The radiation literature survey provides updates on published literature related to radiation (both ionising and non-ionising) and health.

Published literature includes articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, scientific-body reports, conference proceedings, etc.

The updates on new radiation literature that are of high quality and of public interest will be published as they arise. For each update, a short summary and a link to the abstract or to the full document (if freely available) are provided. The update may also include a commentary from ARPANSA and links to external websites for further information. The links may be considered useful at the time of preparation of the update however ARPANSA has no control over the content or currency of information on external links. Please see the ARPANSA website disclaimer.

Explanations of the more common terms used in the updates are found in the glossary.

The radiation literature that is listed in the updates is found by searching various databases and is not exhaustive.

Find out more about how you can search for scientific literature.

The intention of the radiation literature survey is to provide an update on new literature related to radiation and health that may be of interest to the general public. ARPANSA does not take responsibility for any of the content in the scientific literature and is not able to provide copies of the papers that are listed.


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The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority reviews latest science on electromagnetic fields and health risk

Review date

May 2024

Article publication date

March 2024

Summary

This review report published on behalf of the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) aims to inform health risk assessment of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF). It included different study types (in vitroanimalhuman and epidemiological) published in the year 2021 related to several EMF exposure types (staticlow frequency or extremely low frequencyintermediate and radio frequency fields). A variety of outcomes (DNA damageoxidate stress, animal behaviour, animal physiology, human cancer, reproduction, etc.) associated with EMF exposure were assessed. This report did not identify any new established causal relationships between EMF exposure and health risk. For example, epidemiological studies on static EMFs (e.g., from MRI) are limited and hence underlying mechanisms for rarely observed associations due to effect of static fields are unclear. The recent studies on extremely low frequency (ELF) magnetic field exposure do not provide any evidence whether the consistently observed association between ELF and childhood leukaemia is causal or not. Similarly, no definite conclusions can be drawn from a recent study on intermediate EMF exposure and human health effects. Several new studies on brain tumours and mobile phone use largely continue to provide no indication of health risk.

Link to

2024: 05 Recent Research on EMF and Health Risk, Seventeenth report from SSM’s Scientific Council on Electromagnetic Fields, 2022

Published In

Swedish Radiation Safety Authority

ARPANSA commentary

The overall conclusion of the report is similar to the conclusions provided in the previous years’ reports from the SSM. The strength of this report is that it was reviewed by a multidisciplinary team of experts evaluating a range of EMF exposure types and health-related endpoints, reviewing various types of evidence. Therefore, it consolidates all emerging evidence generated in the year 2021 while presenting its review findings. 

The findings of the report are consistent with the health risk advice from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), and other national and international organisations. For example, the health advice of ARPANSA on ELF-MF and radiofrequency field exposure, and the health risk assessment of radiofrequency fields by the US Food and Drug Administration on RF-EMF and Cancer, are in line with the findings from the report. The World Health Organization is currently assessing available evidence on potential human health effects of radiofrequency field exposure, including that associated with mobile phone use. ARPANSA is supporting this process to inform evidence-based health risk assessment of EMF exposures.

WHO review reports no effect from radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure on self-reported symptoms in human experimental studies

Review date

April 2024

Article publication date

March 2024

Summary

This systematic review and meta-analysis examined the results of 41 human experimental studies on self-reported symptoms associated with  radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure in the general population and people who self-identify as having idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to EMF (IEI-EMF), commonly referred to as electromagnetic hypersensitivity. The symptoms were grouped into headache, sleep disturbances and composite symptoms, and then further divided by exposure type (localised head or whole body) as well as by participant group, general population or IEI-EMF individuals. Results were reported as the standardised mean difference (SMD) with a 95% confidence interval (CI). Evidence of a dose-response relationship and  data relating to RF-EMF exposure perception were also assessed.

For each of the health outcomes investigated, the SMD was very small, and the 95% confidence interval encompassed zero, indicating that there is no effect. For example: Headache for the general population was reported as SMD 0.08 (95% CI -0.07 to 0.22) from head exposure and SMD 0.09 (95% CI -0.35 to 0.54) from whole body exposure. For IEI-EMF individuals, headache was reported as SMD 0.16 (95% CI -0.38 to 0.06) for head exposure and SMD 0.11 (95% CI -0.29 to 0.52) for whole body exposure. The report did not find evidence of any dose-response relationship. Certainty of evidence assessments for each outcome were rated high to moderate except for sleeping disturbance from whole body exposure which was rated as low and composite symptoms from head exposure for both IEI-EMF individuals and the general population which was rated as very low. The main contributor to alterations in the certainty of evidence assessments were the risk of bias (ROB) classifications. The ROB assessments were performed according to OHAT guidelines and the most common sources of bias identified were from a lack of exposure randomisation and how the outcomes were assessed. Inconsistency and indirectness were secondary contributors to downgrades in the certainty of evidence.

The review further analysed data relating to EMF perception. The available evidence showed that study participants were not able to perceive RF-EMF exposure beyond what is expected by pure chance and that there was no difference in RF-EMF perception between IEI-EMF individuals and the general population. Interestingly, the authors noted that in open provocation studies, where the subjects are informed of their exposure, more symptoms are reported indicating that symptoms are associated with the perception of exposure and not the physiological reality. The authors further suggested that these results indicate that acute affects attributed to everyday RF-EMF are more likely to be a result of the nocebo effect.

Link to

The effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields exposure on human self-reported symptoms: A systematic review of human experimental studies

Published In

Environmental International 

ARPANSA commentary

This review provides high quality evidence on the acute effects of RF-EMF exposure on self-reported symptoms. The overall conclusion of the review showed that RF-EMF exposure to the head or whole body does not cause headache, sleep disturbances or composite symptoms. A WHO review assessing similar symptoms in human observational studies (Röösli, et al., 2024) that ARPANSA has previously summarised also showed similar results. The lack of any significant difference between results from the general population and IEI-EMF persons aligns with the assertion of ARPANSA and the World Health Organization (WHO) that exposure to the low levels of electromagnetic radiation experienced by the public is not the cause of symptoms experienced by IEI-EMF individuals. A limitation of the study is that it only examined acute effects from RF-EMF exposure, due to the nature of the human experimental studies. However, findings from human observational studies indicate similar results.

It should be noted that the RF-EMF exposure levels in the included studies are below the exposure limits for the general public given in the ARPANSA safety standard and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines. The conclusions of this review therefore further reiterate the assessment of ARPANSA that exposure to RF-EMF fields at levels below those prescribed in the standard does not cause adverse health effects. This review is part of the World Health Organisation’s ongoing project assessing the health effects of RF-EMF (SR8 – Symptoms (human experimental studies)). ARPANSA is supporting this WHO review process

WHO systematic review of RF EME exposure and male fertility

Review date

17 April 2024

Article publication date

March 2024

Summary

This systematic review evaluated the evidence on exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic energy (RF-EME) and male fertility both in-vivo and in-vitro. The review included studies on rats, mice, guineapigs, hamsters, rabbits (n=117 animal studies) and human sperm (n=10 studies). The studies employed a wide range of RF-EMF frequencies (800-2400 megahertz, MHz, the in-vitro studies;  100 MHz – 10 gigahertz, GHz,  for most of the animal studies). The specific absorption rate (SAR) exposure levels ranged from 0.00003 to 27.5 W/kg (for human studies); and 0.000012-184 W/kg (for animal studies). The review examined the included studies based on the GRADE approach which assesses the certainty of evidence. For human studies, a small detrimental effect of RF-EME exposure on sperm vitality (standardized mean differences (SMD) −1.37 (95 % confidence interval (CI) −2.46 to −0.28)), and no-effect on DNA/chromatin alterations (SMD −0.17 (95 % CI −0.48 to 0.13)) were reported. However, these results showed very low certainty of evidence. For the animal studies, a reduction in pregnancy rate (odds ratio (OR) 2.39 (95 % CI 1.52 to 3.74) and no-effect on litter size (SMD 0.04 (95 % CI −0.15 to 0.23)) were observed. These animal endpoints showed moderate certainty of evidence; whilst the other animal endpoints showed very low or low certainty of evidence. 

Link to

Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure on male fertility: A systematic review of experimental studies on non-human mammals and human sperm in vitro

Published In

Environmental International 

ARPANSA commentary

The review concluded that no conclusions could be made on the effect of RF-EME on male human fertility based on the evidence. However, it is important to note that the RF EME exposure levels reported by the systematic review for a reduction in pregnancy rate, which is the only negative effects outcome with a moderate level of certainty in the evidence, had an average exposure across the studies of 23.87 W/kg. This average exposure  which is over 28,000 times the public limit for whole body average exposure set in the ARPANSA safety standard (RPS S-1) and theICNIRP RF guidelines. Further, the authors reported that 75-80% investigating human fertility exposed human sperm RF EME levels above the safety limits. There are a number of other limitations identified in the review including issues with blinding, experimental procedures not following the recommended guidelines, use of inappropriate exposure levels and sources of bias not being considered. 

The effect of RF-EME on fertility has been reviewed by ICNIRP in their 2020 guidelines and they concluded that RF-EME has no adverse effects on human fertility, reproduction, or development. Overall, there remains no consistent scientific evidence that exposure to RF EME below the limits set in ARPANSA safety standard or the ICNIRP RF guidelines are a hazard to human fertility.

European COSMOS study finds no evidence for long-term mobile phone use and brain tumour risk

Review date

March 2024

Article publication date

March 2024

Summary

This prospective cohort study on Mobile Phones and Health (COSMOS), examined association between long-term mobile phone use and risk of brain tumours. The study recruited 264,574 adult participants in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK during 2007–2012. Data on brain tumour (gliomameningioma or acoustic neuroma) occurrence in the participants was obtained through cohort linkage to respective national cancer registries. Data on the participants’ mobile phone use (number of years since start of regular mobile phone use or cumulative hours of mobile phone call-time) were collected from the participants at baseline (i.e., at the beginning of the study). A total of 149 participants were diagnosed with glioma, 89 with meningioma, and 29 with acoustic neuroma during follow-up (median follow-up of 7.1 years). The risk estimate per 100 cumulative hours of mobile phone call-time was 1.00 (95% CI: 0.98–1.02) for glioma, 1.01 (95% CI: 0.96–1.06) for meningioma, and 1.02 (95% CI: 0.99–1.06) for acoustic neuroma. Over 15 years of mobile phone use was not associated with an increased tumour risk. These results showed that the cumulative amount of mobile phone use is not associated with the risk of developing glioma, meningioma, or acoustic neuroma.

Published in

Environmental International

Link to

Mobile phone use and brain tumour risk – COSMOS, a prospective cohort study

ARPANSA commentary

The conclusion of the study demonstrate that long-term mobile phone use is not associated with the risk of developing glioma, meningioma, or acoustic neuroma. The overall conclusion of this study is consistent with the findings of previous prospective cohort studies (Schuz et al., 2022Schuz et al., 2011Frei et al., 2011), the Interphone case-control study  (Interphone Study Group, 2010), a recent review by the US Food and Drug Administration on RF-EMF and Cancer, and studies investigating trends in brain tumour incidence rates over time (Elwood et al., 2022Deltour et al., 2022), including an Australia study (Karipidis et al., 2018). 

The current study has a major strength over previous studies that it is the largest multinational prospective cohort study. The study adopted a robust approach for collecting detailed data on the participants’ mobile phone usage to overcome the limitation of recall biasexposure measurement error and exposure misclassification to a large extent, which otherwise would have biased the risk estimates. Notable limitations of the study include the collection of mobile phone use data only at baseline, and inclusion of relatively small numbers of meningioma and acoustic neuroma cases, which limits the statistical power of the study.

Based on the current scientific evidence, and consistent with the findings of this study, it is the assessment of ARPANSA that there is no substantiated evidence that mobile phone use (resulting in RF-EMF exposures at levels below the limits set in the ARPANSA Safety Standard) cause any adverse health effects, including brain tumours in humans populations. The World Health Organization is currently assessing available evidence on potential human health effects (including brain tumours) of radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF EMF) exposure, including that associated with mobile phone use. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is supporting this process.

Trends in Melanoma Incidence and Mortality

Review date

March 2024

Article publication date

February 2024

Summary

The study analysed historic incidence and mortality data related to cutaneous malignant melanoma between 1980 and 2020. Data analysis was performed for each eligible country and was further divided by gender and age group, one age group between 20-44 years and another age group between 45-64 years. 

Globally, from the 2005-2009 period to the 2015-2019 period it was found that mortality has generally declined in both age groups except for a few countries that displayed an increase in mortality rates. Global incidence was either static or trending upwards. The authors primarily attribute recent notable declines in mortality to advances made in melanoma treatments since approximately 2010. 

Incidence in Australia was found to be declining in the 20-44 age bracket and stable in the 45-64 age bracket. The comparatively promising incidence trends in Australia were attributed to prevention programs, effective control of UV exposure and an increased use in high-quality sunscreens. It was further shown that the mortality rate in Australia has declined by 41.7% among men and 47.9% among women in the 20-44 age bracket and in the 45-64 age bracket the mortality rate has also declined by 22.9% among men and 25.5% among women.

The study also identifies a gender difference, with women globally recording higher incidence rates but lower mortality rates than their male counterparts. The authors suggested greater health care awareness in female patients as a potential reason. The unreliable distinction between melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer on death certificates in most countries was highlighted as a source of bias for older populations.

Published in

Melanoma Research

Link to

Global trends in cutaneous malignant melanoma incidence and mortality

ARPANSA commentary

This study collated data on melanoma incidence and mortality rates in a variety of countries and highlighted a recent downward trend in melanoma mortality rates in many countries including Australia. This downward mortality trend is also seen in data provided by the Cancer Council. While the study details favourable trends for Australia, including a falling incidence rate where many other countries are reporting a rising incidence rate, it should be noted that the actual values of melanoma incidence and mortality rates in Australia remain some of the highest in the world, exceeding the rates found in some other countries by multiple times. 

Skin cancers, including melanoma, are one of the largest public health concerns in Australia with two-thirds of Australians receiving a skin cancer diagnosis of some type in their lifetime. For melanoma specifically, it is estimated that 1 in 21 Australian women and 1 in 14 Australian men will be diagnosed with melanoma by the time they reach the age of 85 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2023). The largest risk factor for melanoma is overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun, with as many as 95% of all melanomas being attributed to UVR overexposure (Whiteman et al. 2015,  Armstrong & Kricker 1993).

ARPANSA recommends following the five sun protection principles when the UV-index is over three. ARPANSA administers and maintains UVR monitoring stations across Australia that can be used to see the UVR index in real time across Australia and make informed decisions about sun protection. More information about the risks of sun exposure and methods of sun protection can be found from: The World Health OrganizationThe Cancer Council of Australia and SunSmart websites.

Risk of central nervous system tumour in radiation workers

Review date

March 2024

Article publication date

11 January 2024

Summary

This prospective cohort study examined the association between primary central nervous system (CNS) tumours and chronic external occupational exposure to gamma radiation. The study included 22,377 workers from Mayak Production Association that had been hired to work at a facility with reactors, radiochemical production or plutonium production plants between 1948 and 1982. Radiation exposure was estimated based on ‘Mayak Worker Dosimetry System—2013’ (MWDS 2013). A total of 43 workers who were acutely exposed to radiation and developed acute radiation syndrome as well as 717 workers with missing medical records were excluded from the analysis. The authors examined the excess relative risk of all CNS, glioma and meningioma per Gray (Gy) of external gamma dose. They reported ERR per 1 Gy of external gamma brain dose was 0.05 (95% confidence interval (CI) −0.30 to 0.70) for all CNS tumours, −0.18 (95% CI 0 to 0.44) for gliomas, and 0.38 (95% CI −0.32 to 2.08) for meningiomas. The study concluded no statistically significant association between ionising radiation (IR) exposure and incidence of any CNS cancer type among the workers.  

Published in

Radiation and Environmental Biophysics 

Link to

Risk of central nervous system tumour incidence in a cohort of workers chronically exposed to ionising radiation

ARPANSA commentary

The study found no association between low chronic external exposure to gamma radiation and CNS cancers. This is similar to a study by Kitahara et al (2017), which showed absence of association  between low to moderate cumulative occupational radiation exposure and CNS cancers in radiation technologists (ERR per 100 mGy: 0.1; 95% CI: −0.30 to 1.50). Another study (Boice et al 2022) of medical radiation workers in the United States also found no significant association between cumulative absorbed doses of radiation ( 18.9 mGy - 1.08 Gy) and brain cancers (ERR at 100 mGy = 0.20; 95% CI: − 0.30 to 0.71). The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) states that at low levels (less than 0.1 Gray) IR exposure, the possible increased risk of cancer is uncertain. However, it remains important to track doses of occupational radiation in workplaces as the doses of 100-1000 millisieverts can increase the risk of cancer. 

ARPANSA publishes a series of evidence-based documents to guide Australian radiation protection principles and practices for radiation workers and the general public. For example,The Code for Radiation Protection in Planned Exposure Situations (2020)established a framework in Australia for the protection of occupationally exposed persons, the public and the environment in planned IR exposure situations. A planned exposure situation, is an exposure arising from the planned operation of a radiation source or facility that causes exposure to a radiation source is called a ‘planned exposure’ and in these planned exposure situations, some level of exposure can be expected to occur. The guideline applies the three main principles of radiation protection for planned exposure situations: i) justification (that any activity involving IR exposure should do more good than harm), ii) optimisation (that actual IR exposure, likelihood of exposures and number of exposed persons should be as low as reasonably achievable taking into account economic and societal factors), and iii) dose limits (levels of radiation dose that must not, under normal circumstances, be exceeded). ARPANSA will continue to update the latest science on human radiation protection, including cancer risk associated with IR exposure, in order to protect Australian general public and occupational populations.

Study reports no association between distance to transformer stations and risk of childhood leukeamia

Review date

March 2024

Article publication date

December 2023

Summary

This case-control study examined the association between extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields (ELF EMF) and  all types of childhood leukeamia and or childhood acute lymphoblastic leukeamia. The study included 182 cases of childhood leukeamia and 726 population controls matched on sex, year of birth and residential area. Exposure to ELF EMF was assessed based on proximity to transformer station and participants were assigned to the exposed category if they lived within 15 or 25 meters of a transformer station. Distance to a substation was determined based on residential address. Potential confounders were mitigated by adjusting the results for traffic-related air quality, distance from high voltage powerlines, annual fuel supply of petrol stations within 1000 meters and urban area density or agricultural crop density within 100 meters. The authors reported no association between proximity of less than 15 meters to transformer stations and childhood leukeamia (<15 m, odd ratios (OR) 1.0; confidence interval (CI) 0.2 – 4.9) or childhood acute lymphoblastic leukeamia (<15 m: OR 1.0; CI 0.2 – 4.9). They also reported no association between proximity of less than 25 meters to transformer stations and childhood leukeamia (<25 m: OR 1.2; CI 0.4 – 3.4) or childhood acute lymphoblastic leukeamia (<25 m: OR 0.7; CI 0.2 – 2.6). The authors also found no association between proximity of less than 15 or 25 meters to transformer stations and any childhood leukeamia type when age was split by the <5 and ≥ 5 years of age. 

Published in

Environmental Research 

Link to

Residential exposure to magnetic fields from transformer stations and risk of childhood leukemia

ARPANSA commentary

The authors make statements throughout their discussion that their results provide evidence for association between residential proximity to transformer stations and childhood leukeamia. This is false for several reasons. Firstly, they do not report any statistically significant association between distance to transformer stations and any childhood leukeamia. Secondly, they make these claims based on evidence that only includes at most 5 exposed cases. Thirdly, the study assigned exposure to participants who live less than 15 or 25 meters from transformer stations, however, measurements have shown that when you are between 3-7 meters away from a transformer the associated ELF EMF will on average be <0.4 µT. When more than 10 meters away ELF EMF will usually be <0.2 µT (Kandel et al 2013). The average magnetic field in the home can range from <0.1 to 1 µT. This indicates that the proximity of participants to transformer stations may have had no effect on their ELF EMF exposure level or their likelihood to develop childhood leukeamia, unless their home was extremely close to a transformer station. Overall, the claims made by the authors are baseless and due to the methodical shortcomings of the study it provides no evidence of an association with childhood leukaemia.

Some epidemiological studies observing outcomes from exposure to ELF MF greater than 0.3 or 0.4 µT have shown an association with childhood leukaemia (SCENIHR 2015). However, this association has not been established by consistent scientific evidence. The epidemiological evidence for this association is weakened by various methodological problems such as potential selection biasmisclassification and confounding. Furthermore, it is not supported by laboratory or animal studies and no credible theoretical mechanism has been proposed on how ELF MF could cause cancer. Overall, the scientific evidence does not establish that exposure to ELF EMF in the everyday environment is a hazard to human health. 

Effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure on tinnitus, migraine and non-specific symptoms in human populations

Review date

23 February 2024

Article publication date

January 2024

Summary

This systematic review and meta-analysis evaluated the current evidence on the association between longer-term or repeated radiofrequency electromagnetic field (RF-EMF) exposure and tinnitus, migraine and non-specific symptoms among the general and working populations. A total of 13 papers (including 486, 558 participants), which reported local (e.g., brain) or whole-body RF-EMF exposure for at least 1 week were included in the review.  The associations between RF-EMF exposure to the whole-body or brain and the health outcomes were examined in terms of pooled relative risk (RR) or standardized mean difference (SMD). The synthesis of evidence was conducted according to the OHAT guidelines.

For tinnitus, the pooled RR was 1.43 (95% Confidence Interval, CI: 0.94 to 2.18) per 100 minutes of wireless phone call time per week. For migraine, the RR was 1.2 (95% CI: 1.1 to 1.3) for mobile phone subscribers compared to non-subscribers. For headache, the pooled change in SMD was 0.64 (95%CI: -2.38 to 1.10) per 100 minutes of wireless phone call time per week. For sleep disturbances, the pooled change in SMD was 1.51 (95% CI: - 2.00 to 5.03) per 1 V/m of exposure. For non-specific symptoms, the pooled change in SMD was 1.13 (95% CI: - 0.94 to 3.20) per 1 V/m of exposure. Overall, the findings of the review showed that there is no association between RF-EMF exposure and the investigated health outcomes. However, the absence of associations reported is based on very low certainty evidence. The results also indicated that RF-EMF exposure below the values defined in the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines  does not cause tinnitus, migraine or any non-specific symptoms.

Link to

The effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields exposure on tinnitus, migraine and non-specific symptoms in the general and working population: A systematic review and meta-analysis on human observational studies

ARPANSA commentary

The review provides state-of-the art evidence on whether a long-term RF-EMF exposure to whole-body or brain is related to adverse health outcomes in the general and working populations. The included studies in the review have numerous limitations, including indirectness of the exposure surrogate (e.g., self-reported number/duration of phone calls or mobile phone subscriptions resulting in near field exposure), self-reported health outcomes and the relatively short follow-up periods in longitudinal studies. Very low certainty evidence on the associations reported in the review was attributed to a limited number of studies, possible risk of bias in some studies, inconsistencies, indirectness, and imprecision. The review indicates that exposure to RF-EMF below the limits described in the ICNIRP guidelines does not cause the health effects investigated in the study. This is in line with the public health message of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) on RF-EMF exposure and health. The general public RF-EMF exposures in Australia generally are far below the human  safety  limits given in the Australian safety Standard (e.g., RPS-S1) and the ICNIRP limits. The Australian Safety Standard, developed by ARPANSA, is consistent with the ICNIRP guidelines and is based on validated international scientific evidence. Further, the findings reinforce the assessment of ARPANSA that there is no substantiated evidence that RF-EMF exposures at levels below the limits set in the Australian standard cause any adverse health effects, including those assessed in this review. The review forms a part of the World Health Organization’s ongoing project to assess potential health effects of RF-EMF in the general and working population and ARPANSA is supporting this process.

Is damage from ionising radiation hereditary?

Review date

29 February 2024

Article publication date

09 February 2024

Summary

This systematic review examined if adverse health effects are evident in children born to parents who were exposed to ionising radiation prior to conception. The review evaluated 127 publications between 1988 and 2018, a companion study covers publications between 2018 and 2021. Studies were grouped by health outcomes (e.g., pregnancy outcomes, genomic anomalies, cancer, mortality rates and non-cancer diseases) and analysis was further segmented by exposure scenario (e.g., occupational, atomic bomb survivors or environmental). Pregnancy outcomes were further divided into congenital abnormalities, perinatal mortality, birth weight and other.

For almost every category, it was reported that there was inadequate evidence to conclude whether there is or isn’t an effect associated with any exposure scenario, the authors identifying inconsistencies in the conclusions and methodologies of studies within the same category. The exception to this assessment was for congenital abnormalities in occupationally exposed populations, where the evidence suggested ‘high confidence for an effect’. However, the study warned against assigning significance to this conclusion as it was based on only eight studies, including two with small populations. When these two studies were excluded, the conclusion was inadequate evidence, which was congruent with the other assessments of congenital abnormalities.  The authors note difficulties in identifying populations where there was certainty that ionising radiation exposure occurred prior to conception and that there was no exposure after conception. Further, the review suggests a need for studies to improve homogeneity in their methods and reporting of results, provide accurate dosimetry and share data to improve the statistical power of the available evidence.

Link to

A systematic review of human evidence for the intergenerational effects of exposure to ionizing radiation 

ARPANSA commentary

This review presents a synthesis of studies on the effects of preconceptual exposure to ionising radiation on health outcomes for subsequent progeny.

There are some flaws in how the reviewers have applied the systematic review protocol. Among other issues, the authors assert that they are following Cochrane’s guidelines for their statistical analysis. These guidelines state that there are limited circumstances where a complete meta-analysis and its accompanying statistical measures can be eschewed in favour of other methods. Despite many studies in this review meeting eligibility for a meta-analysis, the authors did not conduct meta-analyses of the results and instead relied on vote-counting to determine a direction of the effect. Vote-counting does not consider the statistical significance or size of the effect reported in an individual study or account for the relative scales of each study.

With these shortcomings in mind, the overall findings of the review showed inadequate evidence for health outcomes on the progeny of parents that were exposed to ionising radiation prior to conception. A finding of ‘inadequate evidence’ indicates that the evidence does not support an affirmative or negative conclusion for the existence of an effect. However, the authors rightfully infer that if there is a health effect, it is small and difficult to measure. Therefore, the study calls for increased homogeneity in both testing protocol and reporting of results, echoing other studies (Rooney et al., 2014; Walker et al., 2018).

It is worth noting that many of the population groups in the studies included in this review are the offspring of occupationally exposed persons or survivors of historic nuclear events and disasters where exposure to ionising radiation was uncontrolled.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) periodically reviews and publishes the latest evidence on sources, effects and risks of ionising radiation exposure (e.g., UNSCEAR 2020/2021 Report Volume I). These reports are regarded as principal sources of authoritative information on this topic. Similarly, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) provides guidelines to protect people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionising radiation. This study contributes to a broader effort by an ICRP task group designed to review the scientific literature on the effect of ionising radiation on the offspring of exposed individuals. Reviews like this one will help to inform decisions about whether radiological protection systems require revision.

Consistent to ICRP guidelines, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency has a set of regulations for controlling exposure to ionising radiation. These regulations ensure that the benefits of personal exposure, where exposure cannot be eliminated (e.g. X-ray radiography), are balanced against potential harm and that this harm is minimised.

Comparison of radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure limits worldwide

Review date

17 January 2024

Article publication date

8 January 2024

Summary

This review compares the guidelines and restrictions set by various international, national and regional bodies for exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF). A total of 10 RF-EMF guideline documents are reviewed. The comparison shows very similar guidance provided by each of the peak international bodies: the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Minor differences are found between these guidelines and those set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) at particular frequencies due to differences in the assessment of RF-EMF absorption within the human body.

Further examination of guideline documents showed that ICNIRP’s limits have been adopted by a majority of countries. The authors address the more conservative limits (1-2 orders of magnitude lower than ICNIRP) adopted by a subset of countries as well as some proposed extreme limits (6 orders of magnitude lower than ICNIRP). As a part of their evaluation, the authors assert that these lower limits, particularly the extreme limits, do not have a scientific basis. Conversely, USA and Japan are identified as the only two countries with less restrictive limits than elsewhere in the world as they take their guidance from the FCC.

The authors also contextualise the limits by comparing them to measurements of RF-EMF exposure in the environment that members of the public may be exposed to from sources such as mobile telephony and Wi-Fi. This comparison demonstrates that the average RF-EMF exposure in the environment is far below the limits set by ICNIRP and is also below the more conservative limits set by other countries and bodies.

Link to

Personal exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields: A comparative analysis of international, national, and regional guidelines

Published in

Environmental Research 

ARPANSA commentary

This review clearly presents the similarities and differences between RF-EMF exposure limits set by different countries and how they compare to guidance from international bodies, similar to a 2018 report that ARPANSA has previously summarised. The report highlights that the exposure to RF-EMF experienced by the public, including by people in Australia, remains well below the limits set by safety standards. The review’s criticisms of the more conservative limits set by some countries echoes criticisms presented in similar reviews in the past (Madjar, 2016).  

In Australia, exposure to RF-EMF is limited by the ARPANSA Safety Standard which details exposure limits for the general public and for occupationally exposed people. The ARPANSA Safety Standard is congruent with the limits set by ICNIRP and with those adopted by most countries worldwide. The standard is designed to protect people of all ages and health statuses against all known adverse health effects from exposure to RF-EMF. The standard is based on current scientific research that shows the levels at which harmful effects occur and it sets limits well below these harmful levels.

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