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The Situation of Mobile Phones and Base Stations in West Malaysia

Published in the Malaysia Lapis Lazuli Light Magazine Issue no. 13
Translated by Yan En

Mobile phones are so popular in Malaysia that basically each person has one. If you look around, you will see people carrying mobile phones or chatting on the phones next to their ears.

In the past, mobile phone was a communication tool for business and sales persons. But nowadays, it has penetrated into different levels of society – from office workers to homemakers, from college students to primary school kids – they have all become mobile phone users. It is not rare to have 5 to 6 mobile phones within a family. Mobile phone retail outlets spring up like mushrooms in cities; kiosks for mobile phone prepaid cards are everywhere; advertisements of telecommunication companies and mobile phones appear endlessly on TV and newspapers – all of these indicate how popular mobile phones are in our country.

Malaysia is World’s No. 3 in the Growth Rate of Mobile Phone

Malaysia is one of the countries in the world that has the highest usage of mobile phone. The mobile phone market in Malaysia grows very fast, only after China and Japan in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to the latest statistics, mobile phone users in Malaysia has reached 7,260,000, including registered subscribers and pre-paid card users. Five years ago in 1996, the figure was 1,510,000. The use of mobile phone in our country has increased fivefold in just 5 years. This also indicates that currently, 1 in every 3 Malaysians is a mobile phone user.

As there are a huge number of users around, and with the many telecommunication companies competing with each other, they have set up base stations around the country in order to provide better network coverage. In the past one year, not only were more and more base stations built, they were also getting nearer and nearer to humans. Meanwhile, protests and complaints from residents were also starting to emerge, requesting to dismantle the base stations.

Since last year, there has been an increase in news reports on complaints related to base stations. Residents in many big cities and small towns around the country start to complain about their health being affected by base stations. Most of the residents say that ever since a base station has been set up within their residential area, they often experience dizziness, numbness in both arms, difficulties in breathing, insomnia, tinnitus and so on. Some also complain that they have to visit the doctors frequently as they always feel unwell.

In September last year (2001), residents of Kuantan Road in Penang complained about “cancer-causing” base stations, which led to 6 cancer cases in one building. Four of the cancer patients died later on. The news hit the panic button among the public, and fear toward base stations increased. For those who lived next to the base stations, it created mental stress that was not to be neglected. There were also quite a number of base stations set up on the rooftops of tall buildings or retail shops. This led to people questioning the safety of these base stations.

Dismantling Illegal Base Stations

In actual fact, the complaints and doubts from the public have exposed the weakness of our government in its loose regulation over base stations. According to relevant authority, most of the base stations around the country are illegal, only a small number are built with legal approval. According to the guidelines on base stations set by the Malaysian Telecom, before a telecommunication company wants to set up a base station at a certain location, it must apply with the multi-media committee and attain approval from the city council. Otherwise, the authority has the right to dismantle the base station.

The guidelines also show that the structure of the base station must comply with the safety standard; it must be away from residential area for more than 150 meters; the permit must be renewed every year. No matter what, as the guidelines lack legal restraint, telecommunication companies still set up lots of base stations in order to support the increasing demand. Judging from the fact that more than half the base stations in the country are set up illegally, the guidelines above are as good as none.

Recently, one of the city councils has even revealed that the latest guidelines would reduce the original distance between a base station and a residential area from 150 meters to 35 meters. The council makes this decision as there is still no scientific evidence which proves that radiation from base stations would affect human health adversely. This is such a shame. It shows that some people would rather sacrifice the well-being of the people and environment in order to gain certain convenience and benefits.

Undeniably, mobile phone is the most convenient communication tool in our modern lives. It is also a symbol of status. For some of the young people, it is also like a new toy, or even a fashionable accessory that can be changed constantly. The young people particularly like to hang their mobile phones on their waists or around their necks in front of their chests. They also like to add cute little ornaments to their mobile phones. Ever since the short message service (SMS) function was added, mobile phone has attracted many more people. It has become a new channel of communication between people, even more popular than e-mail.

Having a Mobile Phone Next to Your Ear is Akin to Having a Microwave Transmission Tower Next to Your Body

Although the models of mobile phone have become trendier and more user-friendly, we should not be deceived by its appearance and forget that it is actually a small-size electromagnetic station with underlying threats. When we carry it around with us or have it next to our ear, it’s almost like sticking a microwave transmission tower in our brain!

Mobile phone has indeed brought us convenience in communication. Yet at the same time, it has also shrouded our space with the pervading electromagnetic waves, harming our health and destroying our natural environment. If this is the price that we have to endure in order to enjoy the benefits of advanced technology, perhaps we should rethink: is this too much a price to pay?

The Safety Distance Between Base Stations and Residents: 200 meters and above

Mobile phone is actually a mini electromagnetic waves receiver and transmitter. When we are using a mobile phone, it will emit low frequency pulsating wave and high frequency microwave, which is similar to using a microwave oven.

Although the voltage used by a mobile phone is lower than the voltage used by a TV set or a radio, its penetration is much stronger. And human body is a conductor of microwave. When we use a mobile phone, about 20%-80% of microwave radiation will be absorbed by the human body and brain. The rate of absorption depends on the mobile phone model, antenna and its distance from the base station. Generally speaking, telephones without antenna will force more microwave into the human brain, and the farther away a phone is from the base station, the stronger the radiation level is in order to receive signal.

Experts also point out that once you use mobile phone for more than 2 min, its microwave radiation may damage your brain.

Studies done by European scientists find that using a mobile phone is like “cooking” our brain. The studies show that when one is using a mobile phone, the heating sensation in one’s ear, cheek or head will increase 4.8 times. Another Russian studies also find that mobile phone usage can increase skin surface temperature by around 4.7°C. This kind of heating lesion may lead to skin cancer of premature aging.

Experts also think that the negative electromagnetic field emitting by base stations is more than 2 GHz, therefore these stations should be at least 200-400 meters away from humans. Thus it is unwise to have base stations in the city or residential area.

The Amount of Electromagnetic Radiation is Whirling Upward Every Year

From 155 years ago, telegram communication was invented for military needs. It enabled humans to control time and space. This invention undoubtedly shortened the connection among human relations. However, at the same time it “electrified” humans and the whole earth. In recent years, computerized communication technology has swiftly developed in particular. It has also entered the consumer market like the popularity of mobile phone, and the base stations are erected around us like Christmas trees one after another. This has caused more severe damage to humans and the earth by electromagnetic waves.

Below is an extract of a report from the magazine, No Place To Hide. It compares the radiation level between 1978 and 1999. Hopefully it will evoke some concerns and thoughts among those who care about health and the earth.

In 1978, research done by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in USA showed that the average population in a big city faced an average of 0.005 microvolt of electromagnetic radiation per square centimeter. Even population in the two big cities, New York City and Chicago, faced just an average of 0.002 microvolt* of electromagnetic radiation.

Years later, physicist Dr William Lee, PhD., president of AlphaLab, which specialized in manufacturing electromagnetic detecting equipment, revealed that in the outskirt of Salt Lake City at 5pm at that time (in 1999), the electromagnetic level was detected to be between an average of 0.01 and 0.1 microvolt per square centimeter. In other words, it had increased 10 to 100 times comparing to 20 years ago.

Physicist Dr Bill Curry, PhD., president of EMSciTek Consulting Co., said that when he was on a train from Washington to Denver, he detected by the window that the electromagnetic level in Denver was on average 0.1 microvolt per square centimeter. When he passed by New York, the result was an average of 100-300 microvolt per square centimeter. That means the radiation level had shot to 100 thousand times comparing to the New York 20 years ago.

(Richard A. Tell and Edwin D. Mantiply, “Population Exposure to VHF and UHF Broadcast Radiation in the United States.” The Environmental Protection Agency, USA, June 1978.)