Telecommunication masts are a common feature in many neighbourhoods around the country. Some people even have it located in their compounds and there may even be two or three masts in one street. Many of these masts are owned by network providers to provide better network service for people living within a particular area. These companies pay a lot of money to rent the space they would locate their mast, so it is not surprising to see it located even in people’s backyard as they willingly provide their space due to the money involved.
Another reason why they are located everywhere is that they are seen as a sign of development, particularly in the rural areas. Locating a mast in such a place has a way of transforming the whole area even though the inhabitants do not benefit directly from the presence of the mast. But this may be linked to the fact that such an area would now have better network coverage, encouraging people to relocate there.
However, over the years, there have been rising concerns over the presence of these telecommunication masts in residential areas. These concerns are based on the fact that these masts emit radiation which is not good for humans. It is through radiation that these towers or masts communicate with cellphones, transmitting signals and messages. But it is thought that this process also harms the health of the people living around these masts.
This worry has further increased due to the development of 5G technology, which is said to have a higher radiation frequency than previous generations of cellular networks. Although there are no 5G masts in Nigeria yet, people there are currently concerns over the implication of having such technology around residential areas in addition to what we have presently. It should be noted that this fear is not just shared by Nigerians alone as there are a lot of concerns worldwide over the effect of telecommunication masts on people. So, what is the truth? Do these masts have any effects on the health of people living around them? Are there any real health effects of telecommunication masts in Nigeria?
What You Should Know
The first thing to keep in mind is that these masts emit non-ionizing radiation. This means it has a longer wavelength and makes use of lower energy. This form of radiation is weaker compared to what you find in something like an x-ray machine. Non-ionizing radiation is not capable of penetrating the skin, which makes it safe to some extent as it is not entirely safe.
Studies on the health effects of telecommunication masts have differing results and some are even inconclusive. Some studies have also shown that even when radiation emits low energy, it still has the ability to alter the DNA.
Over the years, there have been reported symptoms among people living near masts like headache, memory loss, and fatigue. In fact, one 2015 study on the health effects of electromagnetic radiation from the antennae of telecommunication in Enugu, Nigeria reported something similar. The study reported that children exposed to electromagnetic radiations from antennae of telecom masts located close to residential, and school premises suffered from memory loss, dizziness and nose bleeding. While the adults in the area suffered from fatigue, stress, muscles pains and aches, burning sensations in the eye, digestive disorders, sleep disturbance, facial pricking, rashes and ear/nose/throat symptoms. The study recommended that telecom masts should be kept far away from residential and school premises.
Cases like Alzheimer’s disease, tumours, and even miscarriages have been linked to radiation. Cancer is also said to be one of the long-term effects of living close to a mast. But the extent of all these has not been ascertained. No concrete medical evidence has proven that telecommunication masts cause all these diseases.
One may argue that the problem may be due to the location of more than two or three masts within a very short distance. This is particularly true in Nigeria. While one mast may not have any noticeable health effect, living in an area close to three masts is sure to affect people’s health in one way or another. That is why regulation bodies like the NCC have to rise to the challenge to make sure that these various telcos follow certain guidelines when location their masts to make sure that they do not put the health of those around them at risk. In 2017, the NCC published a fact sheet (PDF) that shows telecommunications masts are safe and do not pose a threat
This is very important especially as the country gears up to embrace 5G technology.
Although there have been reports of certain health effects of telecommunication masts, there is no strong evidence that links telcom masts to health hazards on human. However, it is recommended that telecom masts are built sufficiently away from residential homes.