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EME Newsletter May 2022

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Greetings from ARPANSA,

Welcome to the second issue of ARPANSA’s Electromagnetic Energy (EME) Newsletter - this is where we update you on the progress of our 2020-2024 EME Action Plan.

A lot has happened since our last update.

This update includes details of recent EME measurements across metropolitan Melbourne as well as information about the first major ARPANSA-funded research project. We also cover research highlights and an update on the EME laboratory construction.

We trust that you’ll enjoy this issue.

Sincerely,
Associate Professor Sarah Loughran
EME Program Director 

EME measurements

During March and April this year our scientists visited 50 sites across metropolitan Melbourne to measure public exposure to radiofrequency (RF) EME. The data is still being analysed. However, early results indicate that on average the two main EME exposure sources are broadcast radio and mobile phone base stations.

There is a degree of variability across the city. Near the Dandenongs, radio exposure is higher because of the broadcast towers. Whereas at Deer Park, EME from mobile phone base stations was found to be the highest source of exposure.

Overall, the public’s exposure to all EME sources at each location is well below the safety standard.

The last time that we did such a large-scale survey was in 2013. Back then, 4G had only just been introduced and analogue TV had been replaced by digital TV. Our current measurements were the first time that we measured the radio waves used in the 5G network.

Melbourne’s measurements represent the EME exposure that ARPANSA would expect to see in other major Australian cities.There are plans to expand these measurements into regional Victoria to understand the public exposure in country towns.

Make sure to follow us on social media so that you can find out when the full results will be published on our website.

ARPANSA scientist Dr Chhavi Bhatt using a spectrum analyser at Carrum Downs. 

A map of the 50 metropolitan sites where our scientists measured EME exposures.

Research framework

In September 2021, ARPANSA launched a research framework to support projects investigating EME exposures and health.

Following a competitive application process in late 2021, RMIT University was successful in applying for funding to undertake a major research project. ARPANSA will provide $140,000 to RMIT to investigate the impact of non-ionising radiation on cell permeability. This project is expected to be completed by 2024.

RMIT’s study will systematically investigate the frequencies and exposure levels at which changes to cells can be observed.

Previous RMIT research found that exposure to radio waves at a frequency of 18 GHz can induce a reversible change to cell membrane permeability. This effect occurs at a high ‘specific energy absorption rate’ (SAR) - which is the power absorbed into biological tissue per unit mass. RMIT observed this occurring at 1 kW/kg, which is well above the 2W/kg SAR limit in the ARPANSA safety standard.

This study fills a gap in current research through its investigation of potential non-thermal effects of higher frequency radio waves and aims to develop an understanding of the exposure level at which non-thermal effects may be observed.

Read the media release here.

For more information on their research, please read the project abstract. 

Research highlights

Over the past eight months, our teams have begun or completed several research initiatives on EME. Some of these initiatives have already been published in peer-reviewed journals and received attention on an international scale. We have collated our progress below which can also be accessed via our website.

Ongoing:

  • In another world first, ARPANSA and Swinburne University have joined forces to produce a systematic map of the scientific evidence into the impact of radio waves on the environment. A protocol on the methods of the systematic map has been published in the journal Environmental Evidence
  • ARPANSA, Monash University, Swinburne University and the Karolinska Institute are collaborating on a systematic review on the exposure to radio waves on cognition in human observational studies. A protocol on the methods of the systematic map has been published in the journal Environment International. This work is part of the World Health Organization’s program of systematically reviewing scientific literature on the potential adverse health effects from radio waves. 
  • PhD scholarship contribution provided to Monash University for a joint PhD student project on occupational EME exposure. 

EME laboratory update

As part of the EME Action Plan, we received funding to build a new anechoic chamber.

This is a specialised room designed to perform EME measurements, calibrations, and conduct research. It will be used to analyse extended frequencies that will be used in the 5G network and other future telecommunications.

The chamber and associated equipment was delivered to ARPANSA earlier this month, with the installation scheduled to take place in July. It is expected that the anechoic chamber will be operational by the end of the year. 

In the next edition

In the next edition of the EME Newsletter we will update you on further research projects to be funded under the EME Research Framework. Additionally, we will provide an update on our scientists' contribution to the upcoming Bioelectromagnetics Conference which takes place in Japan in June.

We look forward to sharing this news, and more, in the next edition.