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Public communication of RF & Health Risks in India - Dr. K. S. Parthasarathy

Dr. K. S. Parthasarathy, Former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, Government of India, about what steps can be taken to change the public perception.

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Public communication of RF & Health Risks in India - Dr. K. S. Parthasarathy

  1. 1. Public communication of RF & Health Risks in India Dr. K. S Parthasarathy, Former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Government of India
  2. 2. Lecture outline • Perception of risk –images • Certain types of fear are hard to remove • Nuclear radiation, Industrial chemicals • Report on cell tower radiation • Blogs, workshops • Risk perception factors • Risk communication • Transparency is the best antidote against scare mongering • Seven rules of communication of EPA
  3. 3. Perception (Images)
  4. 4. Perception (Images)
  5. 5. Perception (Images)
  6. 6. Perception (images)
  7. 7. Perception (Images) Perception (images)
  8. 8. Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project Unit 1
  9. 9. “Radiation”!! •“Radiation” is a scary word. Many believe that Cell tower radiation is dangerous • A leading Mumbai daily claimed that cancer is behind 70% of deaths in the Units of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). It was due to wrong interpretation; a genuine goof up! The RTI enthusiast counted number of admissions and treatments given as deaths!!!! 2600 deaths against 3887; 255 suicides less than 100; • Journalists, like scientists are expected to have healthy skepticism. • TOI reporters trusted an RTI activist and publicized scary news doing incalculable damage to India’s nuclear energy programme. Their bias came in the way.
  10. 10. Perception against Kudankulam N- plant • Russian reactor, Chernobyl accident • Some features are first of a kind • Why taking the risk? • Fishing industry will vanish! • Anti nuclear activist contested general election; 15,314 persons out of 9,91,025 voted for him; lost deposit • Can we Ignore them and score a brownie point?
  11. 11. Cell phone towers Is there not a bit of overcrowding?
  12. 12. Genesis of the fear An excellent example to show how deliberate efforts by a few individuals can influence decision making process. Mostly, fear of cell tower/phone radiation started with popular TV shows such as Larry King live. The unknown and uncertain nature of effect was a factor
  13. 13. Report on cell tower radiation (2010) • A senior journalist send me the report • It was most scary • It used cherry-picked references • The report invented countless risks and exaggerated a few. (16 disease conditions and symptoms) • No evidence for such effects in the reports of agencies such as the WHO or UK HPA or specialist institutions such as the US National Institutes of Cancer.
  14. 14. Daily from Chennai with 11 editions THE HINDU S & T » TECHNOLOGY August 23, 2012   A classic example of biased and unscientific study K.S. PARTHASARATHY THE RECOMMENDATION: The mobile towers’ EMFexposure limit was recently lowered to 1/10th of the existing prescribed limit as a matter of abundant precaution. Photo: Nagara Gopal
  15. 15. Public has reasons to worry Some vendors with impressive academic credentials organized seminars. wrote blogs, and issued one sided, biased newsletters. Typical blog . “Do your family members feel nauseated or irritated at the simplest events? Is your child unable to concentrate on his/her studies? Is your home near a mobile phone tower? May be, it’s time to get your house inspected for radiation levels and replace your cotton curtains with options that could block radiation.”
  16. 16. Scare monger vendors Activist-vendors claimed that • Cell tower radiation will cause “multiple resonances, localized heating resulting in boils, drying up the fluids around the eyes, brain, joints. heart, abdomen etc leg/foot pain, muscle and joint pain”. • “With cell towers erected all over the city, Mumbai is like a microwave oven” they claimed. •They follow Bioinitiative report 2007 and 2012
  17. 17. On Bioinitiative report • The Hindu • January 16, 2013 • Biased, unscientific report on electromagnetic radiation • K.S. PARTHASARATHY •   • The HinduBIASED: There is a lack of balance in the report; no mention is made in fact of reports that do not concur with authors’ statements and conclusions. Photo: K. Ramesh Babu • WHO, UK Health Protection Agency and the International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection do not support the BioInitiative Report conclusions
  18. 18. Excitement The sound bites excited raw emotions of reporters and later the public. Vendors with vested interest went to every metro city scaring public
  19. 19. Reporters react • Reporters unknowingly gave wide publicity without cross- checking with experts or authentic references. • One leading national daily started a series of articles on a campaign mode titled "Towering Trouble". • After having started the “trouble”, they did not want to tell the truth. Did not care reading primary sources of information • I decided to write a few articles
  20. 20. Daily from Mumbai The Economic Times 31 Jan, 2013 • Myths about radiation risks from cell tower • By K S Parthasarathy    “Living in Mumbai is like living in an open microwave oven! The public exposed to EM radiation from cell phone towers is getting cooked!”
  21. 21. Dailies from Bangalore   'Risks from cell tower/phone radiation are negligible' K S Parthasarathy, March 18, 2013   Cell phone use has registered a phenomenal increase over the past few years. People have begun attributing all types of major and minor diseases and symptoms to the highly visibly cell towers. A document  titled ‘Report on cell tower radiation’ submitted to the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) by the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay was particularly scary. It is freely accessible.
  22. 22. Kolkata daily The Telegraph Monday , July 25 , 2013 DO NOT FEAR THE TOWER K.S. Parthasarathy • Possible risks from cell tower/phone radiation have been a topic of discussion in the media. With breathtaking progress in mobile phone technology, there has been unbridled increase in the use of mobile phones nationwide. Cell towers have sprung up everywhere. The agents selling ‘protective’ accessories have attributed all types of diseases and symptoms to these towers and encouraged the public to believe in them.
  23. 23. PTI Feature JansamacharRural india Real India 25 December 2012 On Electromagnetic fields and cancer, the WHO stated thus: “Despite many studies, the evidence for any effect remains highly controversial. However, it is clear that if electromagnetic fields do have an effect on cancer, then any increase in risk will be extremely small. The results to date contain many inconsistencies, but no large increases in risk have been found for any cancer in children or adults.” Health Effects of Cell Tower Radiation Writer : Dr K S Parthasarathy, Former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board
  24. 24. Daily from Chennai The Hindu S & T » Science February 13, 2013 Raising the bogey of radiation K. S. PARTHASARATHY The Hindu A cell phone kept near the ear will cause a small increase in temperature in regions close to the phone. Photo: M. Karunakaran
  25. 25. Factors of risk perception (listed by David Ropeik) 1.Trust vs. lack of trust: The more we trust the risk informers , the less afraid we are 2. Imposed vs. voluntary: We are more afraid of a risk that is imposed on us (Driver in the car next to us using cell phone)than when we voluntarily expose ourselves to the same risk (we use a phone while we drive) 3. Natural vs. human-made: If the risk is natural, (radiation from the sun,) we are less afraid; If it is human made, nuclear power or some industrial process), we are more afraid.
  26. 26. Factors of risk perception 4. Catastrophic vs. chronic: We tend to be more afraid of things that can kill a lot of us, suddenly. Plane crash vs heart disease 5. The dread factor: The worse the outcome from a risk, such as being eaten alive by a shark, the more afraid of it we are. Cancer is high on dread scale. Many are scared of cell tower/phone radiation because of the fear of cancer induction 6. Hard to understand: The harder a potential risk is to understand the more afraid we are likely to be.
  27. 27. Factors of risk perception 7. Uncertainty: This is less a matter of the science being hard to understand and more a matter of not having enough answers. 8. Familiar vs. new: When we first encounter a risk, we are more afraid than after we have lived with the risk for a while. 9. Awareness: When the news is full of stories about a given risk, our fear of that risk is greater.
  28. 28. Factors of risk perception 10. A known victim: A risk that is made real by a specific victim, such as the recent child abductions making news, becomes more frightening, 11. Future generations: When kids are at risk, our fear is greater. 12. Does it affect me?: We don’t perceive risk to “them,” to society, as fearfully as we do risks to ourself
  29. 29. Factors of risk perception 13. Risk vs. benefit: The more we perceive a benefit from a potentially hazardous agent or process the less fearful we are of the risk. 14. Control vs. no control: If a person feels as though he or she can control the outcome of a hazard, that individual is less likely to be afraid.
  30. 30. CPWD Draft Guidelines for meffects of electromagnetic radiation in built places * A ridiculous set of guidelines. The language in it is highly prejudicial and inaccurate * Basis for the recommendations other than guesses that should be stated   * The recommendations appear to be arbitrary and not based on any regulatory or scientific considerations * Compliance distance for a laptop (against RF or ELF fields??) would extend to 2.5 ft.  So what is the basis for their recommendation?
  31. 31. On CPWD Draft guidelines The Hindu An unscientific report on ‘mitigating’ EM radiation effects S & T » Science April 17, 2014 Updated: April 17, 2014 02:18 IST An unscientific report on ‘mitigating’ EM radiation effects K.S. PARTHASARATHY    
  32. 32. Transparency is the best antidote against scare mongering • Convince public about authentic sources of information, WHO, ICNIRP, UK HPA etc • Proactive efforts will pay • Accept every point of view for debate • DOT must publish results of measurement and punitive action, if any, taken. •Share summaries of major findings from research with all stake-holders.
  33. 33. Risk communication: seven cardinal rules Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 1. Accept and involve the public as a legitimate partner 2. Plan carefully and evaluate your efforts 3. Listen to public’s specific concerns 4. Be honest, frank and open 5. Coordinate and collaborate with other credible sources 6. Meet the needs of the media 7. Speak clearly and with compassion
  34. 34. Thank you

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