SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, August 3, 2000, Chandigarh, India
Will radiation fry the cellular industry?
by H.S. Jatana

Barely a week goes by without a new story in the media about the threat from mobile phones to human health. The industry insists there is absolutely no danger at all. The real danger may come from the war of words.

Taming the Ghaggar fury
by G.S. Dhillon
UST two days of rainfall in the area around Chandigarh has transformed the near dormant Ghaggar into a raging torrent and is causing widespread damage in the States of Punjab and Haryana and has damaged and breached many canal infrastructures. This highlights the need for taking immediate steps to tame the river into a tranquil stream.

Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

New products & discoveries



Will radiation fry the cellular industry?
by H.S. Jatana

Barely a week goes by without a new story in the media about the threat from mobile phones to human health. The industry insists there is absolutely no danger at all. The real danger may come from the war of words.

THE cellular industry has never been the same since Florida businessman David Reynard told on live television that he believed a mobile phone had caused the brain tumour which killed his wife. Reynard lost his court case, but today, six years and dozens of research papers later, the real impact of mobile phone radiation on humans remains contentious. Research to date suggests there is probably a biological impact from mobile phone emissions. But no conclusive proof exists of a health impact on humans using cellular handsets. If anything, the balance of the research suggests there probably isn’t a significant health impact from even heavy usage of mobile phones.

But there is doubt either way. There is no verifiable proof that mobile phones harm people. It is also impossible to prove that mobile phones are completely safe. It is the space between certainties that the mobile phone controversy has grown, feeding off keen interest from the international media, which erupts periodically in the wake of new research findings.

Take the recent effort by the well respected BBC current affairs programme Panaroma. The programme was based on the findings of Swedish cancer specialists Dr Lennart Hardell and by US researcher Joshua Muscat. Hardell’s research, published in the International Journal of Oncology, recorded a possible link between brain cancer and mobile phone user. He discovered that cellular phone users who held the phone on the right side were 2.45 times more likely to develop a tumour on the right side of the brain, while for left-side phone users, such tumours were 2.40 times more likely to occur on the left side. But he found the overall chance of developing brain cancer between mobile phone users and non-users was about the same.

The Muscat research was funded by an industry-backed centre called the Wireless Technology Research group. He too found no evidence of an overall increase in brain cancer, but he did discern a higher risk of developing a tumour on the side of the head on which the user held the phone. Yet this risk was also found for users of traditional wired phones.

He also discovered a two or threefold increase in the risk to tumours — but once again, the highest risk was among people who spent less time on phone. The results provide for a diversity of “glass half full or empty” responses, depending on one’s own attitudes. Certainly, attitudes toward mobile phone radiation are very much divided.

On one side are those who believe that mobile phone EMF, though not proven dangerous, is quite likely to be, and who regard the industry and its spokespersons with extreme skepticism. Most scientists themselves tend to the middle course that, while no negative effect has been verified, more research must be done.

Then on the other side, are industry representatives who insist that the mobile phone emissions are so far below the standards that they cannot pose any threat whatsoever.

Some research projects have implications not just for the issue of mobile phone emissions, but also for the way the cellular industry handles the problem. One who found himself in conflict with the industry has been Dr Henry Lai, a professor of bio-engineering at the University of Washington.

Lai began researching the impact of radar on human beings for the US military in the 1970s. Cellphones only came into the picture in 1990s. He published a report with a colleague, Prof Singh, which found evidence of single and double-stranded DNA breaks in mice. DNA damage can be a cause of cancer or cell death, while cell death in the brain can lead to degenerative diseases.

Cellular executives rightly point out the comparison is unfair; they are certainly not pushing a dangerous product on to children, and they are actively contributing to research programmes around the world. And unlike cigarettes, mobile phones have saved many lives. Nevertheless, public trust of governments and large corporations is at low ebb, and people are willing to believe they are being misled.

Vendor’s lawyers are doubtless reminding them that tobacco companies have been forced into a $ 200 billion settlement and have also lost a recent ground-breaking class action suit. Despite this, the industry does not always achieve the transparency. Take the issue of the specific absorption rate (SAR), a measure of the emissions of each phone. The specialist US journal Microwave News, edited by Loius Slesin, who is critical of the industry on cellphone emissions, has argued that phone vendors should be more explicit about the SAR levels.

Consumers can now choose their favourite colour or style of mobile phone — but for a choice that might affect their health, they can’t get the information they need. Intelligent people disagree about whether there is any reason to be concerned about mobile phone health effects. That is precisely why the industry should make SAR numbers public and let consumers decide for themselves.

However, mobile phone companies don’t release SAR numbers, or any information that would give consumers an idea of the radio frequency radiation. None of the vendors is willing to advise their customers of the SAR output of their phones. Ericsson says it is confidential information. Both Nokia and Motorola says that because their phones meet the prescribed safety standard, there is no reason to disclose the exact SAR level. Motorola pointed out that a number of parameters are involved in cellphone emissions and that it is difficult to give a simple number that could be used to compare different phones.

The jury is still out on the precise effects of cellphone emissions. Bit it you’re worried about using your phone in the meantime, here are some products now on the market to ease your fears.

A Japanese company makes a product called No Danger, a mesh shield that the firm says will block a mobile phone’s emissions from penetrating your head.

A US company, Less EMF, sells a range of products intended to block out mobile phone radiation. These include phone shields, a cowhide leather phone case, a device which deflects the RF signal away from the user’s head and yet another which absorbs the signals coming through the earpiece.

If you are still worried, Less EMF will sell you a sensor which measures the amount of radiation being emitted. Another option is to buy a phone battery which blocks the emissions. The battery, made by EMX Group of the UK, has a chip which neutralises the impact of the electromagnetic emissions by causing the signal to fluctuate.

If is not easy to keep up with the substantial volume of research being conducted into cellular EMF. Most experts agree that only after a large scale long-term study on human use of cellphones will we have a definitive answer.

The WHO is running an eight-country project to determine if using mobile phones causes brain tumours. Researchers in France, the UK, Italy, Sweden, Israel, Canada, Australia and Denmark will look at the phone use of people in regions of heavy wireless usage affected by brain disorders and other problems.

At this point, little is known about the biological effects of mobile telephone use, but since there are indications that the radiation from these phones can cause biological effects that could be detrimental to health, prudent usage should be taken as a logical guideline.

The author is Manager (VLSI) with Semiconductor Complex, Chandigarh.


Taming the Ghaggar fury
by G.S. Dhillon

JUST two days of rainfall in the area around Chandigarh has transformed the near dormant Ghaggar into a raging torrent and is causing widespread damage in the States of Punjab and Haryana and has damaged and breached many canal infrastructures. This highlights the need for taking immediate steps to tame the river into a tranquil stream.

The remote sensing investigations and other geophysical studies have given us enough data to support the hypothesis that the long lost Saraswati Nadi is no other than the present Ghaggar. The Saraswati used to flow past the town of Bahawalpur (now in Pakistan) and on its banks once flourished the town of Kalibangan of the Indus civilisation. The river had substantial flows, and an independent outfall into the sea near the Gulf of Kutch. Due to the climatic changes leading to reduced rainfall and also the tectonic disturbances, the Saraswati lost its flow to the streams of the Sutlej (on its right side) and the Yamuna (on its left).

The present day course of the river Ghaggar (figure) has very small flow during the winter months. It originates from a location not far from Kalka and about 28 km to the north-east of Chandigarh. After flowing for a distance of over 450 km in the south-westernly direction, the river disappears in the sand-dune area of the Thar Desert.

The total drainage basin area of the river amounts to 42,200 sq km, falling in the five states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chandigarh. The breakup Punjab (35.38%), Haryana (31.5%), Himachal Pradesh (1.35%), Rajasthan (31.5%) and Chandigarh (0.27%).

The volume of flow near Panchkula in an average year has been measured to be around 0.2 MAF (Million Acre Feet) and with a number of tributaries joining, its flow increases to 0.32 MAF. The measured peak flow in the head reach is around 20,000 cusecs and in the tail reach 30,000 cusecs. The river carries a large silt load with peak concentrations of 5500 ppm and the normal turbidity ranging between 2250 and 3500 ppm. The stream in its head reach is known as the Kaushalaya Nadi.

The stream is subjected to uncontrolled mining of its bed material and it has been “de-robed” as the gravel blanket has been removed exposing its clay bed, which is being subjected to severe erosion.

Around the year 1947 in the upper reaches a number of “kuhls” used to off-take and irrigate area around Surajpur and Mubarakpur. The Banur Canal off-take point was near Chhat-Bir and this inundation canal had a well developed irrigation falling in the Patiala State.

In 1932, Maharaja Bhupindra Singh built a regulator across the river Ghaggar and number of inundation canals, called “khands” irrigated a large block near Devigarh. The regulator provided a valuable control point for moderating the flood flows of the river.

For the Karnal area, the Sarusti Canal was built in 1895 by the Karnal District Board and it had GCA (Gross Commanded Area) of 188,761 acres and the CCA (Culturable Commanded Area) of 184,880 acres, located downstream of the Bibipur Lake.

There were two other well built irrigation systems with GCA of 102,785 acres and CCA of 72,978 acres, with well built distribution systems and these were called the Northern Ghaggar Canal System and the Southern Ghaggar Canal System with off take head located just below the town of Sirsa.

In Post-Independence era, the above irrigation system fell out of use. Most of the command areas were transferred to the Bhakra Canal System and in the case of the Banur Canal the area was included in the SYL Project to be covered through “Lift Scheme” of 500 cusecs capacity. The area irrigated through kuhls in the Mubarakpur region, was either taken over for urbanisation or the farmers ‘switched over’ to the electrically operated tubewells after advent of the rural electrification programme.

The above measures resulted in releasing the entire volume of water earlier used for irrigation. This led to many a problem, like flood damage and land erosion.

When the new capital of East Punjab was built, the idea of putting up a storage dam near Surajpur was conceived. The complete investigations, including the sub-soil investigation, were undertaken and it was proposed to build an earth dam with power house and canal off-taking from its right bank. The canal with 100 cusecs flow was to bring water to the town of Chandigarh and was to be used for watering the parks and gardens of the city. By the time the project was ready for submission the reorganisation of the state took place and the project area fell into lap of the newly created Haryana State who had many other problems to tackle. So the project was put into cold storage.

During early 1990s Haryana thought of the dam for solving drinking water problems of Panchkula area and the revised project was framed. The cost of the project rose from Rs 28 crore to Rs 450 crore. It provided a canal of 300 cusecs for meeting the drinking water and recreational requirements of the region. Both the UT area of Chandigarh and the Punjab State became greatly interested in the project and provided funds for its investigations.

But the “pressure groups” had the day as the Haryana Government decided to abandon the project as valuable land covering 13 villages would get submerged and the “resettlement problems” would be difficult to solve. In addition the existing National Highway would have to be relocated and also the other communication system leading to Shimla.

Under a groundwater recharge scheme of Rajasthan, 18 large depressions were filled with the flood water from the river Ghaggar near its tail end, with a view to recharging the groundwater and to improve its quality from saline to sweet. But the scheme “backfired” as the presence of a hard pan at shallow depth prevented the vertical movement of water and the seepage water started spreading around causing waterlogging and salinity.

Flood control measures taken by different states may provide local relief but in turn transfer the problem either downstream or to the other bank. No collective thinking is yet on. The joint inter-state drainage projects conceived by the WAPCO is yet to be accepted by the different states. This project provided for excavation of an outfall channel for the river Ghaggar to the Arabian Sea via the Gulf of Kutch, i.e. the same route as followed by the ancient Saraswati Nadi.

The NWRC (National Water Resources Council) should be approached to set up the Model Ghaggar Basin Development Authority for optimum development of the irrigation potential of the river and prevent it flooding by provision of adequate number of control points, so that this river of sorrow is tamed into a “tranquil Saraswati Nadi”. 


Science Quiz
by J. P. Garg

1 Name the first Indian to head the Bell Laboratories, USA who has about 60 patents to his credit in the area of computer networks, picture processing, digital television, etc.

2 Name the new field of medicine in which doctors will be able to prescribe medicines by matching these to the genetic makeup of each individual patient, thus drastically reducing cases of treatment failures.

3 This rocket engine, to be test-fired by the USA in 2004, will use plasma matter (a highly ionised gas consisting of positive and negative ions) as fuel and will be thousands of times more efficient than the normal rocket engines in which solid and liquid fuels are used. It will be propelled by atomic energy and will be later capable of reaching Mars from earth in only 101 days. Can you name this rocket engine?

4 This rare Himalayan animal species is found at an altitude between 5000 and 6000 metres and has a special characteristic that it has two layers of fur over its body. A member of this species died recently in Darjeeling Zoo due to the extreme carelessness of the zoo authorities because it remained in open in the rain for four days and caught pneumonia. Which is this animal?

5 This complex jelly-like substance is extracted from seaweed (red algae) and is an important component of the medium used for tissue culture in laboratory. Which substance are we talking about?

6 Suggest alternative names for “cane sugar”, “melonic acid” and “toluene”

7 During which geological era and period did reptiles and insects originate and there was abundance of tree-like ferns, forming “coal forests”?

8 Why is the French physicist Louis Victor de Broglie famous in Physics? Name the branch of physics developed by him.

9 When a low-mass star collapses under its own gravitation, it slowly shrinks, emits energy continuously and cools down to a stage about the size of the earth, but with a mass about that of the sun. What is this stage called?

10 A US space shuttle and its crew returned to earth recently after flawless docking with the International Space Station, a five-day stay there and then perfect undocking from the station, completing its mission successfully. Can you name the space shuttle and its commander?


1 Arun Netravali 2. Pharmacogenomics 3. Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma 4. Snow leopard 5. Agar 6. Sucrose, propanedioic acid and methylbenzene 7. Palaezoic; Carboniferous 8. For predicting the wave nature of elementary particles, especially electrons; Quantum mechanics, also called wave mechanics 9. White dwarf 10. Atlantis; Jim Halsell.


New products & discoveries

Safer plane screen
The moment of impact when a bird hits the windscreen of an aircraft is captured in this photograph during performance tests of a new material made in Britain.

The 980 kph (610 mph) test, witnessed by experts from Britain’s Royal Aircraft Establishment, Ministry of Defence, and engineers from British Aerospace, developed by Lucas Aerospace, proved that the new acrylic and polycarbonate laminated screen increases the pilot’s protection by stretching up to five inches (12.7 cms) on impact and then returning to its normal shape.

The hazard of bird impacts continues to increase and aircraft, particularly military jets, now fly faster and at lower altitudes.

The response from Lucas Areospace, which developed the screen, was to make a laminated windscreen of a transparent polycarbonate core sandwiched between outer acrylic layers improving impact resistance by up to 20 per cent. The effect of collision is to produce cracks in the outer acrylic layer but the screen is not penetrated and leaves the pilot with sufficient vision to make a safe landing.

Lucas Aerospace already manufactures windscreens for many, European-built civil and military aircraft, including the Tornado, Jaguar, Harrier, British Aerospace 146, Jetstream and 125-800. The company’s products are also fitted in Shorts S330 and S360, Lynz helicopters, the Piaggio PD 806, Dorniers and Lockheed CI 30K Hercules

Therapeutic footwear for diabetics
Scientists at Central Leather Research Institute (CLRI) in Chennai have come up with a new type of therapeutic footwear to help treat foot ulcer in diabetic patients.

By properly accommodating the ulcer in the foot bed to relieve body pressure and muscle strain, the footwear helps heal the wound quickly.

However, use of these therapeutic shoes does not suggest stopping the medicines. A combination of medicines and footwear is what is needed for treating foot ulcers, B.N. Das from CLRI, who is heading the project, told PTI.

Foot complication in diabetics is quite common in India which is currently home to about 30 million diabetic patients. The prevalence of foot ulcer is 4 to 10 per cent among the diabetic population, Das said.

At the same time about 85 per cent of foot amputations are preceded by a foot ulcer.