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Why does India still think cell waves cause cancer?

May 05, 2016, 1:48 PM EDT
Cell tower. (Source: Acid Pix/flickr)
Cell tower. (Source: Acid Pix/flickr)

The claim that mobile towers issue cancer-causing air waves has been oft debunked by various scientists and medical experts. (Remember that at the beginning of the mobile era, rumors abounded about the potential cancer-causing waves emitted from cellular phone towers.) In India, however, the rumor lives on, to the extent that the Indian government was compelled to deny the claims rising as the country builds out its mobile industry. According to local media, on Thursday, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad stated out in the Lok Sabha (India’s lower house of parliament) that the belief that mobile cell waves cause cancer has been debunked by science for years, and that experts from various countries as well as the World Health Organization have routinely asserted that mobile towers pose no risk to human or other life.

The Tribune quotes Prasad: "World over there is no impact. But I want to ask why are such issues raised in India alone? No one has raised such issues in the US, the UK, China or Korea where mobile towers are installed in large numbers.”

While that is not exactly true, his statements hint at the reason India may be lagging behind those countries in terms of mobile build-out. His assertions came in response to questions and concerns voiced by other government members that the increase in mobile towers is creating health risks for local residents.

The American Cancer Society says that a few factors point against cellular phone towers’ ability to cause cancer, one being the low energy level of radio frequency (RF) waves. "The energy of RF waves given off by cell phone towers is not enough to break chemical bonds in DNA molecules,” it states. Additionally, RF waves are too long to affect individual cells in the body, and even if they could affect cells, there are very low amounts of RF waves at ground level.

Hopefully Prasad's reassurances will find his audience. If only to appease worried minds as the country continues to improve connectivity with thousands of planned tower installments over the years to come.

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