Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection, 2014, 2, 77-83
Published Online April 2014 in SciRes.
How to cite this paper: Suleiman, A. et al. (2014). Electromagnetic Radiation Health Effects in Exposed and Non-Exposed
Residents in Penang. Journal of Geoscience and Environment Protection, 2, 77-83.
Electromagnetic Radiation Health Effects in
Exposed and Non-Exposed Residents in
Adlina Suleiman1, Thor Teong Gee2, Ambigga Devi Krishnapillai1,
Khalifah Mohamad Khalil1, Mohammad Wisman Abdul Hamid1, Marami Mustapa1
1Community Medicine Department, National Defence University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
2Klinik Public, Sungai Ara, Penang, Malaysia
Email:,,,,, moh dwis man @gma m
Received January 2014
A comparative study was conducted between residents exposed and not exposed to electromag-
netic radiation (EMR) from TELCO towers in Penang Island with the objective of determining the
possible health effects using 14 non-specific health symptoms (NSHS). Interviews on 201 respon-
dents were conducted using structured questionnaire for demographic details, health related
problems and the public concern. Comparison of symptoms frequencies and its significance
(Chi-square test) between the exposed and not exposed residents from the TELCO tower showed
statistical significance (p < 0.05) for headache, giddiness, insomnia, loss of memory, diarrhea,
mental slowness, reduced reaction time and mood swing. The odds ratio for the development of
the NSHS scored > 1 for all that gave a conclusion that respondents who were exposed were more
likely to suffer symptoms as compared to the respondents who were not exposed to EMR. This
outcome showed that the existence of TELCO tower in these communities has detrimental health
effects towards the residents who were exposed to the electromagnetic fields radiation that was
emitted. Measures to be taken to minimize adverse health effects on residents should include im-
posing more stringent guidelines in terms of safety distance and radiation intensity, practicing of
WHO precautionary approach, encouraging electromagnetic fields radiation related conference,
researches and public awareness, sharing of transceivers by TELCO companies and using protec-
tive barriers. These steps will ultimately promote a healthier, harmonious and sustainable living
environment .
Electromagnetic Radiation; Exposure; Non-Specific Health Symptoms; Public Concern
1. Introduction
The development of mobile telecommunication technology has led to substantial growth of the number of mo -
A. Suleiman et al.
bile phone base station also known as TELCO tower worldwide. It has raised public concerns and substantial
controversy about the potential health effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields emissions of mobile
phone base station that have not been yet fully understood. There has been increasing public concern on the ef-
fects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from telecommunication towers (TELCO). These towers have been
constructed in housing areas, school compounds, apartment and multi-storey shop -lot rooftops and within com-
pounds of mosques throughout Malaysia and other countries.
On 31st May 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of WHO designated cell
phones as possible human carcinogen” [Class 2B]. They found evidence of increase in glioma and acoustic
neuroma brain cancer for mobile phone (IARC WHO, 2011).
The health effects of EMR are best explained in a study by Hallberg and Oberfeld estimated that 50% of the
publicexposed to EMR would be sensitive to the radiation effects by 2017. The manifestation of this hypersen-
sitivity would be health complains such as headaches, giddiness, nausea, skin rashes, feeling warm, depression,
night sweats, memory loss, disturbances in menstruation and insomn ia (H allb e rg, 2006).
The studies that have been conducted provide indications that people living in the vicinity of mobile phone
base station develop adverse health conditions especially the non-specific health symptoms and cancer (Chiang,
1989; Coggon, 2006; Hutter, 2006; Santini, 2003). There are very few studies on the health effect of electro-
magnetic fields radiation. Many of the studies already conducted were confined to cell phone radiation. The few
studies on the health effects of electromagnetic fields radiation yielded both positive and negative results due to
the lack of proper measurement of the intensity of the electromagnetic fields radiation, the number of antennas
on the TELCO tower and the presence of confounding factors such as hand phone and WiFi (Wireless Fidelity).
2. Objectives
The objectives of this study we r e to conduct a comparative study of possible health effects of electromagnetic
fields radiation on communities exposed and not exposed to electromagnetic fields radiation from TELCO
3. Methodology
Five communities located in Penang Island were chosen randomly. Four of the communities who were located
within the radius of 0 to 150 meters from the TELCO towers and had a power density of more than 200 micro-
watts per square meter became the EMR exposed samples. One control group was chosen randomly from a
community that was located more than 150 meters from the nearest TELCO tower and had power density mea-
surement of less than 200 microwatts per square meter.
All samples of those who were exposed to electromagnetic fields radiation were above 15-year-old, of any
race, any gender and were exposed to EMR 10 years or more.
The housing areas for the exposed group were identified via random sampling. Systemic sampling was used
for the identification of the houses followed by cluster sampling for the respondents.
The survey was conducted via questionnaires containing past suggested and validated measurements to find
out the occurrence of non-specific health symptoms and incidence of cancer among the samples.
Sample size was calculated using the formula n = (Z1-α)2(P(1-P/100)/D2) which at P=0.125 yielded a sample
size of 1.962(0.125(1-0.125)/0.052) = 168. Therefore a total of 201 sets of questionnaires were filled up via
face-to-face interview in September 2013.
Distance between the TELCO tower and the housing areas were obtained through Google maps and the power
density of EMR was measured by using TES-92 ElectroSmog Meter. Complaints of non-specific health symp-
toms (NSHS) derived from a research by Oberfeld, in 2004were recorded using interval scale in terms of
their frequency of occurrence and severity.
In this study, all the data garnered from the samples were analyzed by utilizing both quantitative and qualita-
tive methods. Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) version 16.0 for Window was employed to execute
descriptive and statistical analyses.
4. Results
The socio-demographic data is shown in Table 1. From the total of 201 respondents, 91 (45.3%) were living at
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Table 1. Socio -demographic data.
Characteristics N n(%) Mean SD
Radius (m)
<50 91(45.3)
51-100 29(14.4)
101-150 201 50(24.9)
>150 31(15.4)
Gender Male 80(39.8)
Female 201 121(60.2)
18 - 27 28(13.9)
28- 37 193 31(15.4) 47.2 16.1
38- 47 26(12.9)
48- 57 47(23.4)
>57 61(30.3)
Malay 87(43.3)
Chinese 100(49.7)
Indian 201 13(6.5)
Others 1(0.5)
Length ofS-
<5 16(8)
6-10 186 33(16.4) 19.6 11
11-15 23(11.4)
16-20 41(20.4)
>21 73(36.3)
radius < 50 meters from the TELCO towers, 29 (14.4%) were at radius 51 to 100 meters, 50 (24.9%) were from
radius 101 to 150 meters and 31 (15.4%) were from radius >150 meters. Respondents who were from the radius
of 0 to 150 meters from the TELCO towers (170 respondents or 84.6%) were considered as exposed to electro-
magnetic fields radiation whereas those who lived at radius beyond 150 meters from the TELCO tower (31 res-
pondents or 15.4%) were considered as not exposed to the radiation or control group.
The youngest respondent was 16 whereas the oldest was 77. The age range was 61. The mean, median and
mode for age was 47.2, 50 and 61 respectively with a standard deviation of 16.1. Distribution by gender was 80
(39.8%) males and 121 (60.2%) female. In relation to ethnicity 87 (43.3%) were Malays, 100 (49.7%) were Chi-
nese, 13 (6.5%) were Indians and 1 respondent (0.5%) was categorized under other race. Ethnicity spread was
therefore reflective of the diverse races in Malaysia.
The mean length of stay in the neighborhood was 19.6 years.
From Table 2,it was found that out of a total of 14 NSHS, 8 NSHS were statistically significant where the Chi
Square test recorded p-value of less than 0.05. The significant NSHS were headache, giddiness, insomnia, loss
of memory, diarrhea, mental slowness, reduction in reaction time, and mood swing. The rest of the symptoms
that did not have statistically significant association were fatigue, somnolence, vomiting, palpitation and feve-
Table 3 shows the odds ratio for the development of the NSHS. All NSHS scored > 1 which gave a conclu-
sion that respondents who were exposed were more likely to suffer symptoms as compared to the respondents
who were not exposed to EMR.
The OR for respective NSHS in descending order were reduced reaction time (OR = 16.57 corrected), diarr-
hea (OR = 7.95 corrected), mental slowness (OR = 5.46), vomiting (OR = 5.35 corrected), mood swing (OR =
3.3), insomnia (OR = 3.22), giddiness (OR = 3.07), loss of memory (OR = 2.92), depression (OR = 2.61), head-
ache (OR = 2.58), palpitation (OR = 2.4), feverish (OR = 2.37), fatigue (OR = 2.31) and somnolence (OR =
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Table 2. Presence of Non-Specific Health Symptoms (NSHS) in exposed and non-exposed respondents.
NSHC Compla in t Exposed NotExpose Total Chi-Square Test (p Value)
Headache Y 67 6 73 0.044 - Significant
N 104 24 128
Y 65 5 70
0.024 - Significant
N 106 25 131
Y 78 8 86
0.050 - Not Significant
N 93 22 115
Y 67 5 72
0.018 - Significant
N 104 25 129
Y 51 8 59
0.726 - Not Significant
N 120 22 142
Memory Loss
Y 63 5 68
0.031 - Significant
N 108 25 133
Diarrh ea
Y 20 0 20
0.048 - Significant
N 151 30 181
Vomiting Y 14 0 14 0.104 - Not Significant
N 157 30 187
Palpitation Y 25 2 27 0.239 - Not Significant
N 146 28 174
Mental Slowness Y 48 2 50 0.012 - Significant
N 123 28 151
Reduced Reaction Time Y 37 0 37 0.005 - Significant
N 134 30 164
Mood Swing Y 68 5 73 0.015 - Significant
N 103 25 128
Depression Y 49 4 53 0.079 - Not Significant
N 122 26 148
Hot or Feverish Y 55 5 60 0.087 - Not Significant
N 116 25 141
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Table 3. Odds ratio for non-specific health symptoms.
NSHS Status Compla int Total Odds Ratio (OR)
Yes No
Headache E 67 104 73 2.58
NE 6 24 128
Giddiness E 65 106 70 3.07
NE 5 25 131
Fatigue E 78 93 86 2.31
NE 8 22 115
Insomnia E 67 104 72 3.22
NE 5 25 129
Somnolence E 51 120 59 1.17
NE 8 22 142
Loss of Memory E 63 108 68 2.92
NE 5 25 133
Diarrh ea E 20 151 20 7.95 (Corrected)
NE 0 30 181
Vomiting E 14 157 14 5.35 (Corrected)
NE 0 30 187
Palpitation E 25 146 27 2.4
NE 2 28 174
Mental Slowness E 48 123 50 5.46
NE 2 28 151
Reduced Reaction Time E 37 134 37 16.57 (Corrected)
NE 0 30 164
Mood Swing E 68 103 73 3.3
NE 5 25 128
Depression E 49 122 53 2.61
NE 4 26 148
Hot or Feverish E 55 116 60 2.37
NE 5 25 141
5. Discussion
As compared to the study by Santini, R. et al., headache and sleep disruption were reported statistically signifi-
cant within the radius of 200 meters from TELCO tower, complaints of irritability, dizziness and loss of memory
were reported as significant within the radius of 100 meters from TELCO tower. However, complaints of NSHS
like tiredness and depression that reported as significant in the study by Santini was not statistically significant
in this study (Santini, 2004).
In another unpublished study by Mara University of Technology, 3 NSHS namely, headache, sleep distur-
bance and dizziness were noted to be statistically significant up to the radius of 120 meters from the TELCO
tower (Year 4 Medical Students, 2008).
The results show that complaints by members of public especially those who reside in the vicinity of TELCO
tower that they are experiencing certain NSHS are not discrete cases but were caused by the electromagnetic
A. Suleiman et al.
fields radiation exposure. No authorities or TELCO companies shall deem the complaints by the public as un-
founded or with ill intention to stop or disrupt the operation of the TELCO tower.
6. Recommendations
This study gives evidence that people exposed at up to 150 meters from TELCO towers suffer health effects.
The safety distance from the TELCO tower should not be less than 150 meters.
This study has also proven that complained of NSHS were significant among the exposed group where they
were exposed to the power density of >200 microwatts per meter square (those who stayed within the radius of
150 meters). In view of the potential negative health impacts and significant evidence of NSHS, it is timely for
the authorities to enforce a more stringent guidelines pertaining to the power density emitted from the TELCO
tower. As an example, Austria is implementing the ruling where power density is not allowed to be more than
1000 microwatts per square meter and Bio-Initiative Report is also recommending safety limit that not more
than 1000 microwatts per square meter (The Bio-Initiative Report, 2012).
This study has indirectly shown that intensity of radiation has significant impact on the health impact. This is
evidenced by the relatively fewer cases of complaints of NSHS among the control group.
In order to reduce the intensity of radiation, the authorities should consider requesting all the TELCO compa-
nies to share their transceivers over the TELCO tower, as this approach will minimize the net intensity of EMR.
Since mobile phone ownership is expected to increase exponentially resulting an installation increase of TELCO
towers and transceivers, sharing of transceivers over the TELCO tower will not only reduce the number of
TELCO towers but also the intensity of the EMR which will ultimately reduce the net power intensity that will
affect the public who are staying in the vicinity of the TELCO tower.
The authorities should consider uploading the localities of each TELCO tower and the details of the TELCO
companies who are operating the particular TELCO tower in the official website of the authorities. This measure
not only will promote transparency but also will curb the building and operation of illegals TELCO tower. The
public will ensure the TELCO towers that are built within their communities are the ones with licenses. This ap-
proach empowers the public to be the informants of the enforcement units. Uploading of information to the cy-
berspace to safeguard the interest of public is also in line with the practice of new public management that is
aiming at improve quality, efficacy, transparency and accountability by using information computer technology.
The authorities must take initiative to work closely with tertiary education and research institutions to organ-
ize international conferences and encourage interaction among the international experts and scholars in the areas
of electromagnetic fields radiation. Grants and scholarships should be allocated for local academicians and
scientists to conduct researches in EMR to gain more knowledge and insights into this field.
This study found that there were respondents who were exposed to EMR of up to 10,000 microwatts per
square meter and the distance of the TELCO tower was 50 meters away from the respondents’ house. As far as
the power density of radiation and distance are concerned, both are in compliance to the existing laws of Malay-
sia and the residents have no legal ground to ask for the TELCO tower to be removed. The sad reality is that un-
til and unless these residents move out from this neighborhood, they will be exposed to the high intensity of
Acknowledgem ents
We express a deep sense of gratitude to Mr. Chong FookSuan of Wawasan Open University for his cordial sup-
port, valuable information and guidance. Thanks to Madam Belle Ong, Mr. Leong Kam Yun, Miss Loke Chew
Nee, Mr. Anthony Chew and staff members of the Medical School of National Defence University Malaysia for
their assistance, data collection and valuable information in their respective fields. Last but not least my heartfelt
gratitude to the residents who chose to remain unanimous for requesting that this study be conducted at their
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