What is electromagnetic energy?
Electromagnetic energy (EME) can best be described as waves of electric and magnetic energy moving together through space. EME is emitted by natural sources like the sun, the earth and the ionosphere. Radiofrequency EME is emitted by artificial sources such as mobile phone base stations, broadcast towers, radar facilities, some types of remote control devices, and electrical and electronic equipment.
Is radiofrequency EME dangerous?
Radiofrequency EME, also known as radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (EMR), is non-ionising radiation. This means that it is
not able to directly impart enough energy to a molecule or atom to break chemical bonds or remove electrons. In contrast, ionising radiation such as X-rays can strip electrons from atoms and molecules. This process produces molecular changes that can lead to damage in biological tissue.
It is important that the terms ionising and non-ionising not be confused when discussing the biological effects of radiofrequency EME. This is because each type of radiation interacts differently with the human body.
At relatively low levels of exposure to radiofrequency EME, the evidence for production of harmful biological effects is ambiguous and unproven. Although there have been studies reporting a range of biological effects at low levels, there has been no determination that such effects might be a human health hazard, even with long term exposure.
Are there regulations that limit the public’s exposure to radiofrequency EME?
To protect the Australian public from the known health effects of radiofrequency EME, especially with the increasing use of mobile telecommunications, the ACMA introduced EME human health exposure regulations for radiocommunications installations and portable transmitting equipment.
The regulations make mandatory the EME limits set out in a standard developed by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA). ARPANSA is government agency responsible for advice about radiation matters.
The regulations, which came into effect on 1 March 2003, cover all portable transmitters designed for use close to the human body, including hand-held two-way radios, walkie-talkies and remote controlled toys, as well as radiocommunications installations such as broadcast towers and amateur radio stations. The regulations extend the previous arrangements, which only covered mobile phone handsets and base stations.
The legal instruments (under the Radiocommunications Act 1992) that underpin the ACMA’s EME arrangements are as follows:
- Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Apparatus Licence) Determination 2003
- Radiocommunications Licence Conditions (Temporary Community Broadcasting Licence) Determination 2003.
Portable transmitters intended for use close to the human body
- Radiocommunications (Electromagnetic Radiation—Human Exposure) Standard 2003 and its amendments
- Radiocommunications (Compliance Labelling—Electromagnetic Radiation) Notice 2003.
The regulations were developed, through appropriate consultations, in response to community concerns about possible health effects associated with the use of radiocommunications equipment and the siting of radiocommunications transmitter infrastructure.
These regulations support and complement other initiatives of the ACMA and address the possible health effects of exposure to EME, without unnecessarily compromising the benefits that radiocommunications technology has brought to modern living.
Are mobile phones safe?
The weight of national and international scientific opinion is that there is no substantiated evidence that using a mobile phone causes harmful health effects.
The ACMA liaises with Commonwealth health agencies to monitor new research. To date, we are informed that, although subtle biological effects caused by radiation emitted from mobile phones have been reported in some laboratory studies, there remains no evidence that these effects may lead to adverse health outcomes.
Can I reduce my exposure to radiofrequency EME when using a mobile phone?
The ACMA is not able to advise on the use of your mobile phone. However, you should always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the correct use of the mobile phone handset.
If you are concerned about radiofrequency EME while using your mobile phone, you may choose to use a portable hands-free device. These are sold as an accessory to your mobile phone, so ask your retailer for advice. Using a portable hands-free attachment means that the transmitter within the phone is not held to your ear for extended periods of time.
Mobile phone users should be mindful of any manufacturers’ recommendations about spacing from the body if phones are to be placed in pockets or attached to belts.
What are the radiation emission limits to which mobile phones must adhere?
Rather than emission limits, the standard specifies exposure limits to radiofrequency EME that regulate the rate at which the mobile phone user absorbs energy from the handset. This is known as the specific absorption rate (SAR).
The SAR limit for all mobile, cordless and satellite phone handsets for sale in Australia is 2 watts per kilogram of tissue (averaged over 10 grams).
The human exposure limits for mobile phones set by the ACMA are considered well within international guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. These are based on a careful analysis of all scientific literature (both thermal and non-thermal effects) and offer protection against all identified hazards of radiofrequency energy with large safety margins.
How can I find out what the SAR of my mobile phone is?
In October 2001, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) introduced a voluntary scheme of reporting SAR levels on mobile phones sold in Australia. Information about this scheme is on the AMTA website at www.amta.org.au (then click on SAR Information).
Is there a difference in SAR levels between phones?
There are differences in SAR levels between different mobile phone handset models. The SAR rating published by the manufacturer is the result of tests conducted at ‘worst case scenario’. The energy you absorb from your mobile phone handset cannot exceed that level.
In practice, the energy you absorb in daily use of your phone will vary and in many instances will be much less than the published SAR. This is because the mobile phone handset only uses as much energy as is needed to communicate with a base station. If the base station is nearby, the phone will only use as much energy as is efficient to communicate with the base station.
The World Health Organization (WHO) maintains an up-to-date website on EME issues with international links at www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/en/.
There are also fact sheets on the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website at www.arpansa.gov.au/eme/index.cfm.
For more information about EME SAR levels, contact the ACMA’s Radiocommunications Licensing and Telecommunications Deployment Section.
The ACMA has fact sheets on a range of topics.
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.