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Tuesday August 28, 2007

Are telco towers a danger?

By Chris Chong
In.Tech examines the truth behind the alleged dangers posed by cellular telecommunications towers.  

Are you worried that the telecommunication tower that's standing proud behind your house could be slowly frying your brains?  

The good news is that you don't have to, according to Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik.  

"As a doctor, I can tell you that there is no scientific proof that the (radio) airwaves are harmful," he said.  

Lim was quoting a report by the WHO (World Health Organisation) about the health effects of electromagnetic waves on humans.  

According to him, the country needs more communications towers to support wireless broadband technologies like 3G and for future ones such as WiMAX.  

"The problem is that the elections are coming so you have politicians who want to appear as saviours.  

"When people complain about towers being too close to their houses, these politicians do their best to help take them down," he said.  

"But when we take down the towers, people then complain that they have poor reception.  

"So stop taking down the towers. There's no evidence that they are harmful."  

The WHO fact sheet 

Following the Minister's comments, In.Tech visited the WHO's website and found a fact sheet that supports Lim's claims and provides some rather interesting information too (  

For starters, a recent survey shows that the RF (radio frequency) exposures from base stations range between 0.002% and 2% of the levels of the international exposure guidelines, which is much lower than the RF exposure from radio and television broadcast transmitters.  

The WHO fact sheet also states that RF exposures from base stations and wireless technologies in publicly accessible areas (including schools and hospitals) are normally thousands of times below international standards.  

This is because the RF fields are strongest at their source (their antennae) and quickly diminish with distance.  

In fact, due to their lower frequencies, the human body absorbs five times more of the signal from FM radio and television transmitters than from telco towers.  

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT?: If you find that the telco towers are too close to your house, you can always complain about it. Just don't expect your mobile phone reception to be as good as before.
The fact sheet then points out that although FM radio and television broadcast stations have been in service for more than 50 years, no adverse health consequences have been established.  

So there you have it there's no reason to worry about telco towers close to your home.  

How about Housing Guidelines?  

The Housing and Local Government Ministry has guidelines on the building of telecommunications towers which specifies the minimum distance of towers (of various heights) from industrial, commercial and residential buildings.  

While it's easy to assume that the guidelines are to protect people from radiation or electromagnetic emissions, it is not the case.  

The guidelines state clearly that these minimum distances are only for the sake of aesthetics and for the physical safety of the buildings' occupants (i.e. should something fall off the tower).  

The guidelines then specifically state that the minimum distances have nothing to do with RF emission levels.  

A PDF copy of the guidelines can be downloaded from the Ministry's website (, though it's only available in Bahasa Malaysia.  

Do take note that the information from these guidelines and from the WHO fact sheet only apply to telecommunication towers and not other possible hazards such as high-tension electric cables.  

If you find that the telco towers are too close to your house and are unsightly, you can always complain about it. Just don't expect your mobile phone reception to be as good as before. 

Copyright 1995-2007 Star Publications (M) Bhd (Co No 10894-D)

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