What is radiofrequency electromagnetic energy?
Radiofrequency electromagnetic energy (EME) is the transfer of energy by radio waves. Mobile phone base stations, broadcast towers and radar facilities all emit radiofrequency EME. EME also occurs naturally and is part of everyday life. Low levels of EME are emitted from natural sources like the sun, the earth and the ionosphere.
Electromagnetic energy (EME) is also known as electromagnetic radiation (EMR).
Are there set limits on exposure to EME in Australia?
The ACMA has made mandatory EME exposure limits for installations such as broadcast towers and mobile phone base stations. The exposure limits set by the ACMA were determined by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) based on recent scientific findings and world’s best practice. These limits are many times below a level of exposure to EME that is known to have adverse health effects on the human body and are consistent with World Health Organization guidelines.
The ACMA has adopted a precautionary approach to the regulation of EME, ensuring that exposure limits to emissions from communications transmitters are stringent and lower than those levels that have been found to cause adverse health effects.
Public exposure to emissions from radiocommunications transmitters is generally many times less than the exposure limits required by the standard. ARPANSA conducted audits of base stations between 1997 and 1999, and again in 2003. The results show low EME levels were found in areas accessible to the public.
What action is the Australian Government taking on EME?
Since 1996, the government has provided $1 million a year for the EME Program. The EME Program supports research into health issues associated with mobile phones, mobile phone base stations and other communications devices and equipment. It also provides information to the public on these issues.
On 1 March 2003, the former ACA introduced a mandatory EME standard, the Radiocommunications (Electromagnetic Radiation – Human Exposure) Standard 2003, which sets new exposure limits. This standard was amended in 2007.
The human exposure standard makes EME exposure limits mandatory for:
- mobile and portable radiocommunications transmitters supplied for use close to the human body
- installations such as broadcast towers, mobile base stations and amateur radio stations.
The standard makes mandatory the exposure limits in the Radiation Protection Standard for Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields – 3 kHz to 300 GHz (2002) published by ARPANSA.
An industry code has also been registered by the ACMA that balances the needs of telecommunications carriers with the rights of owners, occupiers and local residents during installation of facilities. The code places minimum obligations on carriers when installing telecommunications facilities.
Registration of the Industry Code C564:2011 Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment means that the ACMA can investigate complaints about breaches of the code and issue a direction to a telecommunications carrier to comply with it.
What action are telecommunications carriers (phone companies) taking about EME?
Communications Alliance Ltd, an industry body, developed the Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code, which covers the steps telecommunications carriers must take when deciding where to place a facility such as a mobile phone base station.
The aim of the code is to have carriers apply a precautionary approach to the design, operation and selection of sites for communications facilities.
The code also aims to provide increased notification and consultation opportunities to communities and councils about the placement of mobile phone towers and ensure certain EME health and safety information is provided to community members upon request.
Optus, Telstra and Vodafone Hutchison have formed the Mobile Carriers Forum (MCF), with the aim of developing better long-term relationships between telecommunications carriers and their customers, government, industry regulators, councils and the wider community.
More information about EME and health effects is available from:
- the World Health Organization website at www.who.int
- the fact sheets on the ARPANSA website at www.arpansa.gov.au
- The ACMA’s Radiocommunications Licensing and Telecommunications Deployment Section.
More information about EME regulations, including EME human exposure limits, is on the ACMA website.
More information about the Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code is on the EME information portal on the ACMA website.
An ACMA fact sheet, Installation of telecommunications facilities—a guide for consumers, is on the ACMA website.
Information about the Mobile Carriers Forum is on the MCF website at www.mcf.amta.org.au.
Please note: this document is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.