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Standards and limits

Limits, standards, guidelines, call them what you will. Pretty much every country has them, with varying legal bases and status.. The ones we shall discuss here are those derived from science. Some municipalities have set entirely arbitrary "precautionary" limits, but these are essentially just random numbers with no scientific basis. It's certainly not possible to say that adhering to these limits makes one any "safer" than exceeding them, and they are set (perhaps slightly cynically) at levels such that they don't impinge on the operation of any telecommunications systems. If they did, then there would be a need to justify not allowing people to have phones on health grounds, which would be very difficult to sustain in a court. Indeed a number of countries that did have very low arbitrary limits removed them when forced to choose between them and phones. Here's (new window) a great example of what actually happens when such arbitrary political limts hit up against reality:

The Brussels regional government has approved a higher limit for radiation emissions from cell-phone towers.

The decision will make it possible for the capital region to roll out 5G capacity on a similar level to the other two regions, allowing businesses and individuals access to the fastest currently available internet traffic.

Brussels lagged behind in the roll-out of 4G compared to the other regions, because it was hampered by a strict limit on GSM radiation, largely as a result of the high concentration of population in the region, and the consequent need for many masts on buildings surrounded by a large number of people.

Now, the limit will be increased (to 14.5 V/m for those who understand what that means), which remains below the limit set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The previous limit was 6 V/m, which was the strictest in the world.

So it's a replacement of one entirely arbitrary limit with another entirely arbitrary limit.

“We have not given an inch on the necessary protection of our citizens and the environment,” said minister-president Rudi Vervoort .

Quite. The old limit wasn't based on anything, and nor is the new one, and both are below the scientifically-derived limit, as are all exposure levels, so the level of protection has indeed not changed at all. It's just a matter of political expedience:

“This decision puts an end to the long delay in a case file,” Vervoort said.

“That is not only of strategic importance for the economic and technological future, but also for the international image of the Brussels Region.”

According to the telecommunications regulator BITP, the arrival of 5G could mean a positive impact of €4-€6 billion for the country as a whole by 2030, and create 36,300 jobs.

There we have it. So here we stick to the scientifically-derived limits.

There are various minor national variations on the theme, but in general there are two bases for most limits, those of the American Institute of Electrical and Electonic Engineers (IEEE) and those of the more international, European based, International Commision on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). ICNIRP is allied to WHO and the International Labour Organization and accrues a degree of political acceptability as a result. Both the EU and UK government look to ICNIRP for EMF limits.

The EU situation is complex, because for legalistic reasons it uses product standards (new window) to set limits for public exposure rather than doing it diectly. It sets limits on occupational exposure directly via a Directive (new window) which is based on ICNIRP but allows some significant relaxations and derogations intended to make it more practicable.

The UK situation post Brexit remains unclear. EU product standards have been published as British Standards and remain extant, though unpoliced in the area of EMF. Base stations are required to meet ICNIRP guidelines (new window). The UK legislation that implements the EU EMF Directive as the Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work Regulations remains in place, but again is unpoliced.

Here are some links to IEEE and ICNIRP (open in new windows):

These standards/guideline/limits are all based on the known effects of exposure (new window), i.e induced currents and voltages in the body at low frequencies, heating of the whole body or localised parts of it at high frquencies. That absolutely doesn't mean that other possible effects were not considered. They were. The standards are backed up by comprehensive literature reviews of all possible effects. But absent any of those effects being shown to exist, they can't form the basis of limits.

We have barely scratched the surface of limits on this page. It's a complex subject worthy of pages of technical analysis for those interested. if you are, or just want to know more, please contact us.