Social Issues

Alarming death rate in birds: Experts fear 2.0 is likely to become a reality

Time to wake-up!

Director Shankar’s 2.0 had many things to show off. Apart from being a technically strong movie, it has an underlying message of birds dying due to cell phone radiation. If that was the story in the movie, ornithologists say that the situation, in reality, is almost true. At several places in the country, people have sighted migratory birds crash landing in populated areas.

In 2.0, Akshay Kumar plays the role of an ornithologist who attempts to make people aware of the effect of electromagnetic field radiation (EMF) from cell phone towers on the birds, which results to their deaths. The message at the end of the movie is that the death of birds will put an end to humanity itself.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences, electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are invisible areas of energy, often referred to as radiation, that is associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and human-made lighting. EMFs are typically grouped into one of two categories by their frequency – Non-ionizing, which means low-level radiation and is generally perceived as harmless to humans, and Ionizing, which is high-level radiation and has the potential for cellular and DNA damage.

Many experts have pointed out that cellphone towers emit non-ionised radiation that is different from nuclear radiation or even the waves you are exposed to while getting an X-ray done. While these rays cannot penetrate deep into the cells of humans or affect the molecular structure, they create very stressful situations for birds in urban areas.

The Telecom giants in India say otherwise. It may be recalled that two days ahead of 2.0‘s release, the Cellular Operations Association of India had written to the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) over the film’s depiction of mobile phones.

In the complaint letter by the ‘non-governmental society’ that is ‘dedicated to the advancement of modern communication’, the film “falsely depicts mobile phones and mobile towers as harmful to living creatures and the environment including birds and human beings, on account of electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions from them.”

The association even claims that the depiction of mobile services and towers is ‘false, based on no evidence and wholly fictional’. But studies conducted both abroad and in India, show that there is definitely reason to be concerned.

An analysis of 97 studies by the EU-funded review body EKLIPSE conducted in May 2018, concluded that radiation from cellphone towers, phone masts, WiFi and broadcast transmitters is a potential risk to insect and bird orientation and plant health. The report found that the magnetic orientation of birds, mammals and invertebrates such as insects and spiders could be disrupted by EMR. Authors of the review have stressed on the need to strengthen the scientific basis of knowledge on EMR and its impact of wildlife. In fact, 237 scientists have reportedly appealed to the United Nations through a petition, asking them to take risks posed by electromagnetic radiation more seriously.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest studied the possible impacts of communication towers on wildlife, including birds and bees. It pointed out that India is likely to become one of the world’s largest markets for cellphones and was devoid of any policy on infrastructure development and location of cell phone towers. They studied 919 reports on the effects of EMF, with 81% of the reports cataloguing effects on humans, 3% recording effect on birds and just 2% on wildlife. But even in the 30 existing studies, 23 concluded that EMF had a negative impact on birds while 6 out of 7 studies concluded negative impact on bees.

The observations made on impact on birds include that they are at higher risk of radiation exposure due to their ability to fly, that EMR affects their ability to recover from acute physiological stressors, radiation causes acute physiological stressors, potential physiological and behavioural repercussions and malformation in embryos.

Director Shankar is not the first to raise an alarm. In 2013, Juhi Chawla came out in public to protest against the setting up of mobile towers in residential areas. In February this year, the actor-cum-movie producer wrote a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, cautioning against the health hazards due to EMF radiation from mobile tower antennas and WiFi hotspots.

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