Kounteya Sinha, TNN Feb 9, 2012, 04.01AM IST
NEW DELHI: People with medical implants like pacemakers must not keep their cellphones in their shirt pockets.
The latest directive by the department of telecommunication (DoT) says that “people having active medical implants should preferably keep the cellphone at least 15cm away from the implant.”
An office memorandum, circulated by the Ministry of Communications and IT on January 25, says manufacturer’s mobile handset booklets will have to contain the safety precaution.
MoS for communications and IT, Sachin Pilot said this was one of the recommendations made by the inter-ministerial committee that the DoT has accepted.
“Necessary changes in the design and packaging for compliance with this instruction will have to be in place on or before September 1,” Pilot told TOI.
Senior cardiologist at Escorts Heart Research Centre Dr Aparna Jaswal said it is safe for patients with implants to talk on a cellphone, but they must avoid placing it directly over the pacemaker implantation site when the device is turned on.
“The pacemaker could misinterpret the cellphone signal as a heartbeat and withhold pacing, producing symptoms such as sudden fatigue. The mobile phone must be kept six inches away from pacemaker site and the patient must talk on the phone from the other ear and not the one close to the site,” Dr Jaswal said.
India has over 900 million cellphone users.
According to the US FDA, radio frequency energy (RF) from cellphones can interact with pacemakers which are called electromagnetic interference (EMI). If EMI were to occur, it could affect a pacemaker in one of three ways: stopping the device from delivering the stimulating pulses that regulate the heart’s rhythm, cause it to deliver the pulses irregularly or cause the implant to ignore the heart’s own rhythm and deliver pulses at a fixed rate.
Pilot suggested that it would be mandatory for all mobile phone manufacturers to warn patients about keeping their cellphones away from implants, besides some other safety messages.
The memorandum circulated by the ministry says cellphone manufacturers must mention the following: use wireless and hands free systems like headphones with a low power blue tooth emitter, make sure the cellphone has a low Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), keep your calls short or send a text message instead. This advice applies especially to children, adolescents and pregnant women. “Use cellphone when the signal quality is good,” the note says.
The rate at which RF energy is absorbed by the body is called SAR. According to Pilot, the recommendations accepted include, “SAR level for mobile handset shall be limited to 1.6 watt/Kg, averaged over a mass of one gram of human tissue, SAR levels have to be displayed on the handset, all cell phones will have to comply with BIS standards and shall come with hands free services with the manufacturers providing a self declaration of SAR value of the handset.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had recently said talking on cellphone could cause a malignant form of brain Cancer classifying radiation emanating from mobile phones alongside gasoline engine exhaust, lead and DDT as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
It said, “The WHO/IARC has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.”
Pilot said, “We are not going to compromise with radiation limits since it has health-related concerns. The department of telecommunications set-up an Inter Ministerial Group in August, 2010, to evaluate the evidence, revisit radiation guidelines for mobile towers and adopt guidelines for radiation emission by cellphones. This group has recommended radiation limits more stringent than that of the United Nations.”
He added, “We had called for self certification of all mobile towers.”