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Health effects of exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields: Analysis of the problems with non-ionising radiation

Gezondheidseffecten van blootstelling aan radiofrequente elektromagnetische velden - Probleemanalyse niet-ioniserende straling


An inventory of available information on the exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields has revealed insufficient knowledge on two items: i.e., 1) if and how exposure to these electromagnetic fields can lead to complaints like headaches, and 2) the lack of a good-quality overview of all sources in the Netherlands and their contribution to total exposure. The government and other professional stakeholders are responsible for the protection of the population against possible adverse health effects from exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields. There is concern about and ignorance of these fields amongst the Dutch population. Therefore, one needs to know, on the one hand, whether exposure to these fields can actually lead to effects and, on the other hand, whether exposure in reality can be so high that effects can actually occur. The available information on health effects has been collected by the RIVM and analysed for presentation in a recent report. The first part deals with international knowledge on fields and effects, while the second part overviews the situation in the Netherlands for three groups of sources: communication equipment, domestic appliances and consumer articles, and detection equipment. At the moment a European recommendation forms the basis for policy making and regulations in the Netherlands. If the exposure remains below specific levels, particular short-term effects do not occur. These well-understood effects, caused by heating of and induced electric currents in the body, include an increase in body temperature and involuntary muscle contraction. Other effects are those for which it is not clear whether, and if so, how the effects are caused by exposure to radio-frequency fields. Effects claimed by some are, for example, headaches and sleeping disorders. These effects do not always lend themselves for easy and objective establishment. Sleeping disorders are reported for exposures found below the limits in the European recommendation. An overview of the sources is necessary for making good exposure estimates in the Netherlands and for informing the population. In this way, the field strength caused by a single source, but also the field strength caused by multiple sources can be estimated. The field strengths depend mainly on the transmitted power and the distance to the source. It is particularly important to further investigate the situation around AM-broadcasting transmitters and radio amateurs, considering that AM-broadcasting transmitters are capable of transmission at high power levels. Radio amateurs may be transmitting at varying power levels. New sources such as UMTS base stations and equipment transmitting highly pulsed signals should also be further investigated. A licence for use of frequency space is not always required, for example, for applications for wireless communications, such as computers equipped with WiFi transmitters. In general, this equipment transmits at low power levels, but may be located close to the body. Other licence-free transmitters are being used in anti-theft devices and for reading electronic bar codes. Even though these systems are capable of transmitting at high peak power levels, exposure is generally for a short period of time.

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