Is it safe to live near a cell phone tower?

Could living near a cell phone tower harm your health?
23 October 2017
Presented by Stevie Bain


Mobile phone microwave tower


Jayson wanted to know if living near a cell phone tower could be affecting his and his family's health. Stevie Bain spoke to physicist Tony Kent from the University of Nottingham to shed some light on the situation.

In this episode

Mobile phone microwave tower

00:00 - Are phone towers harmful?

Are there any health risks from living close to a phone tower?

Are phone towers harmful?

Stevie Bain has dialed into this question from Jayson, with help from Professor Tony Kent from the University of Nottingham...

Evan - "Our new house is 140 metres from a cellphone tower. As a family, the three of us feel like we have been affected to different degrees in terms of sleep, motivation, and anxiety which are common reported symptoms of exposure to microwave radiation. It’s a controversial topic but are there any major health risks with living close to a phone tower?"

Stevie - Smartphone technology has transformed our lives in so many ways. But, with the proliferation of base stations to serve our ever-increasing hunger for data, there have been understandable concerns over the safety of exposure to microwave radiation. So should we be concerned? We put the question to our listeners on the forum.

Evan thinks that ironically there are fewer risks living closer to a tower because the antenna are mounted on a high point and emit radiation horizontally. Syhprum points out the more practical dangers saying the only danger warning he has seen on a tower said “don’t stand too close in winter as large icicles fall off.”

But what do the experts think? We asked Tony Kent, Professor of Physics at the University of Nottingham to shed some light on the situation.

Tony - although the word “radiation” is common, there are different types of radiation that affect the body in different ways; examples being microwaves and nuclear radiation. The main hazard for microwave radiation, the kind that is emitted from phones and base stations, is heating due to the microwave shaking the molecules, which is put to good use in a microwave oven. The International Commision on Non-ionising Radiation Protection put an upper limit of 80 milliwatts on the amount of microwave radiation per kilogram that a member of the public should be exposed to; known as the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which includes a safety margin of error.

Stevie - So how exactly does the level of radiation in our microwave ovens compare to those emitted from a phone tower?

Tony - If you could squeeze yourself into a microwave oven, close the door and turn it on from the inside, you will absorb about one kilowatt of microwave radiation, which is about 200 times greater than the SAR and, not surprisingly, you would cook yourself slowly. The mobile phone mast radiates typically a 100 watts. This is emitted in all directions horizontally and hits the ground about 50 metres from the mast. The exact amount of radiation you would intercept at a distance of 140 metres from the mast depends on the details of the antenna radiation pattern. But a worst case estimate would be about 100 microwatts per kilogram, well below the SAR limit and, actually, much less than from using your own phone, which is also well below the SAR.

Stevie - Thanks Tony for tapping into that topic. Next week we’re summoning a solution to this spooky Halloween headscratcher…

In the 1940s there was a chicken that survived 18 months without a head. How long could a human survive without a head?


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