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Radiation - Mobile Phone Masts and Electromagnetic Radiation

Mobile Phone Masts and Electromagnetic Radiation

How do Mobile Phones Work?

Mobile phones rely on base stations to receive and transmit calls. Each base station is located at the centre of a cell, which may vary considerably in size. Rural cells may be several kilometres in size whereas urban cells may only be a few hundred metres - the size of the cell is a function of the number of calls likely at any one time as well as influences such as local topography.

Each base station is only capable of handling a finite number of calls. The more calls that are made in a locality, the more base stations are likely to be required.

The power requirements of the base station transmitters are carefully calculated in order to avoid interference. In order to do this cells are grouped in clusters within which each base station operates at a different frequency. These frequencies are then used in neighbouring clusters enabling a phone call to be transferred between cells as your phone moves from one cell to another.

What is Non-Ionising Radiation?

Non-Ionising radiation (NIR) is the term given to the part of the electromagnetic spectrum where there is insufficient quantum energy to cause ionisations in living matter. It includes static and power frequency fields, radiofrequencies, microwaves, infa-red, visible and ultraviolet radiation [NRPB].

What are Electromagnetic Fields?

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) arise from electric charges and the strength of a field at a point depends upon the distribution and behaviour of the charges involved. The term EMF as used here covers fields in the frequency range below 300 gigahertz (GHz).

Electromagnetic fields include static fields such as the Earth's magnetic field and fields from electrostatic charges, electric and magnetic fields from the electric supply at power frequencies (50 Hz in the UK), and radio waves from TV, radio and mobile phones radar and satellite communications. At the higher frequencies the electric and magnetic fields are coupled together and as the coupling decreases at 50 Hz used for electricity generation it is appropriate to think in terms of separate electric and magnetic fields. The part of the electromagnetic spectrum from 0 to 300 Hz is often termed extremely low frequency (ELF). Electromagnetic fields as described here is due insufficient energy to damage DNA in the cell nucleus directly [NRPB].

What are the Main Contributions to Human Exposure to Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) and Electromagnetic Fields (EMF)?

The main sources of power frequency electromagnetic fields are related to the transmission, distribution and use of electricity. Transmission power lines in the UK operate principally at 400 kilovolts (kV) and 275 kV, and distribution lines operate at 132 kV, 66 kV, 33 kV, 11kV and 400 V. Underground cables and substations can also be sources of exposure. Away from power lines, power frequency EMF in homes arise from currents and voltages associated with distribution circuits and household electrical wiring, and the use of appliances. The strength of EMF tends to fall rapidly with distance. The relative contribution of these sources to residential exposure in the UK is variable and depends on individual home circumstances. Power frequency EMF are also produced from the use of electricity in the workplace and from electrified transport systems. [NRPB]

How are People Protected from Possible Health Effects of ELF and EMF?

At extremely low frequencies, guidelines on restrictions on exposure to EMF have been developed that are based on the avoidance of established biological effects of electromagnetic fields. These include the effects of induced currents in the body and the risk of painful spark discharge. NRPB recommends the adoption of the guidelines published by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). This recommendation is supported by a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on biological events, human health and research on dosimetry. The ICNIRP reference levels for external fields are used at the initial stage of assessing compliance with restrictions on exposure. The levels for exposure to 50 Hz electric and magnetic fields are 10 kV m-1 and 500 uT for occupational exposure and 5 kV-1 and 100 MT for public exposure. The exposure restrictions advised by ICNIRP have been incorporated into a European Council Recommendation on public exposure, which the UK supported. [NRPB]

Are EMF's a Risk to Health?

The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), under it's Chairman Sir William Stewart, recognised, in publishing it's report (the "Stewart Report") , that "Science can never provide a guarantee of zero risk", hence the recommendation from the IEGMP that research into this area continue with a view to developing knowledge of any potential effects.

As a consequence of this the Link Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme [MTHR] was established. As of November 2003 there were twenty one projects in progress, seven being funded directly by MTHR with a further three being funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and one by the Home Office. These projects range across a wide variety of subject areas and are necessarily directly related to exposure to emissions from base stations.

In its report the IEGMP also concluded that "the balance of evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health of people living near to the base stations where exposures are only small fractions of guidelines" and that "the balance of evidence to date suggests that exposures to RF radiation below NRPB and ICNIRP guidelines do not cause adverse health affects to the general population".

Despite further research being published since the Stewart report was produced the balance of opinion appears to remain that there is an absence of conclusive, replicated evidence that suggests that associates detrimental human health effects with exposure to mobile phone base stations.

The advisory group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR), in January 2004, published a report on it's review of the scientific evidence relevant to an assessment of the effects to exposure to Radiofrequency (RF) fields which has accumulated since the Stewart Report on Mobile Phones and Health was published in 2000. In the overall conclusions to the report it states:

"In aggregate the research published since the IEGMP report does not give cause for concern. The weight of evidence now available does not suggest that there are adverse health effects from the exposures to RF fields below guideline level, but the published research on RF exposures and health has limitations and mobile phones have only been in widespread use for a relatively short time. The possibility therefore remains open that there could be health effects from exposure to RF fields below guideline levels, hence continued research is needed."

A recent statement from the HPA in relation to a report summarising a review statement on this subject reiterates this view. The report itself does contain further recommendations and can be found here HPA Statement.

Last Updated: 28/04/2016
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