First Published December 7, 2018
The use of mobile phones has remarkably increased and become a basic need of daily life. Increasing subscriptions of mobile phones boost the installation of mobile phone base station towers (MPBSTs) in crowded commercial and residential areas including near school buildings. This study investigated the impact of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) radiation generated by MPBSTs on cognitive functions. Two hundred and seventeen volunteer male students aged between 13 and 16 registered from two different intermediate schools: 124 students were from School 1 and 93 students were from School 2. The MPBSTs were located within 200 m from the school buildings. In School 1, RF-EMF was 2.010 µW/cm2 with a frequency of 925 MHz and in School 2, RF-EMF was 10.021 µW/cm2 with a frequency of 925 MHz. Students were exposed to EMFR for 6 hr a day, 5 days a week for a total period of 2 years. The Narda Safety Test Solution device SRM-3006 was used to measure RF-EMF in both schools, and cognitive functions tasks were measured by the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB). Significant impairment in Motor Screening Task (MOT; p = .03) and Spatial Working Memory (SWM) task (p = .04) was identified among the group of students who were exposed to high RF-EMF produced by MPBSTs. High exposure to RF-EMF produced by MPBSTs was associated with delayed fine and gross motor skills, spatial working memory, and attention in school adolescents compared to students who were exposed to low RF-EMF.
Mobile phone base station tower located in a residential area. Source: Photo taken by a coauthor.
Extensive fixing of MPBSTs in densely populated commercial, residential areas, and school buildings has started community concerns about adverse effects on human health (Meo et al., 2015), mainly brain function (Saikhedkar et al., 2014). Therefore, this study explored the association of exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic field radiation (RF-EMFR) generated by MPBSTs on cognitive function amongst school-going adolescents.
Singh et al. (2016) investigated the RF-EMFR generated by MPBSTs and its impact on the public health of people who lived close to the MPBSTs. The authors reported that majority of the subjects who were living adjacent to the MPBSTs complained about cardiovascular and nervous system associated clinical symptoms including headache, sleep disturbances, dizziness, difficulties in concentration, and high blood pressure, when compared to the control subjects.
In agreement with present study findings, researchers established a link between high exposure to RF-EMF and cognitive function (Calvente et al., 2016). The study outcome demonstrates a positive link between exposure to RF-EMF and decline in cognitive function. Children who were exposed to high levels of RF-EMF had lower cognitive scores for verbal expression and comprehension in comparison to those living in areas with lower exposure. They also identified that exposure to RF-EMFR has a negative impact on cognitive and behavioral development in children. Similarly, Thomas et al. (2010) reported a significant decrease in response time in adolescents who were involved in using mobile phones for long durations.
Abdel-Rassoul et al. (2007) performed a study on inhabitants living near the MPBSTs. The exposed people experienced a considerable increase in neuropsychiatric symptoms including headache, dizziness, sleep disturbance, depressive feelings, and memory changes compared to those in the control group. The exposed inhabitants exhibited a decreased performance in attention and short-term memory tests. Silva, Barros, Almeida, and Rêgo (2015) demonstrated an association between anxiety and depression in individuals who live 100–200 m closer to MPBSTs compared to subjects living 300 m away from MPBSTs. Augner and Hacker (2009) reported that closer the distance to the MPBSTs, greater the radiation and higher the percentage of somatization, anxiety, and phobic nervousness in individuals living near MPBSTs. Kalafatakis, Bekiaridis-Moschou, Gkioka, and Tsolaki (2017) identified that mobile phone use has a significant negative impact on the working memory performance of people. The current study findings are in agreement with the results found by Abdel-Rassoul et al. (2007) and Kalafatakis et al. (2017).
Saikhedkar et al. (2014) determined the effects of mobile phone radiation on cognitive performances mainly on learning and memory. Their study findings indicate significant changes in behavior and poor learning in the exposed group as compared to the control group. These study findings agree with the present study findings that high exposure to RF-EMF produced by MPBSTs is associated with a decline in the fine and gross motor skills and spatial working memory and attention in the school adolescents who had been exposed to high RF-EMF compared to the students who had been exposed to low RF-EMF.
The potential reasons behind cognitive functions impairment in subjects exposed to RF-EMF radiation from MPBSTs are sleep disturbances, behavioral problems (Hardell et al., 2018), reduced regional cerebral blood flow (Hossman & Herman, 2003; Huber et al., 2002), myelin sheath damage (Kim, Yu, et al., 2017), and neuronal function impairment (Kim, Kim, et al., 2017). RF-EMF radiation may result in these mechanisms associated with neurological functioning resulting in cognitive impairment.
Despite the limitation of this cross-sectional study, it is identified that high exposure to RF-EMF produced by MPBSTs is associated with a decrease in fine and gross motor skills and spatial working memory and attention in school adolescents compared to students who had been exposed to low RF-EMF. This study provides cognizance to society and stakeholders in health care about the health hazards of RF-EMF produced from MPBSTs. No one can deny the facilities that are being provided by the telecommunication industry, but it is believed that nothing should be compromised over health. MPBSTs must be installed away from thickly populated residential zones particularly in or near the school buildings or there must be some system to shield human beings from RF-EMFR.