Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Mobile phone radiation alert

We have praised the ubiquitous mobile phone enough for its innumerable benefits. But how much have we thought about the danger it poses to our health by way of radiation? Are we safe while talking on the cellphone?

The common fear has been that talking on the cell for a long time may cause brain tumour: and neurological and ENT disorders. A study by the National Institutes of Health, a part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, concluded that the side of the brain closer to the mobile phone recorded higher activity. But if it led to any harm or not couldn’t be established. There have been many other studies as well, but none of them makes a direct correlation between cellphone usage and a particular health disorder.

A measure of the radio frequency absorbed by our body while we talk on the phone is called the Specific Absorption Rate. The standards drawn up by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, a non-governmental organization recognised by the WHO, is widely followed to determine the safe level of radiation exposure.

The SAR level is capped at 1.6 watts per kg in the US and Canada, and 2 w/kg in Europe. India had capped it at 2 w/kg, but last year, following suggestions of an inter-ministerial group, it was brought down to 1.6 w/kg. The SAR for each call a person makes or receives could vary depending upon many parameters; the distance from the cell tower and strength of the signal being two of them. All mobile phones, and cellphone towers, are supposed to conform to the SAR limit. Also, handsets should have the SAR displayed. But that’s not always the case.

Now, there’s an app for measuring phone radiation -- tawkon. Ironically, it hit the headlines when Steve Jobs rejected it, saying it would confuse iPhone users. The one for Android is available for free download on Google Play.

The app calculates the phone's radiation level and thereby the SAR, and alerts the user, with a beep or vibration, when the call could be above the limit. Tawkon will also email you a report that highlights your weekly talk time, a breakdown of high exposure vs. low exposure minutes, plus a chart to compare personal phone / headset / speaker usage.

How reliable it is? Tawkon says its technology has been calibrated in an FCC (Federal Communication Commission) -certified RF (Radio Frequency) lab with state-of-the-art equipment.

The app will serve as a warning. The wiser counsel though is to keep the phone away from our body; use text and email when you can; if you have to talk, keep the conversation short. If you need to talk for long, use the headphone or the speaker.

(This article appeared in Wireless World column of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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