Wireless Technologies Environmental Impacts
Jorge Fernandes Morais (1) Department of Electrical Engineering, Pontifícia Universidade Católica. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Glaucio Lima Siqueira (2) Department of Electrical Engineering, Pontifícia Universidade Católica. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Abstract— It is not difficult to understand that telecommunication technologies can provide comfort as well as improve the quality of our everyday life. What isn’t so evident are the environmental impacts of such developments. While telecommunication technologies are still seen as ―clean technologies‖, they can have some harmful impacts on the environment, many of which have been identified and the protection measures included in national and international laws and standards, while other are still under investigation. The aim of this paper is to present and analyze some impacts of the wireless systems on people life on Earth, such as electromagnetic radiation and impacts on visual landscape of cities. This work could serve as a warning to agencies and institutions involved in the process and assist in decision making in the fields of engineering and standards, thus helping to give greater environmental sustainability to the existing and future telecommunication systems.
Keywords: Telecommunication;wireless;electromagnetic radiation; environment;non-ionizing radiation
While telecommunication technologies are still seen as ―clean technologies‖, they can have some harmful impacts on the environment. This situation becomes even more concerning given the fast advancement of wireless systems, replacing or in addition to fixed network, creating real electromagnetic turbulence of non-ionizing radiation on the habitat in which we live. In a brief and objective way, we are showing the possible impacts caused by wireless technologies, evaluated from two different ways:
- the influence on people’s health;
- impacts on visual landscape of cities.
Mobile communications have become one of the most important technologies of the telecommunications field. The wireless technology is not so recent, existing for more than four decades, when its main applications were in public services such as police, civil defense, etc. At that time the technology was very expensive and, therefore, the equipments were installed in small quantity. Due to this fact and in additional to the lack of features and versatility of the technology the mobile systems of the past had few Radio Base Stations installed. With the advent of cellular telephony, the frequency reuse technique has made the number of Radio Base Stations increase (RBS).
The benefits brought by mobile communication had as immediate consequence a growing demand, with its business potential reached staggering figures, since it was able to generate the need for personal use. To meet this huge market, the systems had to be structured with a great number of RBS to serve users anywhere, with quality and reliability. The fast development of Internet, its applications and new services created, yet, more motivation for the improvement of mobile communications systems. It is expected that in the near future, more than half of the networks are at least partially wireless. This means the installation of new and many more Radio Base Stations, aggravating further the electromagnetic and visual pollution, particularly in large cities.
II. THE INFLUENCE OF WIRELESS TECHNOLOGIES ON PEOPLE’ HEALTH
We live immersed in electromagnetic radiation since the birth of the universe, light is their more familiar form of radiation. The whole humanity is now exposed to various levels of so-called “Effects of Electromagnetic Fields –EMF‖ and, surely, the level of these fields will continue to grow with the advancement of science and development of technology. The waves classified as microwave, in which the mobile systems operate, are the electromagnetic radiation with wavelength ranging from 10 cm to 1 m and are called non-ionizing radiation and its effects are the object of study worldwide.
With the rapid expansion of wireless network, the mobile operators have to install a lot of RBS to meet demand and maintain the quality of service required by regulatory agencies for telecommunications. This scenario leads to increase discussion of the possible negative effects to human health caused by radiation emitted by cell phone and towers of the cellular systems. Currently there are more than three billion mobile phones worldwide. In Brazil we have almost reached the mark of a cell phone per capita. These numbers, by itself, justify the need for clear and comprehensive policies and substantial and consistent information to citizens about the coexistence of the wireless technology and the life of people on the face of the Earth.
A milestone that caused the hysteria with the possibility of the cellular damage to human health may was reported to the episode of 1993 when an American named David Reynard appeared on a television program of large audience in the United States, claiming that the use of cell phone had caused the cancer to kill his wife. At that time, it gave rise to great debate involving the media, public opinion and government agencies on the impact of cellular technology in the life of the population. After this episode, many researches have been developed in several countries, looking for evidence of adverse biological effects to health, caused by non-ionizing radiation, in particular the possibility of occurrence of cancer in users of mobile phones. The World Health Organization (WHO), sensitive to the concerns of the world on the influence of electromagnetic waves in the health of people, founded in 1996 the EMF project, monitoring the scientific evidence of possible harm to health, caused by electromagnetic radiation in the range of frequencies from zero to 300 GHz.
A critical review of the literature, involving possible biological effects of radiation emitted by wireless network is available to the public and is updated periodically. In order to assemble an overview of the direction of research, we appreciate then some documents, with a summary of its findings, from institutions that work in the area of protection against non-ionizing radiation. The conclusions are shown below:
The Stewart Report
A comprehensive study on mobile phones, published in April 2000, conducted by a group of British researchers, called the Stewart Report, confirmed what other studies had observed by then that there was no scientific evidence that microwave irradiated for cellular systems caused harm to human health. However, this report does not discarded the idea and made a series of recommendations regarding the use of cellular and RBS sites, such as discouraging the use of cell phones by children and installation of RBS in schools or in their neighborhood. The work generated by the team of Dr. William Stewart has not stopped there. From the recommendation of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (Stewart Committee) was founded, in 2001, the MTHS – Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research program to continue the research on the effects of mobile telephony in public health. The group was formed with members of the Stewart Committee and foreign specialists, including representatives from WHO. The final report, which was the result of conclusion of 23 of the 28 research projects supported by the program MTHS, was published in September 2007 and is usually referenced as Stewart Report 2nd. In short, concluded that :
“No research supported by the Program and published so far has demonstrated that biological or adverse effects to health are produced by radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones.”
2008 NCI – National Cancer Institute Publication
The publication in September 2008 the National Cancer Institute of the United States summarizes its position on use of cellular and risk of cancer as follows :
“Studies to date have shown no consistent link between the use of cell phone and cancer, but scientists believe that additional research is needed before a definitive conclusion.”
2008 EIT – Institution of Engineering and Technology Report
The EIT is an independent international institution with headquarters in England, and acts as a reference for professionals in the field of engineering and technology, supplying information for the regulatory bodies and the general public. Its 2008 report presents the following summary :
“The balance of scientific evidence obtained to date, still does not indicate the occurrence of adverse effects in humans, due to the low level of exposure to electromagnetic radiation. This conclusion remains the same presented in the previous position, as published in May 2006 and was not substantially altered by the literature in the past two years”.
2007 SCENIHR- European Commission’s Scientific Committee on health risks Report
One of the conclusions of the report states that :
“No health effect has been consistently demonstrated at exposure levels below the existing recommendations for the general public. However, data on prolonged exposure and intracranial tumors are still scarce. In particular, for some acoustic neuronal tumor, the data indicate the possibility of connection with electromagnetic fields of mobile telephony. For other diseases than cancer, few epidemiological data are available.”
May 2006 WHO – World Health Organization Publication( FS 304)
The document concludes :
“Considering the low levels of exposure and the results obtained to date, no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from radio base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.”
“Recent studies have indicated that exposure to RF for radio base stations and wireless technologies in areas of public access (including schools and hospitals) are normally thousands of times below international standards”
2004 ICNIRP-International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection update.
The ICNIRP held in 2004, a comprehensive review of epidemiological studies on the effects of radiofrequency fields on human health in order to summarize the current state of knowledge, explain the methodological issues that are involved and help in planning future studies. The summary of their findings is : “The results of these studies, to date, have no consistent or convincing evidence of the relationship between RF exposure and any adverse health effect. Furthermore, studies have several shortcomings in the interpretation of an association”.
Overall, through the evaluation of the reports exposed until now we can see a comfortable situation in the coexistence between wireless technology and the health of the population, provided that the systems are installed and operated within the internationally accepted technical standards. However, it’s always emphasized that the observations and research should continue as a way to monitor the evolution of technology and assessment of cumulative phenomenon in the long run.
The figure below shows the result of research conducted in the United States in the period of 1997 to 2003, comparing the incidence of brain cancer in the population with the development of the installation of radio base stations in the same period.
Standards and international guidelines for exposure to electromagnetic fields are developed to protect people against all possible impacts on health caused by RF energy. So far, all studies have been focused on the impacts that cause the so-called thermal effects in nature, because they are the only physical effect which can be measurable. Besides thermal effects, there is another kind of discussion based on a physiological and behavioral reaction of the human body to non-ionizing radiation. These are called non-thermal effects, for which there is also a series of studies that highlight the risk of exposure to any levels of radiation. The focus of such studies is that exposure to microwaves, even at low intensities, can result in nervous disorders such as headaches, fatigue, dizziness, memory loss, insomnia, depression, etc. The non-thermal effects are related to sensitivities that certain people may have when exposed to electromagnetic radiation. These phenomena can’t be measured and are still questioned in the scientific environment.
The purpose of all rules and regulations is to establish limits and procedures for the installation, operation and use of the several components of the systems, so that the population is exposed to safe levels of radiation. Thus, the action of various regulatory bodies is to establish limits of exposure to the general population and particular groups of people.
However, we must not lose sight of the importance of quality control of the telecommunication facilities and monitoring of existing RBS through routine measurements of the levels of electromagnetic radiation on the environment, either by the supervisory agencies as Anatel in Brazil, by environmental agencies or public health agencies, or even by independent institutions, essential to ensure the removal of risk to the RBS neighboring community and the general public.
III. IMPACTS ON VISUAL LANDSCAPE OF CITIES
When we talk about pollution the first thing that comes to mind is the plants pouring sewage in the rivers, or car smoked in the air and the plantations filled with pesticides. Almost nobody remembers the other types of pollution that cause serious harm to health, such as visual pollution. Overall, visual pollution is defined as everything that hits our sensitivity, through vision, influencing our minds, overlapping the psychological over the physical.
The towers for wireless systems, in particular, historically, have been designed to meet the technical requirements only, having no commitment to architectural aspects. The large number of radio base stations installed to meet the demand of mobile telephone service, linked to several other wireless communications systems such as systems for commercial broadcasting, television, data communications, radar, radio, satellite communication, has helped produce an unpleasant aesthetic impact on the environment, affecting the landscape of cities, and has been raising great concern of public entities and society in general. The figure below shows an overview of Avenida Paulista landscape, in São Paulo – Brazil, with the antennas installed to serve the various wireless telecommunications services.
The solution or mitigation requirement for the visual pollution caused by telecommunications technology is a municipality’s responsibility, which must supervise the installation of all infrastructures within the City Director Plan of Building and Landscape. Some municipalities account for this problem has been including in its organic law specific rules to discipline the RBS facilities in the city. As example the law implemented in the municipality of Niterói, Rio de Janeiro- Brazil, emphasize some guidelines considered in this approach: it prohibited the installation of RBS in public squares, parks, gardens, green areas and assets of special use; the installation of antennas on poles or towers located on the central road beds and in the process of shoreline will be permitted, provided that, with the use of camouflage or fitness stenographic to be defined by the competent body; for the installation of RBS in buildings will be needed to obtain approval in a official meeting of the condominium, recorded in the minutes and accompanied the presentation of the condominium agreement. If some change of façade is due, this will require the unanimous approval of the owners.
IV. CONCLUSION AND COMMENTS
Electromagnetic pollution has affected the urban environment for over 50 years by radio and television base stations, located close to major urban centers and has been found neither problem, nor any public movement or claim by the society regarding the harm to the people health from these radiations. These systems operate with a power transmission hundred of times greater than that transmitted by cellular telephone antennas and the type of radiation (non-ionizing radiation) is the same irradiated by cellular telephone RBS. However, the great concern from mobile technology is the visibility we have from the antennas because they are everywhere and we can see them in all places where we are.
Following the methodology adopted in this study, we concluded that researches on non-ionizing radiation in the area of mobile and wireless technologies, in general, indicate that the systems, operating within the established international thresholds of exposure, do not cause harm to human health and damage to the environment, and this is the position accepted by the World Health Organization.
We didn’t identify the need for special care in the use of cell phone, unless the suggestion that the time per call is not systematically long, and minimize the use of mobile phones by children because they are more susceptible to penetration of the electromagnetic waves in their bodies. Also not identified the need to prevent the installation of RBS in the neighborhood of schools and hospitals, as the level of the signals irradiated by the cellular antenna decrease rapidly with distance and is very low at few meters from it. It is important, however, that there is a systematic and ongoing monitoring to ensure that the levels of radiated power in the vicinity of RBS are kept within the limits of safety.
Brazil has a comprehensive legislation in the area of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, such as the Anatel’s Resolution 303 and a Federal law n º 11934 from May 5, 2009, based on ICNIRP and WHO international recommendations, which could serve as a guideline and reference for the actions of environment control from federal, state and municipal government agencies.
In despite of researches indicating security in RBS and cell phones, the fear of the population with the potential risk of electromagnetic irradiation is already established, mainly generated by the controversy among scientists, the publication of random articles in non specialized media and the mobilization of society for more convincing answers. To avoid misunderstanding the best thing to do is the authorities take a firm stance on issues that the people are worried and transmit to society, through the official media a clarification that portray the country’s thinking on the subject.
The problem of visual and aesthetics pollution from RBS is a real situation in the big cities. In addition there is the possibility of property devaluation when the antennas are installed in commercial or residential buildings. It is important to have clear and specific legislation, in all municipalities, to regulate the telecommunications facilities installation, so they can be in line with the architectural landscape of cities. It’s important to mention, for example, that not all RBS need to be submitted to camouflage, but specifically those that are or will be installed in places where the local architecture could be affected. The lack of municipal regulations in this area has led to distorted practices in public administration and institutions involved, who see in the mobile telephony the possibility to create taxes, setting thus a complex bureaucratic procedures, easing prosecutors actions and so slowing the whole process of expanding the coverage of the wireless service.
It’s evident the importance of telecommunication technologies in modern society, introducing a new dynamic of life through fixed and mobile telephony, Internet, video and increasing the comfort and people welfare with radio, television and many other resources that the multimedia transmissions may offer. In fact we can not imagine human live without these telecommunication facilities nowadays. Equally important has been its application in the control and protection of environment and natural resources with powerful satellite systems and radar, complementing the terrestrial telecommunications network, to offer to man the ability to monitor and predict the environmental impacts caused naturally and by human actions. Thus, from a technological point of view, telecommunications tools have too much to offer to man and to environment control. What it need to do in making these technologies immune to possible negative impacts to humans and the environment is to have well defined rules and procedures for its installation and operation. Moreover, it is essential that these rules are met through efficient mechanisms for monitoring and surveillance.
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