Government policies for electromagnetic fields should be evidence based, harmonised internationally and draw on the existing recommendations by expert bodies such as the World Health Organization and the International Telecommunications Union.
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) develops exposure guidelines that are recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The ICNIRP guidelines were developed following reviews of the scientific literature, including thermal and non-thermal effects, and are designed to provide protection to all people (including children) against all established health hazards.
In September 2009 the ICNIRP confirmed that its present recommendations remain valid:
‘However, it is the opinion of ICNIRP that the scientific literature published since the 1998 guidelines has provided no evidence of any adverse effects below the basic restrictions and does not necessitate an immediate revision of its guidance on limiting exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields.’
Compliance standards describe the methods used to determine that exposures from wireless network antennas or mobile devices are less than the recommended exposure limits. The international compliance standards for base stations and mobile phones are IEC62232 and IEC62209, respectively.
Typical measured exposure levels from mobile networks in publicly accessible areas are 50 to 50,000 times below international safety recommendations. Compliance of mobile phones is determined at the highest certified power level in laboratory conditions, however, the actual transmit level of the phone while operating can be well below this value.
The international safety recommendations are designed to provide protection against all known health hazards, however, some groups have argued for additional measures on a ‘precautionary’ basis in order to respond to scientific uncertainty or public concern.
The WHO has warned that some precautionary approaches may undermine confidence in exposure guidelines. Research shows that precautionary policies increase concern because the public interpret the measures as evidence of possible risk.
For those who are concerned about use of mobile phones, the WHO notes that exposure can be reduced by text messaging, using a “hands free” device and using the phone in areas of good reception. The WHO states: ‘The use of commercial devices for reducing radiofrequency field exposure has not been shown to be effective.’
Mobile network antennas are needed to provide good call quality and must be positioned close to where people want to use their phone.
The WHO has stated for mobile networks that:
‘It is difficult to envision a consistent and equitable cautionary policy that would minimize radiofrequency EMF exposures from cellular telephone base stations given the presence of far higher powered sources in the same urban area. Indeed, attempts to implement a cautionary policy for cellular telephone masts have typically been done on a piecemeal basis, with no attention to other (much stronger) sources of RF energy in the environment.’
There is no scientific basis for planning restrictions on antenna siting. In selecting locations, many operators engage in extensive consultation processes through local planning authorities and a variety of information tools have been developed.