'Mobile' attack!

'Mobile' attack!

Technology clashes with environment

Ever spared a thought for those little songbirds whose chirping we heard almost everyday in the not so distant past? Where have they all gone? For the last few years, studies have increasingly been concentrating on the vanishing tribe of the urban house sparrow (Passes domesticus), one of the world’s most common songbirds. While numerous reasons are being offered for their vanishing act, studies now claim that the electromagnetic radiation emitted from mobile communication towers could be the real villain.

A year-long study by a Kerala-based environmental group has shown that the eggs of sparrows nesting on mobile phone towers fail to hatch even after a month, though their normal incubation period ranges from 10 days to a fortnight. ‘‘The uncontrolled and unscientific proliferation of mobile phone towers is bringing down the sparrow population. Strict rules and regulation should be enforced regarding erection of mobile phone towers,’’ Mr Sainudheen Pattazhi who led a study for Kerala Environmental Research Association told Deccan Herald.

Electro-magnetic waves
The KERA survey found that the number of house sparrows had come down drastically in Kerala and in some areas, they were not seen at all. The sparrows were once abundant in urban clusters, teeming at railway stations, Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns and wholesale markets. That was long ago. According to Mr Pattazhi, the birds which nest near towers left them within a week and the eggs laid near the towers were found to have failed to hatch even after 30 days.

The mobile communication towers were found to emit electromagnetic waves of a very low frequency of 900 or 1,800 MHz. ‘‘This is enough to harm the thin skull of the chicks and their egg shells,’’ he said. Continuous penetration of electromagnetic radiation through the body of birds would affect their nervous system. They become incapable of navigating and foraging.  In young birds, EMR could prove highly dangerous for their entire nervous system. ‘‘Microwaves can interfere with the birds' sensory abilities and misdirect them while navigating,’’ he says.

A reader at SN College, Punalur in Kollam district, Mr Pattazhi has been campaigning against the unbridled mushrooming of mobile towers.  However, he says he has been receiving threats by email and phone in return.

According to him, numerous studies from different parts of the world have pointed to the mobile tower effect. It was common knowledge that the sparrow prefered areas modified by humans like farms, residential clusters and urban areas where they nest in crevices inside or on the buildings.

Unfortunately, the communication towers have become one of the common nesting options available to the sparrow now in a largely unfriendly ecosystem.

Mr Pattazhi says it is imperative to include this bird in the endangered list of birds as in UK and steps ought to be taken to protect this bird. For this, there was an urgent need to control the unscientific proliferation of mobile towers. Installation of towers near thickly-populated areas, educational institutions, hospitals etc should be regulated.

‘‘Sharing of towers by different companies should be encouraged. If a tower is installed at a place, another tower should not be permitted within a radius of 1 kilometre,’’ he suggested. Other than the mobile tower effect, the other common reason offered for the declining population of the house sparrow is the introduction of unleaded petrol.

The combustion of unleaded petrol produces compounds such as methyl nitrite, a compound highly toxic for insects which forms major part of the diet of young sparrows.
Besides this, the widespread use of garden pesticides resulting in the absence of insects needed for newborn sparrows, disappearing of open grasslands and rising temperatures are also cited as reasons threatening the sparrow.

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