Study Says Cellphone Towers Damaging Biological Makeup Of Birds, Bees

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Oct 27, 2011
PUNE: The rapid growth of the cellphone industry in India has fuelled haphazard building of base stations without prior planning or regulation, which is impacting the birds and bees biologically, an experts’ committee has found. The panel has formulated guidelines to check their installation in the country.

Nearly 800 million Indians have cellphones, making it the second largest cellphone-subscriber population in the world after China. A 13-member committee was set up by the union ministry of environment and forests in August 2010 to assess the possible impacts of growth of these base stations on wildlife. The members included scientist BC Choudhary of the Wildlife Institute of India, Sainudeen Pattazhy associate professor in S N College, Kerala and Asad Rahmani, director of Bombay Natural History Society. Rahmani was the chairman of the committee.

The other experts included PA Azeez, director of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, HS Jamadagni of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, PK Panigrahi of the department of telecommunications, Naresh Kapalia and Parikshit Gautam from World Wildlife Fund, RK Patney of the department of electrical engineering, Indian Institute of Technology(New Delhi) and Prakriti Srivastava, director general, wildlife, MoEF.
Recent studies indicate the harmful impact of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from transmission towers on humans and bees, with birds exposed to a greater risk, the report said. Such radiation also resulted in aversive behaviour in bats and sparrows, abnormal behaviour in tits and kestrel birds and reproductive failure in white storks.

“Well-designed long-term impact assessment studies would be required to monitor the impact of ever-increasing intensities of electro magnetic radiation on our biological environment,” Rahmani said .
At present, restrictions on the placement of communication towers are related to human habitation and impact on human health is looked at. However, no cumulative study is carried out on the impact of flora and fauna, Choudhary told TOI. “The committee has suggested restrictions of cellphone towers, particularly in wildlife-rich areas where there are more threatened species,” he said.

The committee recommended that EMF be recognised as a pollutant and regular auditing be conducted in urban localities, educational, hospital, industrial, residential and recreational premises and around the protected areas and ecologically sensitive areas. A law, the experts suggested, that protects urban flora and fauna from such radiation is necessary as conservation issues in urban areas are different from forested or wildlife habitats.
It also sought bold signs and messages on the dangers of cellphone towers and radiation be displayed in and around the structures where the base stations are erected. The panel also recommended the locations of cellphone and other EMF radiating towers along with their frequencies be available on public domain to help monitor the population of birds and bees.

Public consultation should be mandatory before installation of cellphones towers in any area and the forest department should be consulted before installation of cellphone towers near protected areas and zoos, the panel suggested. New towers should not be permitted within a radius of one km of existing towers and if built they must rise above 80 ft and not exceed 199 ft to avoid the requirement for aviation safety lighting.

There must be strict control over installation of cellphone towers near wildlife protected areas, Important Bird Areas, Ramsar sites, turtle breeding areas, bee colonies, zoos. Security lighting for on-ground facilities should be minimized and point downwards or be down-shielded to avoid bird hits, the study said.

Studies in India show that the population of house sparrows was disappearing from areas with high electromagnetic waves arising out of increased number of cellphones in Nagpur, Bhopal, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Gwaliar, Chhindwara, Indore and Betul. The report, quoting a study by the Centre for Environment and Vocational Studies of Punjab University, said when 50 eggs of the house sparrow were exposed to EMR for durations between five and 30 minutes, all the embryos were found damaged.

The government must formulate rules to prevent unscientific proliferation of cellphone towers across the country, Pattazhy said. In India, studies conducted by him proved that cellphones with a frequency of 900 MHz for 10 minutes kept in the beehives keep worker bees away. “There is a drastic decrease in the egg production of the queen bees. It fell to 100 eggs a day compared to 350 eggs per day in the control colonies,” he said.

The report also said that since electro magnetic fields are an invisible form of pollution there must be an independent system for monitoring such pollution which causes a population decline in sparrows and bees.

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Thornhill residents want answers from cellphone provider

Local councillors and residents’ groups are questioning the safety and location of cellphone towers in the Bayview Glen area following a proposal from Bell Mobility to erect another tower near Green Lane and Guardsman Road.

“I hope it doesn’t end up going up,” said Howard Shore, Ward 2 councillor. “The one on Bayview Avenue went up without any consultation with the community. These towers are monstrosities.”
Shore said the cell tower, currently on the northeast corner of Bayview Avenue near Laureleaf Road, is just under the maximum height limitations, and that Town of Markham staff were previously unaware of Bell Mobility’s plans to erect a new one.

Ultimately, the cellphone towers’ size is regulated by a federal agency, Industry Canada, while Health Canada determines their proximity to residential communities. “We’ve been told by the government that there are no health concerns,” said Toinette Bezant, a spokesperson from the Bayview Glen Residents’ Association. “But the World Health Organization classifies radio frequencies as carcinogenic. They say it’s possible, but unlikely, so it’s still a bit of a grey area.” Bezant named nearby schools and soccer fields as her main concern, and wants Bell Mobility to consult with the community before the new towers are erected.

Coun. Shore approached Bell Mobility with an alternative solution, citing a tower at a nearby church, and suggested installing antennas above a condominium tower. “The provider claims they need a certain height,” Shore said. “You don’t need the whole rocket ship, you just need the antenna,” he also said. “If there’s zero health issues and zero concerns, then why do they resist the alternative?” Shore added that after he approached Industry Canada, he was told that “reasonable and relevant concerns exclude health-related issues.”A Bell Mobility spokesperson said they comply with regulations from Industry Canada.

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