Warning message

There is currently a suspension or adjustment to some of our activities due to COVID-19. For full details please visit our Activities in response to COVID-19 information page.

Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy and the new ARPANSA safety Standard

Introduction

Radiofrequency electromagnetic energy (RF EME), is now encountered virtually everywhere in modern society. The most common exposure to RF EME occurs from telecommunications networks, public broadcast infrastructure such as radio and TV, wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, and the use of personal devices including mobile phones, laptops and tablets. Sources of RF EME are also used in industrial and medical applications and in radar and security scanning equipment. Protection against the established harmful effects of exposure to RF EME has been provided by ARPANSA’s Radiation Protection Standard for Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields - 3 kHz to 300 GHz (RPS-3), published in 2002 based on guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in 1998. Since the publication of RPS3, research in the area of RF and health has grown rapidly and in March 2020 ICNIRP published updated guidelines for RF EME taking into account current knowledge of how RF EME affects the human body. The new ICNIRP guidelines have triggered ARPANSA to develop a new standard called ‘Standard for Limiting Exposure to Radiofrequency Fields – 100 KHz to 300 GHz’ (RPS S-1) and bring Australia in line with international best practice. 

Below is a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions and answers in relation to exposure to RF EME and the new ARPANSA RF Standard.

Radiofrequency electromagnetic energy - the basics

What is radiofrequency electromagnetic energy (RF EME)?

Radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) is the transfer of energy by radio waves. RF EME lies in the frequency range between 100 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz). RF EME is non-ionising radiation, meaning that it does not have enough energy to break chemical bonds or remove electrons (ionisation). For more information on RF EME please see the ARPASNA factsheet radiofrequency radiation

What are the sources of RF EME?

In the everyday environment RF EME is mainly used for telecommunications. Common sources include radio and television broadcasting, mobile telephony (including 3G, 4G and 5G networks), Wi-Fi, smart meters and satellite communications. Other sources of RF EME include microwave ovens, radar, and equipment used in industrial and medical applications. 

What are the health effects from exposure to RF EME?

Exposure to sufficiently high levels of RF EME, well above the public or occupational exposure limits, can heat biological tissue and potentially cause tissue damage. However, RF EME levels routinely encountered in the environment by the public are too low to produce any significant heating or increases in body temperature. There is unsubstantiated scientific evidence to support any adverse health effects from low-level exposure to RF EME associated with telecommunications and wireless technology below the limits set within the ARPANSA RF Standard.

For more information, please see the ARPANSA factsheets:

How am I protected from excessive exposure to RF EME?

The ARPANSA RF Standard (RPS S-1) is designed to protect the public and workers from exposure to RF EME by setting exposure limits. The Standard is based on scientific research that shows the levels at which harmful effects occur and it sets the exposure limits, based on international best practice, well below these harmful levels. The Standard is designed to protect people of all ages and health status against the known adverse health effects from exposure to RF EME. The Standard is aligned with international guidelines prepared by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP) and endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The new Standard 

Why did ARPANSA develop a new Standard? 

The International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) published updated RF EME exposure guidelines in early 2020. These guidelines take into account advances in research and health studies since the last guidelines were published in 1998. The guidelines were developed in consultation and cooperation with other national and international health bodies, including ARPANSA. 

The updated guidelines are considered by ARPANSA and the broader scientific community to be international best practice. As ARPANSA is mandated to protect the Australian public and workers from the harmful effects of radiation, it was timely to update the ARPANSA RF Standard to be in line with agreed international best practice. The new RF Standard (RPS S-1) has been developed in accordance with ARPANSA’s mission.

How does the new Standard differ from the previous Standard?

A review of the scientific evidence has shown that excessive heating caused by high exposure levels remains the only established health effect from RF EME. Consequently, the exposure limits set in the new Standard are similar to those in the old Standard with some refinements. The limits in the new Standard have been refined to account for increased knowledge on how temperature rises within the human body when exposed to high RF EME levels. The main changes in the limits of the new Standard relate to additional restrictions for RF EME exposure at higher frequencies, above 6 GHz, which is of importance to 5G and other future technologies using these higher frequencies.

Apart from refining the exposure limits the new Standard provides other updates, including:

  • The requirements for the management of risk to workers
  • The measures for protection of the general public

What are the public exposure limits?

There are various exposure limits in the ARPANSA RF Standard for various situations. The exposure limits are frequency dependent meaning there are different limits for different sources of RF EME depending on what RF frequency a particular source is using. For telecommunications infrastructure such as mobile phone base stations the limits for whole body exposure are expressed in a quantity called ‘power density’ and for the general public they range from 2 to 10 watts per square meter (W/m2) depending on the operating frequency.

For 5G mobile phone base stations the public exposure limit is 10 W/m2. For devices used close to the body such as mobile phones to the head or tablets and laptops near other parts of the body, another measure called ‘specific absorption rate’ (measured in watts per kilogram, W/kg) is used and for the general public the limit for whole body exposure is 0.08 W/kg. The exposure limits are available in Section 2 of the Standard.

What are the occupational exposure limits and why are they different from public limits?

Occupational exposure limits are set higher than public exposure limits and apply to individuals who are exposed to elevated levels of RF EME in the course of their work and are either trained to manage the exposure or are aware of the exposure. Specific criteria for occupational exposure are outlined in Section 5 of the ARPANSA RF Standard. There is unsubstantiated scientific evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to RF EME below the occupational limits. 

How are the limits decided?

The ARPANSA RF Standard is based on scientific research that shows the levels at which harmful effects occur and it sets limits, based on international guidelines, well below these harmful levels. This applies to both public and occupational exposure limits. A technical explanation of how the exposure limits are derived is available in the guidelines by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

Does the Standard consider non-thermal effects?

The new Standard takes into account all of the research on RF EME exposure and health effects, including studies reporting effects at non-thermal exposure levels. It is the assessment of ARPANSA and international organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) that there is unsubstantiated scientific evidence to support any adverse health effects at levels below the limits set in the ARPANSA RF Standard. The limits are set conservatively and well below the levels at which established health effects occur to provide additional protection and account for uncertainty.

Does the Standard consider long-term health effects?

There has been considerable research on possible long-term health effects of exposure to RF EME below the limits set in international guidelines and the ARPANSA RF Standard There is currently unsubstantiated evidence that indicates long-term health effects from exposure to RF EME below the limits of the Standard.

Does the Standard account for cumulative exposure?

Exposure to RF EME below the limits does not have a cumulative effect. The established harmful effects of exposure to RF EME are acute in nature and occur at very high levels many times above the limits set in the Standard. These effects are heating of biological tissue which can result in heat stress along with its associated symptoms and burns. The ARPANSA RF Standard sets limits designed to protect the body from excessive temperature rise from RF EME exposure at high levels. 

Does the Standard account for different modes of transmission (e.g. continuous or pulsed)?

The ARPANSA RF Standard accounts for all modes of RF EME transmission including continuous and pulsed. 

Does the Standard protect specific population groups, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly and the infirm?

The ARPANSA RF Standard is designed to protect people of all ages and health status against the known adverse health effects from exposure to RF EME. 

Why do some other countries seem to have limits so much lower than Australia’s?

ARPANSA is aware that some regions around the world have set exposure limits lower than the limits of the ARPANSA RF Standard. However, these limits are not based on substantiated scientific evidence. The exposure limits in the ARPANSA Standard are based on current scientific knowledge and are closely aligned with international guidelines prepared by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The ICNIRP guidelines form the basis for regulations within most countries in the world, including Australia and most of the European Union. ARPANSA and the WHO do not support the adoption of arbitrary exposure limits.

Application of the Standard

Who regulates exposure to RF EME in Australia?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates RF EME emissions from mobile phone base stations and other communication installations such as TV and radio antennas. ACMA also regulate the emissions from personal devices such as mobile phones, Wi-Fi routers and tablets. ACMA’s regulatory arrangements require these sources of RF EME to comply with the public exposure limits in the ARPANSA RF Standard.

ARPANSA regulates the use of specific RF emitting equipment within the Commonwealth. While there are no specific occupational exposure regulations for RF EME in most states or territories, protection for workers is provided by relevant work health and safety or occupational health and safety regulations.

How is compliance with the exposure limits of the Standard determined?

Compliance with the exposure limits set in the Standard is determined through assessment of the exposure from sources of RF EME. Manufacturers of devices such as mobile telephones, tablets and Wi-Fi routers must use standard testing methods to demonstrate and ensure compliance with the limits. Compliance of occupational exposure is determined by workplace exposure assessments conducted by competent individuals and accredited RF hazard assessment service providers.

Does the Standard include mandatory practices to ensure a safe environment?

The ARPANSA RF Standard includes a range of mandatory practices to ensure the safety of both the public and workers from exposure to RF EME. The provisions in place for public safety include area restriction where exposure exceeds public limits and appropriate notice (e.g. area marking, barriers and signage). For occupational exposure, the Standard sets requirements for risk assessment and management, training and supervision. These provisions and mandatory practices are outlined in Section 5 of the Standard. 

The 5G mobile network

Is the 5G network different from other telecommunications sources?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile telecommunications technology. From an emission perspective, the main difference is that it will use RF EME at higher frequencies. The 5G network currently uses frequencies similar to the 4G network. In the future, it will move to higher frequencies of approximately 27 GHz. It’s important to note that higher frequencies doesn’t mean higher exposure.  

Does the Standard cover RF EME exposure from the 5G network?

The current and proposed operating frequencies for the 5G network are covered within the ARPANSA RF Standard which sets both public and occupational exposure limits up to 300 GHz. The ARPANSA RF Standard is designed to protect people of all ages and health status against all known adverse health effects from exposure to RF EME, including those used in the 5G network.  

Are there health effects from 5G?

In the future, the 5G network will use frequencies above 6 GHz where the depth of RF EME penetration into human tissue is short. Consequently, this energy is absorbed mostly within the skin where surface heating is the predominant effect. At these higher 5G frequencies, the limits in the ARPANSA RF Standard are set to well below where any measurable heating at the surface of the skin and the eye occur. It is the assessment of ARPANSA that there is unsubstantiated scientific evidence to support any adverse health effects from low-level exposure to RF EME associated with telecommunications and wireless technology below the limits set within the ARPANSA RF Standard, including the 5G network. For more information please see the ARPANSA and World Health Organization factsheets: 

Is 5G linked to diseases such as COVID-19?

With the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, some members of the public are concerned about the human immune system and whether it can be compromised by wireless telecommunications sources such as 5G. Studies have investigated whether low level RF EME exposure from telecommunications sources like 5G can impact the immune system. Such studies, including those that have investigated effects on antigens, antibodies and oxidative stress, have not provided evidence of changes in immune function. It is the assessment of ARPASNA and the World Health Organisation (WHO) that there is unsubstantiated evidence that low-level RF EME exposure from 5G and other wireless telecommunications can affect the immune system and, in particular, there is no link to the onset or spread of COVID-19. 

For more information please see the ARPANSA statement on 5G and the coronavirus and the WHO list of myths about the coronavirus.

Mobile phone base stations and small cells

What is the difference between mobile phone base stations and small cells?

Small cells work in the same way as mobile phone base stations, however, they provide mobile phone service to smaller, targeted areas. The main difference is that small cells emit RF EME over much shorter distances requiring a denser deployment within the environment. Generally, small cells are located on infrastructure such as light and power poles. For more information on small cells please refer to the Australian Communications and Media Authority website: ACMA: A guide to small cells.

Is exposure from base stations and small cells regulated?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates the emissions of RF EME from base stations, small cells and any other communications installations. ACMA’s regulatory arrangements require base stations to comply with the exposure limits in the ARPANSA RF Standard.

What is the exposure from base stations and small cells?

Exposure levels to RF EME from both mobile phone base stations and small cells is extremely low. ARPANSA conducted a mobile phone base station measurement survey and found that RF EME emissions were well below the public exposure limit in the ARPANSA RF Standard. In early 2020, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) measured RF EME exposures at 59 small cell sites across Australia. They reported that the RF EME exposure at all the small cell sites were below 1 per cent of the limit in the ARPANSA RF Standard. 

Is it safe to be close to base stations or small cells?

The RF EME emissions from both mobile phone base stations and small cells are required by the Australian Communications and Media Authority to comply with the exposure limits set within the ARPANSA RF Standard. All publically accessible areas around mobile phone base stations and other communications infrastructure are therefore considered safe regardless of distance away from the antennas. In some instances, there are zones around mobile phone base stations that are restricted for access to authorised workers only. In this case occupational exposure limits in the ARPANSA RF Standard apply. Both public and occupational limits are designed to provide strong protection from the known health effects of exposure to RF EME.

Where can I find information about the RF EME exposure from base stations and small cells?

Information about the RF EME exposure levels from any mobile phone base station or small cell can be found on the Radiofrequency National Site Archive website. This publically accessible database allows anyone to search for a particular base station or small cell at a site of interest. Users can download the Environmental Electromagnetic Energy (EME) Report for a specific base station. The EME report contains details about the radio systems, telecommunications carriers and RF EME exposure levels at the chosen site.

For a general overview, ARPANSA and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have both conducted surveys to measure the RF EME exposure from base stations and small cells. The details of those reports are available from:

Personal devices

Are personal devices regulated for their emissions of RF EME?

Exposure to RF EME from devices such as mobile phones, cordless phones and tablets must all comply with the limits set within the ARPANSA RF Standard. Compliance with the Standard is regulated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

What if I have multiple devices close to me?

The intensity of RF EME diminishes rapidly with distance away from the source. A person’s exposure will always be dominated by the device closest to them. For example, a mobile phone used against the head will result in an exposure to RF EME. Other mobile phones in the area, even within close proximity will not add significantly to this exposure. The use of multiple devices in a confined space does not lead to cumulative exposures above the public exposure limits. The ARPANSA Standard is designed to protect against RF EME exposure from all sources in the everyday environment.

Does using a mobile phone cause health effects?

The RF EME emissions from mobile phones are required to comply with the exposure limits set within the ARPANSA RF Standard to be marketed and sold in Australia. There is unsubstantiated evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to RF EME below these exposure limits. Some epidemiological studies have reported a possible association between heavy mobile and cordless phone use and brain cancer. However, weaknesses in the methods of these studies and conflicting evidence from other well-conducted studies means that this association remains unsubstantiated. 

A study led by ARPANSA in 2018 found no link between the use of mobile phones in Australia and the incidence of brain cancers. It showed that although mobile phone use has risen rapidly since 2003, there has been no increase in any brain tumour types since then.

For more information, please see the ARPANSA factsheet mobile phones and health.

Can I lower my exposure from my mobile phone and is this necessary?

ARPANSA offers advice for lowering exposure to RF EME from mobile phones because it is relatively simple to do by taking steps like reducing call duration, using speaker phone or sending text messages instead of making phone calls. This advice is intended for the purposes of allowing people to take steps based on their personal choice. It is not intended as advice for radiation protection purposes as this is considered unnecessary because compliance with the ARPANSA RF Standard provides adequate protection on its own.

Exposure from other telecommunications sources 

Is exposure from other telecommunications sources regulated?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) regulates exposure to RF EME from all telecommunications sources including TV and radio, Wi-Fi and smart meters. All telecommunications sources fall under ACMA’s regulatory arrangements which includes compliance with exposure limits in the ARPANSA RF Standard.

Have there been any studies on Wi-Fi levels in places where people gather?

ARPANSA has previously conducted a comprehensive measurement study of RF EME exposure from Wi-Fi in 23 schools throughout Victoria and New South Wales. The study showed that exposure to RF EME from Wi-Fi in schools was much lower than the limit for public exposure set in the ARPANSA RF Standard. You can view a detailed summary of the ARPANSA Wi-Fi in schools study.

Does the number of devices connected to Wi-Fi affect the exposure?

The number of devices connected to Wi-Fi does not necessarily increase the exposure to RF EME from the Wi-Fi router.  The number of devices connected to Wi-Fi may increase exposure to RF EME, however, this additional exposure is very small. This is because the intensity of the radio signals from each device decreases rapidly with distance away from the transmitter. This means that exposure to a person is always dominated by the device closest to them with only little addition from other nearby devices. The radio signals emitted by the connected devices and the router cannot, by design, exceed their maximum compliance level which is required to be below the public exposure limit. 

Is the cumulative exposure from many telecommunications sources harmful?

Similar to when there are multiple personal devices around you, the intensity of RF EME decreases rapidly with distance away from any source. The ARPANSA RF Standard is designed to protect people from the cumulative exposure from all telecommunications sources.

Smart meters

What are smart meters and are they harmful?

Smart meters measure electricity usage and communicate this information back to the supplier using short bursts of RF EME, similar to how a mobile phone sends a text message. 
The combination of the relatively low power of the smart meter transmitters, their location on the outside of buildings and the very short time spent transmitting means that the overall RF EME exposure from smart meters is very low and well below the limits of the ARPANSA RF Standard, even when a number of devices are communicating simultaneously.

Health authorities around the world, including ARPANSA and the World Health Organization (WHO), have examined the scientific evidence regarding possible health effects from smart meters. The research indicates that there are unsubstantiated health effects from the low-level exposure to RF EME from smart meters. For more information please see the ARPANSA factsheet smart meters and health.

Occupational exposure

What is occupational exposure to RF EME?

The ARPANSA RF Standard sets limits for occupational exposure to RF EME. These limits are higher than those set for public exposure because workers are aware and trained about the exposure and the sources of that exposure. Occupational exposure to RF EME is only permitted after thorough risk analysis has been performed and the appropriate risk management is applied. The limits apply to workers who are exposed to these higher levels as part of the work performed and may apply to other workers or visitors that need to access controlled areas (e.g. building maintenance personnel, painters and arborists). Definitions and guidance for occupational exposure to RF EME is outlined in Section 5 of the ARPANSA RF Standard. 

Who is considered to be occupationally exposed to RF EME?

An individual is considered to be occupationally exposed to RF EME either when their work relates directly to dealing with sources of RF EME emissions or when they conduct their work within an area that exceeds the public exposure limit. Section 5 of the ARPANSA RF Standard provides definitions and assists with classification of occupational exposure to RF EME. The flow diagram in Section 5 of the Standard can assist in determining whether occupational limits apply in a given occupational scenario. 

What should my employer be doing to ensure that I am protected?

There are a number of risk management processes that an employer or a person responsible for a site where there is the risk of RF EME exposure to workers must do to ensure safety. Section 5 of the Standard outlines a number of mandatory requirements and recommendations for managing workplace safety from exposure to RF EME. Further, this section also provides guidance on managing overexposure to RF EME (i.e. when a worker is exposed to RF EME above the occupational limits in the ARPANSA RF Standard), including first aid and medical follow up.

How are pregnant workers protected?

Occupationally exposed women who are pregnant should advise their employers when they become aware of their pregnancy. After such notification, they must not be exposed to RF EME levels exceeding the public exposure limits. This may include implementation of relevant personnel policies providing reasonable work arrangements to ensure compliance with public exposure limits to the pregnant worker. Specific requirements can be found in Section 5 of the Standard and additional guidance may be found in the Pregnancy Guidelines produced by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC, 2001).

What happens if I am overexposed?

A plan for the management of any incident of proven or suspected overexposure to RF EME should be developed by an employer in advance. An overexposure to RF EME is when an individual or group of workers are exposed to RF EME above the occupational exposure limits of the ARPANSA RF Standard. A plan of action is suggested in Section 5 of the Standard. This includes details of any first aid management and medical assessment and follow up of the overexposed individual(s). Health assessments and management of an overexposed individual should be made by qualified medical practitioners. The incident must be investigated and reported to the Australian Radiation Incident Register.   

Measurements

How is RF EME measured?

Measurements of environmental and occupational exposure to RF EME are performed using a range of equipment. Broadband radiofrequency meters can give measurements of the combined RF EME from different sources of varying frequencies, however, these meters are not able to separate contributions from specific sources. Specialised equipment called spectrum analysers can take measurements of RF EME exposure and also separate the emissions by operating frequencies and therefore distinguish between different sources. In other words, if you wanted to specifically measure the emissions from a mobile phone base station or Wi-Fi router in the home, you would require a spectrum analyser. Measurements are usually performed by technical experts qualified in RF measurements.

Have RF EME levels been measured in the environment?

ARPANSA conducted a measurement survey on mobile phone base stations from 2007 to 2013 and found the RF EME emissions from these structures to be well below the public exposure limits set in the ARPANSA RF standard.

ARPANSA also conducted a study of Wi-Fi in schools which also included measurements of RF EME from other telecommunications sources including radio, TV and mobile phone base stations. The study showed the RF EME from each source was well below the public exposure limits set in the ARPANSA RF Standard.

In early 2020, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) measured RF EME exposures at 59 small cell sites across Australia. They reported that the RF EME exposure at all the small cell sites were below 1 per cent of the limits in the ARPANSA RF Standard. 

Can I conduct my own measurements?

Broadband meters that are widely available to purchase on the internet measure the total RF EME exposure in the given environment. It is not possible to assign the measurements to any particular source such as a nearby mobile phone base station or a Wi-Fi router. Further, ARPANSA cannot confirm the accuracy of the various models of broadband meters available on the market. Accuracy is dependent both on the quality and correct calibration of the meter. More specialised equipment called spectrum analysers are able to take measurements of specific sources in isolation from other signals in the environment, however, these meters are extremely expensive and require extensive training in their operation. Occupational RF EME exposure assessments should always be conducted by qualified personnel or accredited service providers.

Who can conduct measurements for me?

If you wish to have measurements of environmental or occupational RF EME exposure performed, you can find a list of service providers on the National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia website. As an independent Australian Government agency, ARPANSA does not endorse any particular service provider or product. You can search for a business to do this work through the Find an Accredited Facility tab on the NATA website and typing ‘EMR’ into the keyword search box.

Research

What research has been done on the safety of RF EME exposure?

The safety of RF EME exposure is a highly active area of science and thousands of studies have been published worldwide. The research into the safety of RF EME has been reviewed by ARPANSA and other international health authorities. Health risk assessments take into account the body of available evidence and summarise the scientific and health implications of these. This is very important as no single study can provide conclusive evidence of safety or harm. Some major reviews on RF EME and health conducted by health authorities include:

There are also a number of websites that can be used to find specific research on RF EME exposure and health:

Who conducts research on RF EME and health?

Research on RF EME and health has been conducted around the world by academic institutions and health authorities. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council has previously funded research into RF EME and health through the Government’s EME Program. The Australian Government has run an EME Program since 1997 to provide information to the public, enable Australia to engage with international experts, and fund research into health issues associated with mobile phones, mobile phone base stations and other communications devices and equipment. In recognition of renewed concerns about EME from new and emerging communications technology, the Government announced in December 2019 that it was enhancing the EME Program. This enhanced EME program will enable an Australian research program to be managed by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) to conduct targeted research into EME issues of relevance to Australia including measurement studies of EME in the community. ARPANSA will also continue to engage with international health authorities and experts for setting and maintaining EME standards and providing expert scientific advice on EME and health to stakeholders. More information on the EME Program is available on our Electromagnetic Energy Program and Action Plan pages.

How can I find the research on RF EME?

A number of high quality reviews have been done on RF EME exposure and health. These include: 

There are also a number of websites that can be used to find studies on RF EME exposure and health:

How is the research assessed for quality?

Exposure to RE EME has been the subject of many studies and a number of reviews. Reviews take into account the body of available evidence and summarise the scientific and health implications. This is very important as no single study can provide conclusive evidence of safety or harm. There are various types of studies that contribute to the pool of scientific evidence for RF EME exposure and health including epidemiological studies that investigate disease in human populations and experimental studies on human volunteers, animals, tissues and cells.

Scientific evidence is deemed to be established when it is consistent and generally accepted by the broader scientific community. This usually follows an evaluation of the available data by expert scientific bodies using a health risk assessment approach. In a health risk assessment, all the available studies, with either positive or negative effects, need to be evaluated and judged on their own merit, and then all together in a weight of evidence approach.

ARPANSA and other health authorities such as the World health Organization (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) assess all of the available evidence using the health risk assessment approach when reviewing the merit of research within the body of evidence. For more information please see the ARPANSA factsheet how is scientific evidence assessed?

Why is there so much research that reports harmful effects of exposure to low-level RF EME?

While there is research that does report biological and health effects of RF EME this is not what an overall assessment of the evidence indicates. It is also important to note that reported biological effects do not necessarily indicate harm to human health. There are also variations in the quality of studies and their applicability to human health. When all of the research on RF EME and health is assessed in its totality, there is unsubstantiated evidence of adverse health effects from exposure to RF EME at levels below the limits set within the ARPANSA RF Standard.

Why do some scientists believe there are harmful effects from RF EME exposure?

While there are some scientists that have the opinion that there are negative health implications of low level RF EME exposure it is important to note that their opinion is not supported by health authorities, mainstream science and the body of available scientific and health research. ARPANSA has assessed the body of available evidence (including the same evidence those scientists provide to support their position) and does not agree with their conclusions. This is due to, amongst other things, the available studies demonstrating mixed or lack of consistent results, methodological shortcomings and no proposed plausible biological mechanisms for how harm may occur at low level exposure. ARPANSA’s assessment is in line with that of the World health Organization (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). 

Are there any specific research programs to investigate possible health effects of exposure to RF EME?

There are both international and Australian research programs into the health effects of RF EME exposure. The World health Organization (WHO) established the International EMF Project in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence of possible health effects of electromagnetic fields including research into RF EME exposure and health. The Australian Government has run an EME Program since 1997 to provide information to the public, enable Australia to engage with international experts, and fund research into health issues associated with mobile phones, mobile phone base stations and other communications devices and equipment. In recognition of renewed concerns about EME from new and emerging communications technology, the Government announced in December 2019 that it was enhancing the EME Program. This enhanced EME program will enable an Australian research program managed by ARPANSA to conduct targeted research into EME issues of relevance to Australia including measurement studies of EME in the community. ARPANSA will also continue to engage with international health authorities and experts for setting and maintaining EME standards and providing expert scientific advice on EME and health to stakeholders. 

Further, the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bio effects Research is designated as the centre of excellence for research on RF EME exposure and health and conduct various research initiatives on this topic. More information on the EME Program is available on our Electromagnetic Energy Program and Action Plan pages.

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity

Is electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) accounted for in the Standard?

While symptoms of people who identify as electromagnetic hypersensitive (EHS) are real and can have disabling effect for the affected individual, EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and the science so far has not provided evidence that exposure to RF EME below the limits set in the ARPANSA RF Standard is the cause. The Standard is designed to protect the public from all established health effects of RF EME exposure, however, because the symptoms reported by EHS individuals cannot be attributed to exposure to low-level RF EME, the Standard does not account for EHS. More information can be found in the ARPANSA factsheet electromagnetic hypersensitivity

The environment, animals and plants

What are the effects on plants and animals from exposure to RF EME?

It is established that animals and plants have natural responses to electromagnetic fields including migratory patterns and pollination. The biomechanisms of these responses have not been firmly established and there are competing theories that continue to be investigated. Impacts of RF EME from artificial sources on plant and animal life have not been established. 

Does the Standard protect plants and animals?

The ARPASNA RF Standard is intended for protecting humans against the known harmful effects of exposure to RF EME and does not specifically consider protection of flora and fauna in its underlying principles. However, existing studies on the effects of low level RF EME exposure on plants and animals indicate that the exposure limits set within the Standard are adequate in providing protection to the environment.