Wednesday, June 17, 2020

ICNIRP’s new exposure guidelines for telecommunications – what changes?

After a thorough revision of the last 20 years of international research, the safety guidelines for electromagnetic field exposure (EMF) from EM emitting sources such as smartphones, mobile devices and network antennas remain largely unchanged and continue to provide protection for the whole population. While the 1998 guidelines already covered 5G frequencies, changes have been made in the frequencies above 6 GHz which are also relevant for 5G. 

In March 2020, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), an independent body of experts, published a revision of their radio-frequency (RF) EMF exposure guidelines. These guidelines set exposure limits for non-ionizing radiation, including electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted from Wi-Fi and telecommunications, which “provide protection against adverse health effects to humans under realistic exposure conditions” (1).
The review of the research carried out over the last 20 years in this area, confirmed that the guidelines first set in 1998 are still valid and protect the whole population, including more vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women and the elderly, from established health risks. Changes have been made in the 2020 guidelines to the frequencies above 6 GHz which are also relevant for 5G.

We know parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G and we hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease. The guidelines have been developed after a thorough review of all relevant scientific literature, scientific workshops and an extensive public consultation process. They provide protection against all scientifically substantiated adverse health effects due to EMF exposure in the 100 kHz to 300 GHz range,” said Dr Eric van Rongen, Chairman of ICNIRP, when the new guidelines were published.

ICNIRP was very clear on that there is ‘no evidence that RF-EMF causes such diseases as cancer’ and ‘no evidence that RF-EMF impairs health beyond effects that are due to established mechanisms of interaction’ (2). This statement fits with the large number of statements published over the past months by health authorities and national regulators around the world to stem the wild speculations and conspiracy theories circulated about 5G (3).

The only established hazards from RF EMF exposures relate to increases in local or whole-body temperature. The exposure limits are therefore set with substantial reduction factors to ensure that heating is within normal body ranges. This means that the limits are highly conservative and set in a way that they will remain protective unless they are exceeded by a substantial margin.

ICNIRP’s guidelines include different categories of exposure restrictions depending on the body region that is exposed to EMF – either the whole body or only parts of the body (Head, Trunk, Limbs), as well as on the duration of exposure – from instantaneous to long-term (24/7) exposure.

What has changed in the guidelines?

The guidelines were updated to also refine the limits for frequencies above 6 GHz which will be relevant for 5G. The main changes include:
  • the addition of a restriction for exposure to the whole body 
  • the addition of a restriction for brief (less than 6‐minute) exposures to small 
  • regions of the body (e.g. through mobile devices)
  • the reduction of the maximum exposure permitted over a small region of the 
  • body

Overall improvements to the guidelines include:
  • greater transparency to make the logic and scientific basis of the guidelines easier for the health protection community to engage with
  • additional means of assessing compliance with the guidelines; and
  • greater specification of how to assess complicated exposure scenarios

The SAR limits for mobile phones operating in frequencies below 6 GHz remain unchanged, only above 6 GHz a new absorbed power density limit is introduced that will apply to exposures close to the body (e.g. from mobile phones). The reason is that at higher frequencies the energy absorption occurs primarily at the body surface.

A timely publication 

The MWF welcomes the publication of the revised ICNIRP guidelines as they are based on an additional 20 years of research knowledge, improve scientific accuracy, accommodate changes in the frequencies above 6 GHz which are also relevant for 5G and still ensure a high level of protection for all.


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