some of the studies say the waves are harmful others contradict them. At the moment here are no conclusive reports.
Health risks depend on the number of times one is exposed to these rays, the length of the rays and other parameters. While it is true that some medical reports confirm the harmful effects of the radiation, telecommunication companies refute the claims.”
Dr Anil Pachnekar of the Indian Medical Association and a Central Working Committee member mentioned “heaviness, headache, dehydration” as some of the immediate effects of exposure to cell tower radiation, adding that more such evidence would emerge in the coming days after the ongoing research worldwide came to a conclusion.
A year ago, JJ Hospital had turned down an offer from cell service providers to install towers inside the 43-acre campus (see box). The refusal had come after the Dean set up a three-member expert committee, which found the health risks far too many to be ignored.
Though the contents of the report have remained confidential, the decision to keep out the towers from the hospital was damning enough.