Telecommunication masts and human health

Many people have been debating the potential harm that a cell phone can cause an individual for more than two decades. Of particular concern has been the potential that these items of modern life have for causing various types of cancers especially in the head and neck region. Till date, no convincing evidence of their ability to cause such diseases has been found. For one, there has been no alarming increase in the incidence of these cancers even in those nations in which the use of cell phones began early and has outpaced the penetration of these gadgets elsewhere in the world. The obvious conclusion of several studies is essentially that the amount of radiation emitted by these devices remains very low and unlikely to pose a danger to human health even when used constantly.

The focus on telecommunications masts has received less attention than mobile phones whereas it is a ubiquitous presence in much of the world. Those are the structures which emit far stronger radiation. The dose of the radiation is still considered safe and low enough to be compatible with normal life. However, in spite of all the controversies, there is a rising body of evidence within the scientific community which indicates that such radiation as emitted from cell towers can have adverse biological effects around the body. There is evidence that these emissions alter the composition of cells in our body and even alter the deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, such that an increase in the incidence of various cancers, including leukaemia, could be the result.

It is said that during the first three to five years of living in close proximity to a cell tower, there could be sleep disorders of various types occurring. People who are thus unable to sleep properly then become deficient in melatonin, a hormone in the body that helps bring sleep about, and subsequently cause various immune deficiencies. This state of the body promotes the development and manifestation of various disease states. In the period from about five to seven years, various problems to do with the nervous system become evident. At this time, we have headaches, confusion states and loss of memory. After a period of 10 years, the health damage could become irreversible and even irreparable and this is the usual time when cancers supervene.

In considering the health effects of wireless transmitters, the people who live close to the transmitters, attend school nearby or work in close proximity to them are the people most at risk. They are constantly exposed to radiation for several months or even years and that is when the effects become evident. The problem therefore, with wireless radiation from cell phone masts is not the dose of radiation that the people are exposed to but the cumulative nature of the dosage occurring over such a long time. The focus therefore, is to strive to diminish the effects of such radiation on the people in the community and that is why for one, the masts are erected so high, at least 20 meters high. At this level, damage to the health status of the people of the community is much reduced.

Some researchers have even linked these radiations to certain disease conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, brain cancers of various types, depression and even miscarriage. In the main, these problems can be said to be strongly associated with such radiation. No study has yet shown that there is a direct cause and effect relationship between these towers and the overall health condition of the surrounding community or to specific diseases in the community. It is said that the emissions from these cell phone towers can be transmitted up to one and half kilometers away from where the mast is sited and can therefore cause these effects at that distance. As they affect humans so are animals affected. However, the presence of these towers is now noticeable in every corner of the globe. The effects ought to be so pervasive by now that there ought to be no debate about the potential harm that they can cause. Yet, the whole truth remains unsettled. That is why the attitude to their presence close to where we live varies from the alarm raised by delegate physicians from seven countries who called it a public health emergency to one of benign indifference as you might find in a host of countries in the Third World.

In Nigeria, many people have no demonstrated concerns about the presence of these towers in their midst. They are found right next to some people’s bedrooms in some parts of the country and are seen in the main as a part of development. That is partially correct and there is no question that it helped a great deal in bridging the communication infrastructure in much of the continent. And as with all things that are good, there are negative components too.

Some people, however, have genuine fears about the presence of these structures in their domain. Perhaps, the kind of fear they have is misplaced; no study in Nigeria regarding the situation of these towers close to communities has shown that there are alarming health hazards to fear. What is comforting though, is that right from the start, the regulating agencies in Nigeria were strict and very professional with where and how these masts should be built. That must have helped in a great way to dampen whatever harmful effects might now have become obvious.

Expectedly, constantly improving telecommunications technology should make it possible over time to also reduce the amount of emissions necessary to carry voice and data across a landscape. When that day comes, the dangers now being associated with the situation of these cell phone towers around the country will recede even further. For some people, that day will definitely arrive too late if indeed some of these ailments are associated with such radiation. For others who have had some exposure, the newer technology should help greatly to put some further distance between them and any disease condition associated with the towers. Until anything is proven, Nigerians should not panic and should use their devices freely to improve their lives.