August 11, 2023
OWSD Nigeria National Chapter University of PortHarcourt Branch Series of Scientific Comm.:Ifeoma B. Asianuba on PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION FROM COMMUNICATION DEVICES
PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO ELECTROMAGNETIC RADIATION FROM COMMUNICATION DEVICES CAN HARM US
Ifeoma Benardine Asianuba
The impact of electromagnetic radiation has gained tremendous research interest due to the proliferation of communication equipment, the use of intelligent mobile devices and present day globalization. Over the last decade, the mobile phone has become the primary access to internet connectivity. However the post-covid 19 era has increased the dependence on communication devices, since people can work, communicate and access the internet from any location and at any time. This work seeks to discuss: 1. the nature of radiations from common communication devices 2. create a conscious awareness on the implications of prolonged exposure to EM radiations 3. suggest possible ways of using common communication devices to experience less exposure/impact in order to reduce any potential risk and 4. provide further recommendations for policy makers and relevant statutory bodies.
Keywords; Electromagnetic radiation, communication devices,
The tremendous advancement in technology has made the world a global village, as such people can access/share information, connect and communicate with one another at any time, from any part of the world. The growth in the world’s population has however brought massive increase in the use of communication devices which has significantly increased the deployment of its facilities. These communication devices include; laptops, mobile phones, tablets, broadcast mast, Wi-Fi routers, telecommunication mast, electronic gadgets to mention a few. These devices deploy electromagnetic radiations to transmit/receive signals carrying information wirelessly, from one point to another. Mobile network antennas, mobile devices and communication equipment exchange information (in the form of voice, data, video and images) using radio waves; a form of electromagnetic energy. In the past years, most researchers’ have carried out extensive work on human exposure standards and safety limit measures have been investigated to protect man against all established health risk arising from such exposure.
Radiation is a form of energy transfer just like conduction in solids and convection in liquids. EM radiations is made up of electric and magnetic fields which emanate from a source and travel through free space at the speed of light. However, the radiation differs in energy level, depth of penetration and can be boldly classified as ionizing and non-ionizing radiations. The non-ionizing radiations include; radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light and ultra violet rays. The ionizing radiations include the X-rays, gamma rays and cosmic rays. The diverse application of electromagnetic radiation in modern day technology cannot be overemphasized. This has however led to the need to discuss the physical, biological, scientific significance and principles of EM radiation as well as the health implications of prolonged exposure. Exposing the human body to very high level of radiations may have severe health implications [1-2]. The health implications range from physiological impact to psychological and behavioral performances. A Special device used to determine the exposure levels of electromagnetic radiation is known as the spectrum analyzer. The amount of EM radiation absorbed by human tissue depends on the frequency and intensity of radiation, polarization and period of exposure. The strength of exposure from a source varies (for instance, radiation from a base station), it is based on the population density of the region that source is covering and the average distance from the source.
The Non-ionizing radiations has the tendency to heat up molecules of the body but do not ionize them (i.e. set electrons free) while ionizing radiations can tear molecules apart, set electrons free and therefore potentially damage the DNA of the human body as a result of mutation. Exposure from ionizing sources such as x-rays and gamma rays are said to have sufficient intrinsic (quantum) energy to directly affect chemical bonds. If these bonds were in genetic material then the damage could be the initiating factor that may lead to cancer. However there are no clear cut scientific proof to these outcomes as most results seem controversial and inconclusive. ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-ionizing radiation protection) provides guidelines and recommends limits of exposure for non-ionizing radiations . The fields generated around high tension power lines has the tendency to induce current in the body of people residing very close to the region. Radio frequency energy (which includes microwaves) causes heating of body tissue and infrared causes surface heating. Visible light is a form of electromagnetic energy that can be seen via special receptors in the eyes. The specific absorption rate (SAR w/kg) is a measure of the absorbed radio frequency energy.
Electromagnetic Radiation from Radio and TV Devices.
Different communication device emits various form of EM radiation depending on their operating frequency. AM, FM and TV use radio waves for signal transmission in the high frequency, very-high and ultra-high frequency band. They belong to the non-ionizing radiations and are not harmful to the human body. However prolong exposure to loud music from AM and FM devices could lead to hearing impairment as well as headache and ocular pain from long views from TV screens.
Microwaves are applied in wireless communication for line of sight propagation through space. It is also applied in microwave ovens for heating up food. Although there is no scientific evidence to show that micro-waved food has the possibility of causing cancer. Long exposure to microwave appliances at home can cause hyper activity, sleep disorders and emotional instability. The non-ionizing radiations used to heat up food does not also make the food radioactive.
Infrared radiation (IR) is also known as thermal radiations. This finds much application in remote controlled devices and projector beams. Hot objects emits infrared radiations. The natural source of infrared radiation includes the solar radiation and fire, artificial sources include heating devices and infrared lamps. Industrial source includes heat from steel and iron production. Infrared radiation has the ability to penetrate the human skin. The harmful effects of IR radiation are due to normal injury of tissues and its effect on the human eye. The cornea, iris, lens and retina are highly sensitive to various degree of thermal damage.
Skin damage due to hyperthermia can occur but it is largely dependent on the intensity and duration of IR exposure. When the human body is exposed to high levels of heat; there is increase in body temperature which can lead to physical heat stress such as altered mental status, dry skin and even seizures.
Radiation from Mobile Phone and Base Transceiver Station.
Mobile phone has become an integral part of modern day communication tool. This has brought significant increase in the number of base stations deployed for signal transmission. The base station towers can exist on standalone or could be mounted on existing structures. The towers could be up to 200 feet high. However, the radiations from mobile phone tend to be greater than those experienced from base stations. This is due to the proximity of the device to the human body . However, all cell sites must conform to set predetermined power levels. The levels are set with a very high safety margin.
The size of the base station depends on the population density it intend to handle. Each base station provide a specific output power for operation within the specified coverage area. Very large base stations can be employed in densely populated areas. However, small cell technologies allow network designers to concentrate scarce spectrum resources and serve high demand areas with dense population.
Research conducted by the American national Standard Institute  disclosed that there are psychological and physiological reactions of individuals living around mobile phone transceiver station. The outcome of the findings reveal that most people suffer symptoms of nausea, headache, dizziness, irritability, discomfort nervousness and depression.
Just as the coverage on a typical BTS is in all direction (3600) (omini directional coverage) . Therefore readings can be taken in any prescribed direction within the station. Research conducted in  shows that the amount of energy propagated tends to reduce with distance travelled so individuals residing far away from the base stations receive less exposure compared to those residents living close to the BTS. It can be said that when the distance between a mobile user and the BTS increases by two, the exposure limit is reduced by four. It is therefore recommended that individuals should reside at least 300m away from any base transceiver station.
Mobile phones emits radiation categorized as radio frequency waves. They are non-ionizing and are not hazardous to the human body. The impact of the radiation depends on the extent of exposure. Some of the health implication of prolonged exposure due to call duration and active usage include; fatigue, discomfort, headache, dizziness, ocular dysfunction, sleep disorders heating sensation around the region the device is held.
Radio detection and ranging is a communication system which uses radio waves to detect the distance or range, angular position and radial velocity of objects/devices relative to make informed estimation and predictions. It finds application in aircraft, ships, guided missile detection as well as weather formation and terrain prediction. Radiation from radar pose no threat if mounted properly and targeted within the direction of interest.
Radiation from Electric wire Lines (High Tension)
Electromagnetic radiation experienced around high tension electric power lines are non-ionizing low frequency radiations. The cables are associated with electric fields due to electric charges and magnetic fields resulting from current flow. Strong radiation from power lines can cause sleep disorder and stress levels to the body immune system. Electromagnetic fields associated with electricity can be seen as lightening during thunderstorm creating current flow between the sky and the surrounding ground, the current initiates an EM field.
It is important to note that, a low frequency wave does not necessarily mean that its energy is very low. A cable from a phone is of low frequency as well as low EM fields, but a high tension power line can give rise to a higher electromagnetic field but still at low frequency due to the large amount of current it’s conveying. Thus the reason why cognizance must be taken to bring a conscious awareness on the various EM fields and resulting implications.
Reliable Sources of Information on Electromagnetic radiation
Various information on EMR are available with majority of them found to be unreliable since they are not provided by approved authorized bodies. For instance, the conspiracy theory linking the Covid -19 virus with the emergence of 5G networks raised so much concerns during the pandemic year. Standard organizations that has been set up to handle information on EMR with respect to health, environment and other concerns include; 1.WHO: World Health Organization has fact sheets, information on standards and research recommendations on EMR. 2. ICNIRP: International Commission on Non-ionizing radiation protection: set aside for exposure limits, guidelines and related publications explaining the philosophy of health protection. 3. ITU: International telecommunication union gives the technical recommendation that needed to assess compliance with exposure limits 4. GSMA: Global system for mobile communication association provides a broad range of topics and information related to the issue of EMR with respect to its technical and scientific applications. 5 EMF portal provides summaries of individual scientific studies. Others include; International Atomic energy Agency (IAEA), International Committee on EM safety and the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), all aimed at ensuring safety limits of devices, environmental impact assessment and procedures for emergency response to exposure of EM radiations. Research has shown that there is no convincing scientific evidence that RF signals from mobile phones and their base transceiver stations can cause adverse health effects such as cancer and brain damage. There is also no negative scientific evidence on the impact of electromagnetic field on the development and functioning of the brain and health of children .
The following recommendations are given
1. Enlightenment programs/campaigns should be organized to sensitize the general public on the short and long term effect of EM radiations.
2. Performance standards should be categorically outlined for electronic products that emit/receives EM radiation
3. It is important to ascertain compliance level stipulated by policy makers in the deployment and use of devices whose operation depend on EM radiation
4. Working signs should be placed at transmission towers that emit high level of RF signal showing restrictions for unauthorized persons
5. There should be right of way (RoW) signs under high voltage transmission lines because of the possibility of electric shock.
Precautionary Approaches to be taken by Individuals using communication devices.
1. People are encourage to spend only meaningful time on phone to limit exposure level.
2. Mobile phones should actually not be used when signal strength is very low.
3. Mobile phones and electronic devices should be kept at a meaningful distance away from the human body. The smaller the time spent on these devices, the lower the exposure limit.
4. The use of text message, ear piece, buds, could be deployed to reduce directs contact with the phone.
5. It is important to limit the time spent around an EMR source. The lesser the time spent, the lower the exposure level.
6. Increase distance between yourself and the source of EM radiation.
7. Exposure guidelines should be periodically reviewed since intelligent devices are deployed due to emerging technological advancement.
8. Standard bodies have to develop new techniques for assessing compliance of mobile network devices.
9. It is necessary to put off devices when not in active use.
10. Use of electronic shields and other protective devices are encouraged on i-pads, phones and laptops.
11. Only authorized personnel with the correct gadget should be granted access to a cell site and other high risk EM source areas.
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Engr. Dr. Ifeoma Benardine Asianuba.
Department of Electrical/Electronic Engineering, University of Port Harcourt.
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