Çamlıca, the famous hill on İstanbul’s Bosporus, the subject of so many poems and songs in the past, seems to inspire more complaints than compliments these days.
Now a field of antennae, Çamlıca looks nothing like it used to a century ago. People living nearby complain of insomnia, headaches, fatigue and frayed nerves. Some assert that this electromagnetic pollution is causing cancer rates to soar. The muhtarı or neighborhood headman of Kısıklı is Erkan Kalkan. Kalkan, whose father died recently of cancer, asserts that all of the 30,000 people who live here are affected by local electromagnetic pollution. The situation is not much different over on Irmak Sokak in the Ferah neighborhood, where two young mothers in their 30s and one taxi driver in his 40s are battling cancer. Battal Polat (70) points out that the giant antenna put up by TRT in 1972 right next to his home has even dried out the cherry trees he planted. He even connects the stroke of his wife, Gülcemal Polat, to the electromagnetic pollution, and then goes on to count other local incidences of both strokes and cancer.
But the clearly visible effects wrought by the electromagnetic pollution in Çamlıca threaten us all. We are all surrounded by waves of electromagnetic energy. Cell phones, which have almost become part of our bodies, and televisions, in front of which we seem to spend hours nightly, are also magnetic transmitters. The list goes on and on.
Electromagnetic waves classified as radiation
Electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light in free space: 300,000 kilometers per second. The speed with which they spread depends on the size, frequency and speed of the wave itself, as well as any medium it passes through.
Electromagnetic waves, thanks to their ability to enter into materials, are classified as radiation. As for radiation, it is analyzed in two classes: One that is able to ionize (break off electrons from atom molecules) atoms of objects and one that cannot. All electrical devices, cell phones and communication devices belong to the latter category. But nuclear radiation, X-ray devices, MRI machines and so on are in the latter category. As for electromagnetic radiation, it is also classified in two different categories: very low frequency radiation (ELF) and then radio frequency (RF). Electrical communications wiring and electrical devices at home, for example, introduce ELF radiation into our lives, while RF is brought to us by cell phones, base stations, radio and TV antennae, modems, radar, jammers and microwave ovens.
Short-term electromagnetic waves can cause headaches, burning eyes, fatigue, night insomnia and dizziness. Long term, they can cause damage to the immune system, as well as to molecular structures, chemical bonds, and cell structure in our bodies.
Professor Selim Şeker from Bosporus University is an expert on electromagnetic pollution and the biological damage that results from it.
Low frequency radiation
Şeker believes the most influential factors in our lives these days when it comes to electromagnetic pollution are cell phones. There are an estimated 4.8 billion users across the globe, with 136 million active cell phones in Turkey alone. Around 44 percent of these are 3G subscribers. Turkey is ranked fourth in the world for size of cell phone market, with around 46,000 base stations throughout the country. If you count the non-registered phones, it is estimated that there are around 225 million cell phones in Turkey today.
One cannot actually feel electromagnetic pollution. But it can increase body temperature by anywhere from 0.5-2 degrees, thus disrupting a delicate balance. The brain waves that we create in our bodies are also electromagnetic arenas. Since all the home electrical devices we use operate at 50 Hz, they can be compared to brain waves in terms of radiation. There is the Specific Absorption Value (SAR), discovered in 1988, which says that for a person 170 centimeters tall, a heat increase of 1 degree is within safety limits. But there are new standards called for today, due to the intensity of electromagnetic forces and the increased amounts of time for which people are exposed to them.
How are the limits and standards set?
Şeker notes that limitations for cell phones are kept at a very high mark. He says that while in most European countries, cell phone signals are kept at 1 volts/meter, in Turkey it is 10 volts/meter. Şeker points out another interesting detail: “When they are clarifying the limit values to these things, they use a plastic mannequin filled with meat to imitate a human’s organs. Then they start radiating the signal and watch for an increase in body heat. But this is where they make a mistake; after all, the mannequin is lifeless!”
The standards set in 1988 for electromagnetic pollution are still in place; Şeker asserts we need new ones.
3G spreads radiation
Şeker notes the dangers inherent in 3G, which has a different modulation level. He says 3G phones are 10 times riskier than other phones due to their connection modulation, and that they thus require different safety criteria. The entrance of 3G into Turkey has meant a need for many more base stations, because the coverage area of 3G stations is around nine times as narrow as that of other stations. Experts warn that this kind of technology will spread radiation.
Radiation hill Çamlıca
Interestingly, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s home in Kısıklı, and some well-known company headquarters are located in the Çamlıca area.
In the early 1990s, when new radio and TV stations started popping up, Çamlıca became a center for large radio and television transmitters. The hill used to just house some police wireless and radio antennas, and some TRT transmitters, but now it is a literal field -- or sea -- of transmitters. High electromagnetic pollution levels in and around Çamlıca were actually noted back in 2001. At the time, Sakarya University professor Osman Çerezci visited the area to measure levels of pollution. Çerezci and his team discovered that one single transmitter at Küçük Çamlıca was emitting 32 volts/meter; the safety limit had already been set at 28 volts/meter.
Professor Hilmi Sabuncu of Yeni Yüzyıl University notes that the emissions from television transmitters are much higher than those from cell phone base stations. Some of the most powerful base stations emit 40 watts and some radio transmitters emit 4,000 watts, while television transmitters emit 40,000 watts. He says: “It is a very harmful situation in Çamlıca, where the recorded numbers tell us that people who live in the immediate area must have constantly elevated body temperatures. There needs to be more research done about the link between incidents of cancer and signal intensity in the area.”
Ways to reduce electromagnetic waves
New buildings and schools should be constructed at least 120 meters away from high voltage wires and power stations. When possible, high voltage lines should be built underground. You should sit at least one meter away from the TV when watching, and children should be encouraged to watch from further away if possible. Choose low radiation computer screens, and LCD screens. Do not use halogen or florescent lamps for reading. Do not place TVs and computers in your bedroom. Switch electric radios near your bed to ones that work with batteries. Do not use hair dryers too often. Laptops give off many more electromagnetic waves when being charged, so try not to use your laptop when it is charging. Wireless telephones and wireless modems should be set up in rooms in your home where people do not sleep. Use your cell phone as little as possible, and when possible, use headsets. Try to choose models with low SAR levels. If you must carry your cell phone in your pocket, make sure it is placed with the face facing your body. Do not place it in your bedroom when you are sleeping.