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Exposure to mobile antenna electromagnetic field leading to health issues, no evidence: BICMA

With the increase in the number of mobile users in the country there is a requirement for a reliable network where it entails the increase in the number of cellular towers called Base Transceiver Station (BTS). More BTS need to be installed, especially in urban areas near the settlement, building and public areas. And people express concerns that the exposure to mobile antenna electromagnetic field emission may lead to health issues. But there is no concrete evidence and scientific study to prove that anyone has been affected.

BICMAโ€™s Initiative to Ensure Safe EMF Emission and Compliance

Such infrastructure establishments require compliance with certain technical standards and location compliance. The Authority has in place the required standards for electromagnetic field emission and BTS installation in reference to the International commission on Non- Ionizing Radiation protection. All telecommunication and broadcasting sites shall ensure compliance with the ICNIRP Procedures and Standards for EMF radiation general public exposure. Bhutan has the standard which is one tenth (1/10) of ICNIRP Standards, which is safer also and takes immediate actions to rectify any non-compliant sites.

The standard shall apply to all licensed ICT Facility and Service Providers who plan to build new telecommunications BTS, towers, repeaters and monopole stations and is aimed at:

  • Protecting the general public from exposure to Radio Frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (EMF)
  • Providing a clear guidance on the compliance requirements of establishing any such telecommunication infrastructures
  • Minimize aesthetic and environmental impacts
  • Ensuring that relevant agencies are informed and consulted before such infrastructures are deployed

The Authority carries out regular monitoring of BTS towers to verify that their electromagnetic field emissions are within the threshold standard. The Authority monitors the electromagnetic field radiation of mobile BTS towers and certifies the respective towers annually. The measurements are carried out using the R & S (Rohde and Schwarz) TS- EMF measurement system. All EMF radiation measurements are carried out in the far field region of each BTS tower. Out of 500 registered BTS stations of mobile operators, 406 towers have been measured till October 2021 and all are found to be within the threshold emission level.

Electromagnetic Field Waves

The tremendous growth in technology and smart devices has become a part of our lifestyle and among these; mobile phones have become associated with elementary parts of our life. This is often one of the foremost necessary mediums for communication. The transmission mediums are the mobile towers, which consist of antennas and base transceiver stations that receive and transmit cell phone signals using radio frequency (RF) waves, a form of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum. Electromagnetic Field Radiation is the waves of an electromagnetic field, propagating through space, carrying electromagnetic radiation energy.

Electromagnetic Waves: refers to the waves (or their quanta, photons) of the electromagnetic field, propagating (radiating) through space time, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy. It includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, (visible light), Ultraviolet, X-rays and Gamma rays.

Electromagnetic fields exist everywhere in the environment including home, school, workplace and are generated either by natural or human-made sources. Natural sources of EMF include earth magnetic fields; lightning and visible light whereas human made sources of EMF includes electrical appliances, radio communication devices like mobile phones, AM/FM radio and television, Wi-Fi modems, etc.

There are two categories of EMFs, Ionizing radiation, which are caused due to higher-frequency EMFs including x-rays, gamma-rays and cosmic radiation and could cause damage to DNA and cells. Non-ionizing radiation includes low to mid frequency EMFs like electric or magnetic fields that do not vary with time and do not damage DNA and cells. Many artificial sources like power appliances, radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation and visible light are all non-ionizing radiation. The main concern is the Electric field which may cause harm to our health. In case of a Magnetic field there is no harmful effect, so the Electric field monitoring is essential to protect from harmful effects by the radiation.

Health Effects due to EMF

In response to growing public concerns over possible ill effects from exposure to an increasing number and diversity electromagnetic field sources, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched a large, multidisciplinary research effort where it claims that there are over 25,000 articles published over past 30 years but no evidence to confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. However, some gaps in knowledge exist and need further research. Heating is the main biological effect of the electromagnetic fields. The levels of radiofrequency fields to which people are normally exposed are very much lower than what is required to produce significant heating. According to WHO some of the health effects reported due to EMF radiation are a diffuse collection of symptoms like headaches, anxiety, suicide and depression, nausea, fatigue and loss of libido to due to low levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields at home. However, to date, scientific evidence does not support a link between these symptoms and exposure to electromagnetic fields. Studies also suggest that some of these health problems may be caused by noise or other factors in the environment or by anxiety related to the presence of new technologies.

EMF Radiations-International Safety

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP): is an independent scientific body which has produced an international set of Procedures and Standards for public safety health exposure from the radio frequency waves.

The ICNIRP Guidelines on Limiting Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields are for the protection of humans exposed to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF) in the range 100 kHz to 300 GHz. RF EMF exposure is usually measured in watts per square meter (W/m^2) or watts per kg (W/kg). The basic restrictions are generally expressed in terms of the specific energy absorption rate (SAR), or the absorbed power density. Basic restriction values are recommended for different parts of the body and for sources operated close to the body and those operating at a remote distance. Exposure levels outside the body are called reference levels. The ICNIRP 2020 RF EMF guidelines protect against all potential adverse health effects relating to exposure to RF EMF, including from 5G technologies.

The exposure levels threshold are set depending upon different exposure scenarios and the time of exposure. ICNIRP has identified two different exposure scenarios and averaged over 6 minutes and 30 minutes whole body exposure time, to electromagnetic fields from 100 KHz to 300 GHz.

Beam pattern

A beam pattern defines the intensity variation of a beam as a function of its direction and the distance from its source. Therefore, the EMF field is maximum in the primary lobe (directly facing the antenna) and decreases towards the side lobe.

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