Sunday, 27 February 2011

Electromagnetic Fields related FAQs.

What Department is responsible for electromagnetic field health effects? 

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is currently responsible for the health effects of non-ionising radiation including electromagnetic fields. This was previously the function of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

What is the role of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland?

The Government has decided that the statutory powers of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland will be extended to include responsibility for matters relating to non-ionising radiation including electromagnetic fields. The details of implementation of the new function for the RPII will be presented to Government for approval in due course. Until the transfer of function to the RPII takes place, the Department of the Environment will continue to hold responsibility for these matters.

What studies have taken place into electromagnetic field health effects in Ireland?

An Expert Group was established to examine a wide range of issues in relation to potential health effects of electromagnetic fields, including those produced by mobile telecommunications. In their Report, the Group concluded that no adverse short or long-term health effects have been found from exposure to the radiofrequency signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters. Radiofreqency signals have not been found to cause cancer. The Report is available in the publications and documents section on the right of your screen.
How do the media report this subject?Coverage of this subject in both print and broadcast media is sometimes inaccurate. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will provide accurate information to the media on request. For example on 22 January 2008, the RTE radio programmes, Today with Pat Kenny and Drivetime included reports by Philip Boucher-Hayes on the health effects of electromagnetic fields.

Are there any harmful health effects from living near base stations or using mobile phones?

From all the evidence accumulated so far, no adverse short or long term health effects have been shown to occur from exposure to the signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters. However studies have mainly involved looking at cancer and cancer-related topics. Among other studies being planned are those of children and adolescent mobile phone users and studies of health outcomes other than brain cancer including more general health outcomes including effects on sleep. 

Is it safe for children to use mobile phones and should phone masts be located near places where children gather?

There is no data available to suggest that the use of mobile phones by children is a health hazard. The time in children’s development that might make them particularly vulnerable to radiofrequency exposures to the head is when they are aged two years and younger. In the UK and Sweden the authorities recommend a precautionary approach to either minimise use (essential calls only) or minimise exposure (use a hands-free kit). In the Netherlands the use of mobile phones by children is not considered a problem. There is no established scientific basis or evidence of adverse health effects affecting children or adults as a result of their exposure to mobile phone base stations. This applies irrespective of the location of the phone mast.

Is electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields?

No studies have established that exposure to electromagnetic fields leads to the subjective symptoms reported by EHS individuals. Several studies have shown that while the symptoms reported by EHS sufferers are real, they are not linked to exposure to fields. EHS sufferers do not experience worse symptoms when exposed to electromagnetic fields.

Why do reports of scientific studies often appear to reach different conclusions on electromagnetic field health effects?

There are a number of reasons for this. One is that  studies that report positive findings will always receive more publicity than reports whose findings are negative. There is also the fact that studies whose findings are negative face more difficulty getting published in scientific journals. Another reason is that differences in the results of broadly similar scientific research are to be expected, given differences in study methodology, analytical techniques and the experience and expertise of the researchers involved. Science advances on the basis of weight of evidence as represented by studies published in the most authoritative (peer-reviewed) journals. This weight of evidence is not necessarily reflected in popular reports of electromagnetic field health effects.

What are the international electromagnetic exposure limits?

The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)  is a body of independent scientists who have expertise in researching the possible adverse health effects of exposure to non-ionising radiation. ICNIRP has published a set of guidelines on limiting human exposure to electromagnetic fields. These guidelines are freely available from their website. 

The ICNIRP guidelines apply only to short-term exposure. How can they protect against long-term exposure?

When the ICNIRP guidelines are drafted, the totality of the scientific evidence is assessed. Studies on both short-term and long-term exposures are evaluated to reach conclusions on health effects. Only short term acute health effects have been established by the scientific evidence. However the ICNIRP limit values apply to all exposure situations, including long-term exposures.

How can safety be assured when new technologies are introduced before their health effects can be assessed?

There are a large number of novel technologies being developed using radiofrequency signals for various purposes. Examples include WiFi, Bluetooth, Ultra-wide Band, and others. All of these are assessed for safety by the strength and frequency of their radiofrequency emissions. These emissions are then compared with the limits allowed in the international standards. If the new technology emits fields less than these limits they are considered safe, and vice-versa. Thus the advantage of having adopted international exposure limits is that they provide information on safe levels of electromagnetic field exposure from any existing device or any device produced in the future, but also provides manufacturers with the exposure limits within which they must manufacture their devices. Within the European Union, devices having the “CE” mark are considered to be safe for their intended purpose.

Should precautionary measures be applied to electromagnetic field exposure?

There is no doubt that the prudent use of precautionary measures would help reassure many in Ireland who have concerns over electromagnetic field exposure. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) electromagnetic field project has been working to develop guidance for Member States who want to adopt precautionary measures and it is hoped these will be available soon.

How do the planning laws concerning phone masts have regard to public health and safety regarding electromagnetic field exposure?

There is scope for improvements in the planning law and its application that could lead to an improvement in the public acceptance of base stations. Local Authorities are responsible for having them located where they are least objectionable but still permitting a high quality network to operate. WHO is drafting an advisory document for Local Authorities worldwide to assist them in dealing with planning applications for base stations and on how to best involve the affected community in an effective manner. This document should provide useful and relevant advice to Irish authorities.

Is there any information available on the emissions from phone masts in my neighborhood?

ComReg is the licensing authority for the telecommunications industry. It has provided an on-line site viewer to allow the public view details of the mobile masts throughout Ireland. ComReg has commissioned audit reports to verify that licensed operators are in compliance with their licence conditions relating to emission limits for non-ionising radiation.The results from the emission measurements taken at 600 sites to date have shown compliance with the ICNIRP guidelines with values that were typically thousands of times below the limits.

Are there any harmful health effects from living near power lines and using electrical appliances?

Power lines and electrical appliances are sources of Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded, on the basis of limited evidence in humans that ELF magnetic fields are a possibly human carcinogen. This does not mean that ELF magnetic fields are actually carcinogenic, simply that there is that possibility. Evidence for the association between ELF magnetic field exposure and childhood leukaemia derives from epidemiological studies. These studies, taken individually or as collectively reviewed by expert groups, are insufficient either to make a conclusive judgement on causality or to quantify appropriate exposure restrictions. Apart from this there are no other identified harmful health effect from ELF exposure, where such exposures are below the international limits.

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