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Mobiles, pylons and health key topics

Addressing key topics within the mobiles, over-head pylons and health sector.

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In 1992, the IET formed a volunteer expert advisory group to consider the possible harmful effects of low-level, low frequency electrical and magnetic fields, primarily at power (50/60 Hz) frequencies.  In 1998, this Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group (BEPAG) had its terms of reference extended to include frequencies up to 300 GHz to reflect public concern over possible health effects of radiofrequency (“RF”) electromagnetic fields, especially from mobile communications systems.

There is some concern that the electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) produced by electrical power, cellular telephone systems (mobile phones and base stations), emergency services radio communications (TETRA), radio and television broadcasts and ‘computer’ wireless facilities (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Wi-Max) may be harmful to health.  Health outcomes ranging from cancer to stress and non-specific ailments have been suggested and investigated.

The balance of scientific evidence to date does not indicate that harmful effects occur in humans due to low-level exposure to EMFs.

It is, however, impossible to declare with certainty that these fields are safe; some uncertainty always remains (science can never prove a negative).

The UK has adopted the exposure limits recommended by the EU.  The EU limits are derived from the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidance to limit exposures and prevent adverse effects.

At electrical power frequencies (50/60 Hz) there is some evidence of a statistical association between higher magnetic fields and childhood leukaemia.  But in the absence of convincing mechanistic and biological evidence, the overall evidence from the large body of scientific research literature suggests that the existence of harmful effects remains unlikely.

At higher frequencies (radio, TV, mobiles, Wi-Fi etc) there is only weak scientific data suggesting any harmful health effects exist for the general population at normal exposure field levels.

So-called electromagnetic hypersensitivity is a poorly understood condition.  The symptoms that people experience are undoubtedly genuine, but scientific studies to date have failed to show that they are linked to EMF exposure.

Further research, both epidemiological and laboratory based, is encouraged to improve scientific knowledge in conjunction with adopting cost benefit justified precautionary measures particularly in relation to childhood exposure.

Scientists have an over-riding responsibility to ensure that their findings are robust before publication.  Failed replications of high-profile studies are of concern as they indicate the unreliability of much of the literature.  Early studies may have erroneously heightened public anxiety.

The IET does not carry-out scientific research into EMFs and health, but BEPAG reviews peer reviewed scientific literature on the topic.  A biennial position statement based on BEPAG’s work is published on the IET website, along with a factfile to provide authoritative information and unbiased advice on the subject of the health risks associated with EMFs.

Mobiles, pylons and health factfiles