The Cell Phone Cancer Debate: Fact-Checking The Tehelka Radiation Survey- Part 1.

This is the first part in a series of articles to check the facts and the analyze evidence concerning the recent Tehelka report concluding that radiation levels in Delhi are far above recommended safe levels.

On June 8, 2010, Tehelka reported on a survey they had done of the city of Delhi. The media outlet teamed up with Cogent EMR, a company that, as fellow Nirmukta member Sajith Unni has pointed out, manufactures a number of products that are extremely dubious. Tehelka’s report ended up being one of the most fear-instilling pieces of journalism on the subject. The reporter, Rishi Mazumdar, essentially concluded that Delhi is a radiation hot-zone with levels far exceeding the acceptable limits suggested by the scientists.

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Many of the claims of the Tehelka report do not stand up to scrutiny. The issue was first highlighted by Sajith and it was taken up by another member, Vaibhav Prakash. Sajith and Vaibhav directly contacted the reporter and participated on an online discussion on Tehelka’s facebook page. Here is that Discussion:

Sajith Unni: I asked this question on twitter too. Why was there no reply ?

Q : Why was the survey was done by Cogent EMR who sell products that border on quackery? So is there not a financial interest involved?

May 28 at 10:50am ·

TehelkaTehelka: The question did not appear on our timeline. Else it wouldn’t have been missed. — Here are all the questions we received..

May 28 at 11:34am·

Sajith Unni: Well I did ask the question directly to Rishi and it shows up on my twitter account. It is still a valid question and maybe you should answer it here. Because it appears that you guys are pushing congent products as part of this story.

May 28 at 12:04pm ·

Vaibhav PrakashVaibhav Prakash: This is utter nonsense. There is no relation between microwave radiation and cancer. As far as the 600 mW/m^2 limit is concerned can you refer me to the ICNIRP article? I myself couldn’t find it in the ICNIRP guidelines. Its a typical case of correlation/causation. Delhi is basically one of the most polluted cities in India, hence many people are bound to have symptoms of fatigue.

May 29 at 10:07am ·

Sajith Unni: @Vaibhav That is correct. Notice there is no response to my questions from anyone at Tehelka including the journalist who carried out this so called survey. Classic case of bad reporting. It appears Tehelka is creating hype to market cogent products.

May 29 at 11:50pm ·

TehelkaTehelka: @Sajith
Cogent EMR Ltd. is a company that has done over 30,000 radiation audits all over the country since it’s inception in 2005. Some of these audits have been for telecom operators. Some for reputed private individuals and companies. They have done surveys of EMR levels in cities too (though not over as many spots as they did for Tehelka). For some of these surveys, they have received letters appreciating their work from President APJ Abdul Kalam, in his capacity as President of India, and various central and state ministers. For some of these surveys they partnered with other media concerns – namely the Times Of India and Aaj Tak. I have spoken to scientists Dr V P Sandlas, ex chief controller of the DRDO, and Professor J Behari of the School Of Environmental Sciences JNU. Both of these gentlemen were on a committee consulted by the DoT before it decided to adopt the ICNIRP guidelines. Both have reaffirmed Cogent’s credibility.

More importantly, I couldn’t find any other private concern that conducted EMR audits, and so would be apt for testing EMR levels throughout the city of Delhi. There were government agencies like SAMEER which did this. But why would a government agency undertake a survey which risked showing the government in a bad light?

Now, for your second point. I did not write an article in any way connected to the products Cogent EMR Ltd sells. So their quackery or otherwise is not related to this article. They are an ISO certified company, and their profile on the certification includes that of a company which conducts EMR audits. That was what was relevant to the article.

Finally, w.r.t. the link you pasted on EMR and its health effects, read these instead:

Havas, M. 2007. Analysis of Health and Environmental Effects of Proposed San Francisco Earthlink Wi-Fi Network, Commissioned by SNAFU (San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna Free Union) and presented to Board of Supervisors, City and Country of San Francisco, 51 pp. In this Report – Page 5 : Fig 1 -Guidelines, exposures and effects of radio frequency radiation at various power densities and Page 8 : Fig 2 – Response of residents living in the vicinity of a cellular phone base station in Spain.

600 mW/m2= 600,000 µW/m2= 60 µW/cm2

As seen above – All the above health problems can appear at levels below 10 µW/cm2 = 100 mW/m2 itself.

FRENCH STUDY – (Reference) Santini R, Santini P, Danze JM, Le Ruz P, Seigne M, Investigation on the health of people living near mobile telephone relay stations: Incidence according to distance and sex, Pathology Biology, 50(6), 369-73, 2002 27 –

Microwave exposure at levels below the current FCC exposure standard can produce single and double strand breaks in DNA. Damage to DNA is a central mechanism for developing tumors and cancer. When the rate of damage to DNA exceeds the rate at which DNA can be repaired, there is the possibility of retaining mutations and initiating cancer.

Exposure to electromagnetic fields can also reduce melatonin levels that protect the brain. Studies show an increased risk in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s; about four times and three times for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) among those exposed to EMF.

Dr. Agarwal – Director of the Clinical Andrology Laboratory and Reproductive Tissue Bank, and the Director of Research at the Center for Reproductive Medicine in 2006 found that using a mobile phone for more than four hours a day is associated with reduction in sperm viability and mobility of around 25 percent and can cause irreversible infertility in men.

I would like to bring to your notice a study by Dr. Henry Lai, biophysicist at the University of Washington [Video – – (2:30 min onwards – till 4:45 min) ]. Dr Lai reviewed 350 studies (175 industry funded and 175 non-industry funded) and found that about half showed bio-effects from EM radiation emitted by cell phones. But when he took into consideration the funding sources for those 350 studies, the results changed dramatically. Only 25 percent of the studies paid for by the industry showed effects, compared with 75 percent of those studies that were independently funded.

June 1 at 3:37am ·

TehelkaTehelka: @Sajith
Also, Dr Lennart Hardell, professor in oncology and cancer epidemiology at the University Hospital in Orebro, Sweden and his co-workers have studied use of cellular and cordless telephones and the risk for brain tumours.

Conclusion from his work – Results from present studies on use of mobile phones for >10 years give a consistent pattern of increased risk for acoustic neuroma and glioma. The risk is highest for ipsilateral (on the same side of the head where the instrument is held) exposure.

“Our review yielded a consistent pattern of an increased risk for glioma and acoustic neuroma after >10 year mobile phone use. We conclude that current standard for exposure to microwaves during mobile phone use is not safe for long-term exposure and needs to be revised”

Hardell L, Carlberg M, So¨derqvist F, Hansson Mild K, Morgan LL. Long-term use of cellular phones and brain tumours: increased risk associated with use for >/_10 years. Occup Environ Med 2007;64: 626e32.

Hardell Lennart et al, Epidemiological evidence for an association between use of wireless phones and tumor diseases, Pathophysiology, PATPHY-595, 2009.

Dr. Magda Havas – Environmentalist, Lennart Hardell – Professor of Oncology, Olle Johansson – Immunity based studies, Dr. Henry Lai – Biophysicist at the University of Washington, Dr. George Carlo , Dr. Leif Salford – Neurosurgeon, Cindy Sage (founder of Bioinitiative group) – (all very well know in their field) and many other scientists are extremely concerned on the effects.

The Australian Health Research Institute indicates that due to billions of times more in volume electromagnetic radiation emitted by billions of mobile phones, internet, intranet and wireless communication data transmission, almost one-third of world population (about 2 billion) may suffer from Cell Phone Cancer by 2020. Even if 1% of it comes true it will have devastating consequences to so many people.

(1) Mobile Telecommunications and health research programme (MTHR) Report 2007 – Page 44

(2) Hardell Lennart et al, Epidemiological evidence for an association between use of wireless phones and tumor diseases, Pathophysiology, PATPHY-595, 2009.

(3) Santini R, Santini P, Danze JM, Le Ruz P, Seigne M, Investigation on the health of people living near mobile telephone relay stations: Incidence according to distance and sex, Pathology Biology, 50(6), 369-73, 2002 27 –

(4) Santini et al, Survey Study of People Living in the Vicinity of Cellular Phone Base Stations, Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine, 22, 41 – 49, 2003 –

(5) Lai H, Singh NP., Single- and double-strand DNA breaks in rat brain cells after acute exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation, Int J Radiat Biol. 1996 Apr;69(4):513-21. –

(6) Paulraj R, Behari J., Single Strand DNA Breaks in Rat Brain Cells Exposed to Microwave Radiation, Mutat Res. 2006 Apr 11;596(1-2):76-80. Epub 2006 Feb 2.

(7) World Health Organization, ELF Health Criteria Monograph. Neurodegenerative Disorders, p187, 2007 – DO NOT USE THIS

(8) Savitz DA, Checkoway H, Loomis DP. Magnetic field exposure and neurodegenerative disease mortality among electric utility workers. Epidemiology, 9, 398-404, 1998a

(9) Ashok Agarwal, Ph.D., H.C.L.D.,a Fnu Deepinder, M.D.,a Rakesh K. Sharma, Ph.D.,a Geetha Ranga, Ph.D.,b and Jianbo Li, Ph.D., Effect of cell phone usage on semen analysis in men attending infertility clinic: an observational study, Fertil Steril. 2008 Jan;89(1):124-8. –

(10) Divan HA, Kheifets L, Obel CJ, Olsen, J, Prenatal and Postnatal Exposure to Cell Phone Use and Behavioral Problems in Children, Epidemiology, 2008

(11) or or – for radiation penetration in skull study by Dr. Om Gandhi

Of course, it hasn’t been ‘conclusively proved and accepted’ that EMR seriously damages the human body. But such is suspected – by leading scientists and doctors around the world, and it hasn’t been conclusively proved that it doesn’t seriously damage the human body either.

Research on the subject is ongoing. This is why we have spoken about a ‘risk’ of diseases in the article. Not a ‘certainty’. World over, countries go by the ‘precautionary principle’. This means that when the risk to human health is so severe, they would rather avoid it than take it on. This is why other countries have definite enforced rules on where to place their mobile towers – something that is lacking in India, clearly visible from the flouting of government guidelines enumerated in the article.

To end, neither bad nor good reporting can “create a revolution”. People can, provided they ask the right questions.


June 1 at 3:37am ·

TehelkaTehelka @Vaibhav
Here’s the reference. “Health Issues Related To The Use Of Hand-Held Radiotelephones and Base Transmitters. ICNIRP Statement – April 1996. As for the ICNIRP Guidelines, read them again. They talk about the W/metre square of power which can be a reference level for public exposure at every frequency. This, however is not a reference to ‘safe limits’, but a guideline for what each telecom company can emit. There are other references of course – for how EMR may harm:
About Correlation/Causation now. It’s true. We can blame most things on just about anything. Which is why despite innumerable complaints from residents about minor health problems they perceived as arising due to cell phone towers in their vicinity the one case study we cited was that of a man of science, and a successful entrepreneur. He didn’t suffer from fatigue. Excessive exposure from EMR caused him to have a stroke.

Now to address your argument about Delhi being polluted and Delhiites being resigned to fatigue. Fatigue, or cancer, can have numerous causes. And we can go on passing the buck from one to the other. That still doesn’t stop us from eliminating a health risk when we see one – and when it can be eliminated.

June 1 at 3:38am ·

We have presented the entire response by Rishi here in fairness to the reporter. Vaibhav has posted his response to the reporter, Rishi, on the forums. Here is Vaibhav’s response in its entirety.

Hello again,

Let me start off with a simple fact as to why there can’t be a causal relationship between micro or radio waves and cancer. The energy of the particle(photon in this case) is determined by the frequency of the wave and NOT the intensity which is to say the number of particles passing through a unit area in unit time(W/m^2). As far as we know from medical science, cancer is caused due to the breaking of the chemical bonds in DNA molecules of a cell. The energy of these waves is much smaller than the energy required to break the chemical bonds in a DNA molecule. And hence cannot cause cancer even if you increase the intensity of the waves. All they can do is heat up the tissues in our body, which leads to the next question about the threshold levels.

Referring to the ICNIRP guidelines (which is mentioned as your reference in your article), from table 4,6&7 we know; SAR limit for general public: 0.08W/kg between the range of 10MHz-10GHz. Power density limits for general public: 2 – 10 W/m^2 (2000 – 10000 mW/m^2)between the range of 10MHz-300GHz

Please refer me to the page in the ICNIRP guidelines where it says the threshold is 600mW/m^2

SNAFU is not mentioned anywhere in your article.

You sent me three references of the same article from Santini et al. and 2 references of the same article from Hardell at al.
So let me go through those articles first.

The Santini survey shows a significant rise of some of the symptoms(fatigue and headaches) at distances greater than 100m which completely contradicts the fact that the intensity of the wave in inversely proportional to the distance it travels. So the greater the distance from the source the less intense a wave can be. A much higher sampling size is required in order to determine any relationship between these symptoms and the risk of staying near power lines. And that is the problem with all the other references including the Hardell one. If you increase the sampling size the correlation either goes away or there is a negative correlation which is also not plausible. Refer…0.246.html for details.

Another maybe only a minor thing to notice is that all the studies which show a correlation between EMR and cancer are performed on animals which isn’t picked up by the media.

You may find some references of some more studies in these blogs:

I am very rarely impressed from the authoritative argument. Dr.Abdul Kalam also attended Sathya Sai’s function along with other state ministers. So I wouldn’t give into Cogent Ltd. even if he himself vouches for it.

Here’s the article which talks about the risks involved with pacemaker and EMI

My concern was regarding the scare tactics used by Tehelka. It is one thing to say that recent studies show some correlation but its completely dishonest to give only one side to the layman. Moreover the threshold mentioned in the article and also in the youtube clip is misguiding the layman to believe that the radiation levels in Delhi are the main causes of their illnesses. If you wanted to do a reporting on a science based issue it would be far better than just assume that the layman knows the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiations.

Vaibhav Prakash

Due to the nature of propagation of EMR, the radiation from your cell phone is much higher in intensity that the radiation from the tower. In fact, the farther away the tower and the weaker the signal, the harder your cell phone works to put out the signal, thereby increasing your exposure to radiation. Having a cell phone tower nearer to you is a good thing!

Due to exponential loss of intensity during propagation of EMR, the radiation from your cell phone is immensely higher in intensity, as far as you are concerned, than the radiation from the tower. In fact, the farther away the tower and the weaker the signal, the harder your cell phone works to put out the signal, thereby increasing your exposure to radiation. Having a cell phone tower nearer to you is a good thing!

In the next part of this series we will discuss some of the other claims made by Rishi Mazumdar and Tehelka. You can continue to follow the story on the forums here.

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  • Please tell me if it is safe for the cellphone companies to put the tower next to the residential area. A company has requested that they put a cellphone tower next to my house and I do not know the effects this will bring to my household. Please help.


  • As some of you might have been aware that this issue has resurfaced again and has gotten uglier as it is picked up by several newspapers and TV channels. The WHO and IARC while taking the root of precautionary principle have classified radio and microwave radiation from mobile towers in category 2B which says ‘possible carcinogenic to humans’. Coffee and pickled vegetables are also a part of this group. The only study which showed a positive link between brain cancer and cell phone radiation is the Hardell group study published in 2006. Although this study has been criticized by other scientists on the basis of design flaws(especially recall biases) it hasn’t been reported in the media. Also the lack of any biological mechanism and no positive evidence from other studies such as the Danish and the Interphone study suggests that the proposed link between cell phone radiation and brain cancer isn’t valid in the current scenario.

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