Exposure to electromagnetic fields
International standards and limits
To protect human health from possible impacts of electromagnetic radiation and in particular radiofrequencies (i.e. frequencies range between 0 to 300GHz), international standards have been adopted establishing exposure limits to electromagnetic fields.
Each country sets its own national standards and limits. However, the majority of international standards and limits are based on guidelines issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). ICNIRP is a non-governmental independent group of experts, officially recognised by the World Health Organisation. ICNIRP evaluates the state of knowledge about the effects of non-ionising radiation on human health and well-being, and, where appropriate, provides scientifically - based advice on non-ionising radiation protection including the provision of guidelines on limiting exposure. The ICNIRP guidelines are reviewed periodically and updated if necessary.
According to the World Health Organisation the ICNIRP guidelines are highly protective and are based on all the available scientific evidence. They take into account all known impacts and offer protection against all confirmed risks from exposure to electromagnetic fields. Moreover, the ICNIRP guidelines incorporate large safety factors, 50 times below the limit value, at which no effects on the human body have been reported.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in its October 2014 factsheet on “Electromagnetic fields and Public Health: Mobile Phones” states: “While an increased risk of brain tumours is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk".
In its recent 2011 factsheet, the WHO states that: "While an increased risk of brain tumors is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk".
What limits apply today within the European Union
On 12 July 1999, the EU Council adopted the ICNIRP guidelines and issued a Recommendation on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (0Hz to 300GHz) (1999/519/EC). The above Recommendation has been adopted by most Member States including the new ones. Certain countries, such as Greece, have lowered the limits even further.
The safety of base stations and mobile handsets/terminal equipment is governed by a series of European Council Directives such as the R&TTE Directive of 9 March 1999. This ensures a high level of protection, safety and health for users within the internal market. In order to ensure that European citizens are not exposed to radiation beyond the safety limits in the Council's Recommendation, European standardisation organisations such as CENELEC have also been called upon to develop product-related standards.
What limits apply today in Greece
Based on the EU Council Recommendation, similarly based on World Health Organisation and ICNIRP guidelines, in 2000 the Greek Government issued Joint Ministerial Decision No. 53571/3839 on public protection safeguards from the operation of land-based antennas (Government Gazette 1105/B/6-9-2000). Under this, a 20% reduction in the exposure limits compared to those in the EU Recommendation was adopted.
In 2006, Law 3441 on electronic communications and other provisions (Government Gazette 13/A/3.2.2006) adopts new even stricter limits for safe public exposure. This law , reduces the ICNIRP limits by 30%. In other words, the limits enacted in Greece are 30% stricter than those contained in the international guidelines, which have been adopted by the European Union, and thus are considered to be among the strictest in Europe. Moreover, the law sets a minimum distance from schools, kindergartens, old people’s homes, hospitals, within which the limits are further reduced by another 10%. In these cases the limits are just up to 60% of those recommended by international organisations.
With the new law 4070/2012 "Provisions for Electronic Communications, Transport, Public Works and other provisions" (Government Gazette 082/Α/10-04-2012), safe exposure limits for the public are maintained at 70% and 60% of ICNIRP’s reference levels, as stipulated by law 3431/2006.
Who ensures compliance with the limits in Greece
The Greek Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) is the authority responsible for public and environmental protection from electromagnetic radiation. Mobile telecommunications companies submit a radio emission study to GAEC for each base station they plan to install. The radio emissions study should show that the installation of a mast meets the limits of electromagnetic radiation, as defined by legislation, taking into account all neighboring masts. Once the study has been approved GAEC issues its opinion.
Moreover, GAEC is obliged by law to ensure compliance with the limits on a random basis, without prior warning, for at least 20% of base stations located in residential areas within towns, yearly. The law also allows any person to request from GAEC to make measurements at any point of interest.
Specific Absorption Rate (SAR)What is the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) and how is it related with mobile technology
ICNIRP has issued guidelines to limit public exposure to radio frequency fields. The limits in these guidelines for mobile phones have been set based on the energy absorbed per kilogram of body mass that is expressed by the Specific Absorption Rate or SAR. SAR value relates to both whole body and localised exposure. The SAR value is determined under standardised test conditions for a particular mobile and is provided in the product safety information when it is bought. Many manufacturers also make this information available on their own website. The internationally recommended limit for public exposure is 0.08 watts per kilogram. Therefore, a person weighing 50 kg can absorb up to 4 watts of electromagnetic fields energy for his/her whole body and still be within the guidelines. This figure is very low compared to the heat naturally produced by a 50 kg person while at rest, which is around 50 watts, in other words 1 watt per kilogram.
Moreover, the guidelines constitute limits for maximum localised SAR values for specific body parts. For example, the value for the head alone is 2 watts per kilogram. In this way, even if mobile handsets meet the guidelines’ criteria for the whole body, they should also meet the maximum localised SAR values so as to limit possible localised temperature increases. All mobiles operating below this level are considered safe to use. Mobiles are tested to ensure compliance with the SAR limit for the countries where they are sold.
Mobile handsets and the Specific Absorption Rate
Mobile handsets are at the same time both low strength radio signal receivers and transmitters. When activated, they emit low levels of electromagnetic energy (also known as radio waves or frequency fields).
Mobile handsets are designed to operate within strict limits laid down in the ICNIRP guidelines. These guidelines specify a safety margin, which guarantees the safety of all people, regardless of age or state of health.
Mobile handsets are manufactured so as to use the least possible power to communicate with the network. This is independently being adjusted based on the signal from the base station. The stronger the signal, the lower the emitted energy required from a mobile device.
The level of exposure depends on the distance between the person and the mobile and the amount of RF power the mobile transmits. Mobiles always use the minimum amount of energy to provide a service, so actual exposure varies continually depending on a range of factors:
- The distance between the person and the mobile device
RF fields are much weaker even a short distance from a mobile. Keeping the mobile away from the body by using an earpiece or loudspeaker function will significantly reduce exposure.
- The distance from the base station
The signal from a base station becomes weaker the further away the mobile is, meaning the RF field strength from the mobile must increase so it can still communicate with the base station.
- The landscape between the user and the base station
If there is a building, hill or other obstruction between the mobile and the base station, the signal from the base station may also be weaker.
- The service being used
Vodafone continues to require manufacturers to test the specific absorption rate (SAR) of mobile devices when used against the ear or near the body.
If they would like to, people can reduce their RF exposure from using a mobile device in the following ways, as indicated by the WHO: "In addition to using "hands-free" devices, which keep mobile phones away from the head and body during phone calls, exposure is also reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power".
However, with the likelihood of today’s younger population using mobile phones over a longer period, the WHO has identified further research into the use of mobiles by children of different ages as a priority and further research into use by children and long term use is underway. Vodafone closely monitors the results of such research and the views of organisations such as the WHO.
To help parents make an informed decision about their children’s mobile use, we provide information and advice from the WHO and its linked organisations.
For more information click here.
For more information visit the Vodafone Group website
Use of hands-free and bluetooth devices
Compliance with strict rules ensures that mobile handsets placed on the market operate properly and are safe. However, people who want to further reduce their exposure to RF fields can use hands-free and bluetooth devices.
In addition to being easy to use, these devices allow the handset to be kept away from the body. Independent tests confirm that these devices when used can reduce the quantity of RF energy absorbed by the body.
Moreover, when purchasing and using accessories such as hands-free and bluetooth devices, belt clips, etc. users should carefully read the mobile handset instructions to ensure that the accessories purchased are suitable, fit well and are used properly.