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Endless Debate on Mobile Radiation

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By David Njagi
Freelance Journalist - Kenya
mobile_radiation
Researchers exposed a group of rats to short doses of mobile phone radiation, a move that destroyed the rodents’ brain cells.
Mobile towers

The noise over whether the human race is at risk of radiation from cell phone use is as divisive as it is elusive, but lately, some countries like Kenya appear to be taking notice.

Last September, the Kenyan government made a landmark ruling banning the sale of counterfeit phones, a move that raised the concern of the scientific community about the health hazards on people holding the gadget; this could be a trap -    electromagnetic radiation looks to be one of them.

In a statement justifying the ban, the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) was careful not to rule out the risk of low level radiation through the use of bogus phones, but studies suggest there is a real risk lurking on the palm of the hand.

“The health risks associated with the use of electronics is a growing concern,” says Ochillo Ayacko, Chairman of the Nuclear Electricity Development Project (NEDP) in Kenya’s Ministry of Energy. “However there is need for detailed scientific evidence linking the cell phone to radiation exposure.”

Recent studies suggest that mobile phones may slowly be eating away the intelligence of unaware users, as the gadget continues to prove its unmatched power to place the planet in a new communication age.

Researchers exposed a group of rats to short doses of mobile phone radiation, a move that destroyed the rodents’ brain cells. This could lead to the early Alzheimer’s disease, they concluded.

At the same time, Dr. Kjell Hansson Mild, a Swedish researcher, studied 11,000 mobile phone users in 1998.

“Symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and burning sensations on the skin are more common among those who make longer mobile phone calls,” he reported.

There are also a growing number of unconfirmed reports of individuals whose health has been affected after chronic, frequent use of mobile phones, presumably from radiation effects on cells, Mild said.

Another study published in 1998 in the Lancet confirmed this too, after researchers tabled the first firm evidence that mobile phone use causes a rise in blood pressure.

“Not only are electronic gadgets causing serious harm to the environment when they pile up, but the health risks also come in equal measure,” says Ayub Macharia of Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

The growing concerns about electromagnetic radiation was the subject of a November 2012 study which reported that even exposure to low level radioactivity is damaging.

Reporting to the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s Journal Biological Reviews, scientists peer reviewed studies published over the last four decades and found that ‘variation in low level, natural background radiation has small, but highly statistically significant, negative effects on DNA as well as several measures of health’.

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Urban Mining of Electronics

The review studied locations around the globe that have very high natural background radiation as a result of the minerals in the ground, including Ramsar in Iran, Mombasa in Kenya, Lodeve in France, and Yangjiang, China.

While the emerging trend appears to be causing jitters among the scientific community, entrepreneurs with a business edge have spotted a windfall in this buried treasure.

Scramble for what is now internationally referred to as ‘urban mining’, or scavenging for precious metals, such as iridium and gold, is already causing competition among the two leading  countries, Japan and China, as their traditional source markets continue to shrink.

Local dealers have not missed this emerging niche market, and some like mobile phone service provider, Safaricom, are reaching out with an electronic waste recycling programme.

“The project will disassemble the gadgets and use what can be recycled locally to make plastic chairs and poles,” says Sanda Ojiambo, the head of corporate responsibility at the company.

It is now emerging that damaged cell phones are artificial deposits for precious metals such as gold, silver, copper, iridium, indium and a host of other metals that are reportedly in short supply at the world market.

Cell phone vendors say that this type of investment remains highly untapped, as most damaged mobile phones end up in popular waste dumping sites such as the Dandora landfill.

Safaricom Chief Executive Officer, Bob Collymore, confirms that the Nokia brand vendors are engaged in mobile phone waste recycling.

But the country office for the Erickson company could not comment about the emerging market for cell phones, although officials confirmed that the damaged products are ferried back to Sweden.

Experts however point out that aircraft and ship building consume most of the world metals in supply, although space and nuclear science too are reportedly eating into the world’s metal deposits.

Studies of the current world prices for some of the precious metals revealed that they have in the last few years been hitting record highs, with gold scoring as one of the most demanded, yet undersupplied metals.

According to a study conducted by a Japanese-based recycling firm, Yokohama Metal Co. Ltd, a tonne of ore from a goldmine produces just five grams (about 0.18 ounce) of gold, while a tonne of discarded mobile phones can yield 150 grams (about 5.3 ounces) or more.

The same volume of discarded mobile phones, says the study, also contains around 100 kilograms (about 220 lb) of copper and 3 kilograms (about 6.6 lb) of silver, among other metals.

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David Njagi is a Nairobi-based freelance journalist whose work has been published in Africa and the United Kingdom. He is fluent in both English and Kiswahili languages. He can be reached at [email protected] or +254 720 480 830.

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