Mobiles, base stations and health

Mobile devices, and the base stations that make them work, operate well within international and national safety limits.

According to the World Health Organization and others, there is no established evidence to convince experts that the use of mobile devices and base stations has adverse health effects.

Research continues into mobile devices, base stations and health. And we consider all available scientific evidence when managing health issues in order to ensure we safeguard our customers, employees and the public.

Vodafone relies on and recommends the advice of independent scientific experts, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to give consumers accurate information to assist them in making informed choices about mobile technology, health and Electromagnetic Energy (EME).

We refer to mobile phones throughout this section of our website, but the information applies equally to other wireless items such as wireless-enabled computers, tablets, and handheld email devices.

Mobile phone health research

At Vodafone, we are committed to safety and support independent research on mobiles and health.

Together with our parent companies, we fund our share in the cost of independent national, regional and international scientific research in priority areas identified by the World Health Organization. In Australia we contribute to the Australian government's electromagnetic energy (EME) research program through a carrier license levy ($4.5 million over 5 years). The programme was established in 1999 and has already provided over $10 million for Australian EME research.

Vodafone ensures the independence of research for which it is involved by contributing to national and international programs, such as the Australian government's EME research program where strict management firewalls between researchers and contributors are put in place.

We believe research is best conducted under frameworks requiring that:

  • Researchers design and report their studies independently of third parties
  • Research is of the highest standard
  • Research is published in peer-reviewed literature

We support and monitor ongoing scientific research and are guided by health evaluations based on the overall weight of scientific evidence made by recognised scientific review groups such as the:

  • World Health Organization (including the International Agency for Research on Cancer [IARC])
  • International Commission Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)
  • European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks

International and Australian research efforts

In 1996, the World Health Organization established the International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project to examine electricity and radiofrequency fields (RF) such as those associated with mobile phone technology. This project is a major International collaborative project involving more than 50 globally recognised health agencies and expert scientific organisations. The project covers research, information, standards and knowledge.

The WHO explains that “...national governments and research institutes have funded over $250 million on EMF research over the past 10 years.” These RF research projects are jointly funded by governments, international organizations and the mobile phone industry. Where industry funding is involved important measures have been implemented to ensure complete independence of the research undertaken by the laboratories. For more information on these projects, visit the WHO’s page on EMF research.

The science process

At Vodafone, we only consider the opinion of panels commissioned by recognized national or international health agencies such as the World Health Organization. Their opinions are based on the entire body of evidence, rather than on the basis of single scientific studies.

Even for single scientific studies scientists should follow the “scientific method” and have their research “peer reviewed” and published so that other scientists can examine how the research was done and comment on the author’s interpretation of the results. By following these steps correctly, scientists ensure their results are not affected by external influences such as their own or others’ prior beliefs.

Can one research paper turn the tide on mobile phones and health risk?

Applying the scientific process, no single research paper is likely to change the overall scientific opinion on mobile phones and health risk. Following publication and peer review and independent replication, the single study has to be reviewed by experts against the whole body of science in order for the health risk assessment to be meaningful.

Helpful links for science students:

World Health Organization - This on-line course provides high school students with detailed information on the science behind mobile phone technology. The course covers biology (including cancer), techniques of biology, physics (including the radiofrequency spectrum and its measurement) and has sections on the basic requirements of science writing, presenting and making risk assessments.

EMF explained is an informational resource which covers the technological aspects of wireless technologies and issues. It has been developed by the mobile phone industry associations and for health advice the site references national and international health authorities.

Green Facts provides facts about health and the environment in simple terms. The site covers a wide range of environmental topics and has a specific section on electromagnetic fields.

GSMA electromagnetic spectrum animation explains how each of the different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum (e.g. static electricity, power lines, radio, TV, mobiles, heat, light, UV, X-rays and nuclear energy) are used by man and the effects that each part of the spectrum has on the human body.

Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS)

For some time individuals have reported a variety of health concerns from exposure to Electromagnetic Energy (EME), even at low levels. Termed Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity, EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms, which afflicted individuals attribute to exposure to EME. On this topic Vodafone relies upon the expert advice of national and international health authorities such as the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the former updated their information in June 2015 stating,

“While the symptoms 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 EMF exposure is the cause”

For more information see:

ARPANSA Radiation Protection Factsheets
WHO Electromagnetic Fields Facts

Mobile devices, children and your health

A large number (or network) of base stations are needed to allow more people to make calls, send emails and videos and connect to the internet from more locations. When a mobile phone is used, the body absorbs some of the RF field and some scientists have suggested that this might be harmful.

The International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has issued guidelines on levels of exposure to RF fields, including that from mobile phones and base stations. These guidelines have a safety margin built into them. Australia has adopted the ICNIRP levels in the ARPANSA Standard RPS3.

All mobile phones sold by Vodafone meet strict national and international safety standards. The A-Tick mark on your phone, usually found under the battery, is your guarantee that the telecommunications product meets the safety and technical standards set by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Before using a mobile device it is important that you read all safety, compliance and "how to use" information in the user guide as each device is different.

Compliance tests for RF safety (SAR test) are done with the phone at the maximum power. Each mobile device has different design characteristics and when operating the mobile the level of RF you receive depends on things such as how much data is being transferred, for how long; where the phone is in relation to the base station; and the distance of the phone from the head or body.

What does ARPANSA say about children and mobile phones?

In the recommendations from its mobile phones and health fact sheet, the Australian Radiation Safety and Nuclear Science Agency states:

"Concern has been expressed with regard to mobile telephone use by children. At present, there is insufficient evidence in the science to substantiate the hypothesis that children maybe more vulnerable to RF EME emissions from mobile phones than adults.”

It's recognised that parents provide mobile phones to their children for different reasons, including their child's personal security as well as the assurance of their child being constantly contactable.

It is recommended that if individuals are concerned, they should choose to limit their own or their children's RF EME exposure by limiting the number and length of calls, or using "hands-free" devices to keep mobile phones away from the head and body. Users should pay attention to manufacturers' advice regarding spacing from the body if phones are to be attached to belts or placed in pockets.

Do international health experts think that the current safety guidelines (i.e. ICNIRP) protect children?

The May 2011 WHO/ICNIRP international health expert meeting on children and non-ionizing radiation was held "to determine if the ICNIRP guidelines are adequate to protect children “who are different in terms of physiology, anatomy and lifestyle." At the press conference following the meeting, the Chairman of ICNIRP concluded:

"From the scientific results of the workshop, we can conclude that our guidance is adequate. For UV radiation, we do know that people are at risk and now we have even more evidence for this position. In contrast, for EMF, and mobiles in particular, there is no evidence that children are at special risk. This means that there is no reason to change current guidelines. Nevertheless, we will continue to review the science, and the outcome of this workshop has contributed to that."

What does the WHO say about children?

From the World Health Organization Fact Sheet No 193:

"While an increase of brain tumours is not established, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. In particular, with the recent popularity of mobile phone use among younger people, and therefore potentially longer lifetime exposure, WHO has promoted further research on this group. Several studies investigating potential effects in children and adolescents are underway."

What research relevant to children has been done and what are the conclusions?

Published research relevant to the use of mobile phones by children includes:

  • whether children's heads absorb more RF energy than adults
  • any effects on cognition (such as the ability to think, reason and remember)
  • animals during pregnancy through to young adulthood examining potential biological effects (for example changes in brain structure or function and birth defect inducing effects)

Overall this research found that the range of absorption in children's heads is within the variation of the adult population and no consistent evidence of harmful effects from exposure at levels below internationally recognized guidelines.

Should there be any restrictions on children using mobile phones?

Despite no specific scientific justification, some expert groups, in reviewing the question of whether there should be restrictions on children using mobile phones, have recommended that there should be a "precautionary" approach. Others, including the WHO, acknowledge that there is no present evidence that children are at special risk but advocate pragmatic measures for all to reduce exposure whilst additional research is being conducted into long-term heavy use of phones. For example, Director Christopher Wild from the International Agency for Cancer (IARC), a part of the WHO said:

"It is important that additional research be conducted into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones. Pending on the availability of such information, it is important to take pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as hands-free devices or texting."

Information from International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)

The full findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a specialist agency within the World Health Organization (WHO), evaluating the carcinogenic hazard of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF) to humans, were published on 19 April 2013.

The IARC Working Group originally met in May 2011 to classify the cancer hazard of RF-EMF, including those from broadcast and mobile communications, microwaves and radar. This process resulted in RF-EMF being classified as "possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use." A summary of their findings was published in The Lancet Oncology, which concluded that there is "limited evidence in humans" for the carcinogenicity of RF-EMF. The full report, Monograph 102, confirms the 2B classification, which was originally made in May 2011.

The IARC classification only considers whether there is a possible link between long-term heavy mobile device use and cancer, it does not assess the likelihood of this link arising. To understand the likelihood and therefore the potential risk posed, the WHO will carry out a wider health risk assessment, which will take into account all the available science relating to RF and health, including the IARC classification and work done by ICNIRP.  

Testing mobiles for safety (SAR)

All mobile phones sold by Vodafone must meet stringent national and international safety standards. For handsets, the Australian and the US governments require that both head and body-worn positions are measured. You can easily confirm that your mobile device meets all of the required Australian government technical and safety standards by checking if it has a A-tick mark on it.

Safety compliance testing for mobile phones and similar radio communication transmitting devices is by way of a SAR test. SAR stands for Specific Absorption Rate, which is the unit of measurement for the amount of Radio Frequency (RF) energy absorbed by the body. SAR is expressed in units of watts per kilogram (W/kg). SAR is proportional to the transmit power of the phone. The SAR compliance test is done with the phone at its highest certified power level in laboratory conditions.

The WHO also provides information on how to effectively reduce mobile phone exposure:

"In addition to using "hands-free" devices, which keep mobile phones away from the head and body during phone calls, exposure is also reduced by limiting the number and length of calls. Using the phone in areas of good reception also decreases exposure as it allows the phone to transmit at reduced power."

WHO Fact Sheet 193 June 2011 - Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones.

Questions about personal mobile phone exposure and SA

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions we receive about personal mobile phone exposure and Specific Absorption Rate (SAR).

What influences the level of RF exposure from a mobile phone?

There are many factors which influence the level of RF exposure from a mobile phone. These include:

  • The design characteristics of the phone
  • The distance between the person and the mobile phone
  • The distance from the base station
  • The landscape between the mobile phone and the base station
  • The way the mobile phone is being used.

Mobile phones use the minimum RF field strength needed to communicate with the base station. This automatically adjusts when the signal from the base station is weaker. The better the signal from the base station, the lower the RF field strength from the mobile phone.

Are all phones the same in terms of safety and compliance?

You can be sure that your phone is compliant with the required Australian safety standards by finding an A-tick mark on your phone. However each phone has different design characteristics and when operating the phone, the level of RF depends on things such as how much data is being transferred, for how long and where the phone is in relation to the base station. So it is very important that you read all safety, compliance and "how to use" information in the user guide.

Find out more about the A-Tick mark from the Australian Communications and Media Authority website.

Are there any differences in safety and compliance between 2G, 3G and 4G (LTE)?

No. The third generation (3G) and fourth generation (LTE) of mobile technology enable people to access multimedia services such as web, TV and downloads on their device. All devices on the market, regardless of the technology they use, adhere to required safety standards. This means that 3G and LTE mobile devices comply with the same standards as older devices. 3G and LTE technology differs from older mobile phones in the way they communicate information, not the amount of energy they use. In fact 3G and LTE phones are more efficient than 2G phones and so their average power level is lower than the older 2G phones.

What happens to the power levels of the phone when on or making a call?

When the mobile phones are tested for compliance with the safety regulation, they are tested at maximum power. When operating the mobile phone, most of the time this maximum power level is not required.

The phone (and indeed the base station) constantly adapts it transmit power to the minimum required level to maintain a quality call or data transfer. This feature conserves the phone's battery life and means than no more RF comes from the phone or base station than is required.

Is it OK to upload and download data and video with the mobile in my pocket?

A phone uploading and downloading large amounts of data from an inside pocket reduces signal effectiveness and increases the power from the phone-meaning it isn't the best position for this operation.

However, in Australia all mobiles are tested for compliance at the head and also the body-worn position. You should check your manual for the correct operation of the mobile especially if the manual recommends the use of a belt clip or a small separation distance (e.g. 1-2 centimetres) for the body-worn operation.

When I read the user manual it said that I should keep a 15mm separation distance from my body. Does this mean I cannot use my phone in my pocket?

It is an important practice to check the user guide for all operating and safety instructions and for any minimum separation distance. Mobile phones generally get better reception when used away from the main part of the body. A mobile phone can always be used up against the head without separation.

Some mobile phones are designed to have a small minimum separation from the body, typically 15 - 25mm depending on the phone. This is so the antenna inside the phone has some clearance to function more efficiently and provide better reception. This minimum separation often represents the spacing created by a phone holder or clothing. If a minimum separation is specified, the SAR test against the body will be conducted at that distance.

What actions can I take now, while scientists are resolving the gaps in current knowledge?

On mobile phone safety the World Health Organization advise that,
"A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use."

The following 3 tips may be useful:

  • Use a hands-free kit, Bluetooth or speaker phone in order to keep the phone away from the head and body when in use
  • Reduce the overall number and length of phone calls
  • Use more text messages

These tips have been sourced from the health authority websites of the World Health Organization (WHO Fact Sheet No. 193), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA Fact Sheet EME Series No. 11).

Wouldn't the radio waves used by a Bluetooth device add to my exposure?

Bluetooth is radio technology designed to connect electronic devices using wireless hardware such as hands free earpieces to mobile phones. Bluetooth operates over very short distances, typically a few metre, and is much less powerful, many times lower than mobile phones. Therefore using a Bluetooth hands-free and moving your mobile phone further away from your head and body still reduces the total amount of radio waves you're exposed to.

Do mobile phone shields reduce RF emissions from a mobile phone or make them safer?

From time to time various products are marketed claiming to increase the safety of mobile phone use. These products generally take the form of shielded cases, earpiece pads/shields, antenna clips/caps, so-called absorbing buttons and 'neutraliser' chips.

The WHO advises that "The use of commercial devices for reducing radiofrequency field exposure has not been shown to be effective."

How is a SAR compliance test done?

Specialised laboratory test equipment is used for conducting SAR measurements. The equipment consists of a human 'phantom', precision robot, RF field sensors, and mobile phone holder. The human phantom is filled with a liquid that represents the electrical properties of a human.

  • The mobile phone or device is positioned against the phantom head or body and switched on to full power.
  • The precision robot scans head of body of the phantom for maximum radio signal.
  • The computer analysing the data coverts the radio signal levels into SAR (W/kg).
  • The maximum level measured is recorded as the SAR value against the head.
     
Does SAR vary between mobile phones?

Yes. The maximum SAR level for different mobile phone models can vary and this is mostly due to where the antenna in the phone is located and other design characteristics such as how slim the phone is.

Are low SAR mobile phones safer?

No. Variations in SAR do not mean that there are variations in safety. While there may be differences in SAR levels among phone models, all mobile phones must meet RF exposure guidelines.

SAR levels can also vary considerably when in use depending on how good the reception is. The mobile will power down to the minimum level required to reach the network and maintain a quality call.

Do the SAR limits apply to children?

Yes. The radiofrequency exposure guidelines are designed to offer protection for all ages including children with a large in-built safety margin.

Base stations and your health

Mobile devices cannot work without base stations. Our comprehensive network of base stations allows us to keep improving our coverage and services to meet customer demand.

While most people welcome more improved service, we at Vodafone recognise that some people are concerned about possible health effects of base stations and we are committed to addressing these concerns.

What the World Health Organization (WHO) says

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the peak Organization on EME and health. Their fact sheet on base stations and wireless technologies states that "there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF (radio frequency) signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.”

What are RF exposure levels around base stations?

Radio frequency fields (RF) are radio waves. They are a form of electromagnetic (EM) field - energy transmitted as waves through space. To place a call from our mobile handset, both our handset and the base station antenna send and receive RF fields. RF fields are the medium carrying the traffic, be it voice or data.

In the environment there are many sources of electromagnetic fields (often called electromagnetic radiation). They occur naturally as well as having artificial sources. The majority of electromagnetic waves are invisible, and travel at the speed of light. Only one part of this type of radiation can be detected by the human eye, and that is the visible light, which produces various colours.

Natural sources of EM fields include light from the sun, lightning and the earth's magnetic field. Even the human body has its own natural EM fields, which carry messages along the nervous system. When operating refrigerators, hairdryers and computers also produce EM fields while TVs, radios, mobile phones, WiFi, remote control devices, emergency services systems, baby monitors and microwave ovens not only generate EM fields but also rely on them to function.

RF fields from base station antennas

Most of the radio frequency (RF) fields spread out from a high base station antenna, like a beam of light from a lighthouse. There is a "shadow area" where the RF field strength is low close to and directly below the base station. At ground level, the RF field strength initially increases to a small peak at 50 - 150 metres depending on the tilt of the antenna and then reduces rapidly as the distance increases.

This means that, when a base station is placed on a rooftop, be it on a residential unit block, school or office, the people in the building directly below receive very low exposure. In addition roof materials such as timber, steel and concrete reduce the strength of the radio signal as it passes through. This means that the exposure levels inside the building are many times lower than on the rooftop itself. The panel antennas on buildings usually point outwards often on the edge of the roof to service the required coverage area. As a result the area behind the panel antenna has a low RF field strength.

On the rooftop itself, if the antennas are not mounted on the outer edge of the building, they are mounted high enough to ensure that the RF strength in all publically accessible areas meets the ARPANSA public exposure standard. Very close to the front of the antennas, there is an area or volume where it is possible that the ARPANSA public exposure levels could be exceeded. For these areas, measures are taken in the form of signage and physical barriers (e.g. locked access), to prevent inadvertent access to this area by the public.

All our base stations comply with the ARPANSA public exposure standard.

How is my safety assured?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has set mandatory limits for RF exposure for all devices that produce radiofrequency signals. Mobile phones and their base stations are included in these mandatory limits, as are AM/FM radio and TV broadcast stations. The ACMA conduct regular audit operations to test for compliance against these limits. The ACMA limits are based on the levels set in the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency - ARPANSA Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields -3kHz to 300 GHz (RPS3), which is derived from the International Commission Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) Guidelines.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority's website has extensive information on health and mobile phone technology.

The ARPANSA Standard

The International and Australian standards have radiofrequency (RF) exposure limits based on a "whole body" threshold electromagnetic energy (EME) exposure. Exposure to energy from RF signals above this threshold has been experimentally demonstrated to produce adverse health effects. To ensure the protection of people and the community, a number of safety factors have been applied to the whole body threshold. For members of the general public a safety factor of 50 is incorporated into the standard.

Exposure reports, such as the ARPANSA EME Report, express exposure as a percentage of the reference limits set in the ARPANSA Standard. Find out more on the ARPANSA website.

How do we know that the ARPANSA Standard is safe?

ARPANSA undertook a thorough review of the International scientific literature and studies relating to RF standards before formulating the 'Radiation Protection Standard - Maximum Exposure Levels - 3kHz to 300 GHz (ARPANSA Standard, 2002). The ARPANSA Standard is one of the world's most comprehensive standards; it includes requirements for the management of risk in occupational exposure, and additional information on measurement and assessment of compliance.

In 2014, ARPANSA conducted a review of research since the standard publication date and determined that,
“An Expert Panel has concluded that the science behind the ARPANSA Radiofrequency (RF) Exposure Standard remains valid and the exposure limits in the Standard continue to provide a high degree of protection against the known health effects of RF electromagnetic fields.” Read the report by the ARPANSA Radiofrequency Expert Panel.

Finding out RF levels from base stations in the community - ARPANSA EME report

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has developed a standardised industry methodology for monitoring and reporting on the existing and predicted EME levels of base stations operated by carriers. This methodology is used to keep the community informed about existing base stations and proposals under the Communications Alliance Code for the Deployment of Mobile Phone Network Infrastructure.

You can use the industry's RF National Site Archive (RFNSA) website to locate base stations and EME reports in your neighbourhood. Use the "Quick search Tips, and typing suburb name, postcode, or site number into the search box.

The RFNSA website also has links which include " Understanding the ARPANSA EME Report" and " Reading the ARPANSA EME Report"

Frequently asked questions

How close can members of the general public get to a base station antenna and not exceed exposure limits?

Base stations are designed so that no member of the public can inadvertently gain access to the limited area where there is a possibility that exposure limits could be reached. It is important to remember that the pole or tower simply supports the antennas and does not actually emit radiofrequency signals. Similarly, the nearby cabins housing electrical cabling and other equipment will not emit radiofrequency signals.

Is it safe to have a base station near schools or near my home?

Yes. The ARPANSA Standard for radiofrequency fields is designed to safeguard everyone regardless of age, at all times.

Independent surveys demonstrate that the background RF level in the community, including levels near schools and homes from base stations is very low, and similar to the levels from broadcast radio and television.

The World Health Organization monitors scientific research into wireless technologies and concludes that- "considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."

Why can't base stations be sited away from schools and residential areas?

For mobile networks to work, base stations are required to be located in proximity to where people use their phones. In order to provide quality service, it is not always possible to locate a base station in areas far away from residences.

We appreciate that sometimes members of the community are particularly concerned about such facilities being placed near schools and residences. However, the  Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) which is responsible for the formulating the Australian EME exposure standard states the following:
"Regulations to protect the public from RF EME exposure from telecommunications facilities established by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) do not set any distance requirements between the facility and other land uses such as residences, schools or hospitals."

Similarly, the Deployment Code does not specify arbitrary distances at which infrastructure must be sited from community sensitive locations, because arbitrary distances do not necessarily reflect a precautionary approach. In fact, infrastructure sited further from a community sensitive area may need to operate at a higher power level and may result in higher EME exposures in that sensitive area. Further information is provided by the Department of Communications.

If more than one carrier is sharing a site, are the emission levels increased?

Generally yes. A shared site will have higher emission levels. However, the regulations require cumulative assessments to be undertaken for all carriers on a shared site. The cumulative exposure levels for the general public at shared sites cannot exceed the ARPANSA RF safety limits.

When new technologies like 4G LTE antennas are added to an existing base station, do emissions increase?

As with a shared site, adding an additional technologies will increase emissions. But the resultant levels are still expected to be below the ARPANSA RF safety limits.

Can the emissions from a mobile phone base station affect the health of those nearby?

A lot of research has been done over the past five decades into the effects of radiofrequency (RF) signals.

The safety of wireless technologies including base stations is backed up by the World Health Organization which states:
“A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”

Australia's health authority, the Australian Radiation Protection & Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) states:
"The weight of National and International scientific opinion is that there is no substantiated evidence that living near a mobile phone antenna causes adverse health effects. There is no evidence of a link between exposure to radiofrequency (RF) EME and adverse health effects in humans at levels below the limits specified in the ARPANSA Radiation Protection Standard (2002) Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields - 3kHz to 300 GHz. Although subtle biological effects caused by RF EME emissions have been reported in some laboratory studies, there is no evidence that these effects may lead to adverse health outcomes. However, there are gaps in the knowledge that have been identified for further research to better assess health risks."

Can you guarantee that living and working near a base station is safe?

It is impossible to give such a guarantee about anything in life. The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee explained that "no matter how much research is done, it will never be possible to prove that something is not harmful. Scientific research can say that there is no evidence of risk or it can demonstrate that any risk is very low, but it cannot produce evidence of no risk." (UK House of Commons Mobile Phones and Health, 1999).

The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (Stewart Enquiry) endorsed this view, stating that "Some people propose that new developments should only be permitted when they have been shown to be completely safe, but this is unrealistic. Science can never provide a guarantee of zero risk." (Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), Stewart Report, 2000. paragraph 6.15).

Whilst science cannot provide a zero risk guarantee, Vodafone supports independent quality research and the continued monitoring and health assessment by recognised expert groups such as the World Health Organization Electromagnetic Fields project.

How can anyone be sure that research will not show in years to come that mobile phones and their base stations are harmful to health?

Research into the effects of radiofrequency signals goes back more than five decades and this enormous body of research has been analysed by scientists from all over the world. The World Health Organization concludes that the thousands of scientific studies carried out to date do not confirm that exposure to radiofrequency fields from mobile devices and base stations has any health effects.

Most experts agree that the RF energy produced by a mobile device is not sufficient to cause long-term changes in the body. Furthermore, research has not demonstrated that RF fields are carcinogenic, but it has not been able to rule out cancer risks from mobile phone devices used close to the body over more than 10 years of heavy use.

It is worth noting that when exposure guidelines are defined, they are based on preventing a known adverse health effect to which additional safety factors are added. People should also keep in mind that when scientists or expert groups refer to a biological effect, this does not necessarily mean an adverse health effect. For example, drinking a glass of water or even listening to music will produce a biological effect and we experience these effects throughout our lives. Indeed, vision is a biological effect based on the eye detecting radiofrequency signals at frequencies higher than those used for radio communications.

Who can I ask for an independent view on the safety of mobile phone base stations?

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) provides advice to the general public on such issues. Its website offers a series of electromagnetic emission fact sheets that cover the Radiofrequency Exposure Standard, public health issues related to electromagnetic emission, mobile phone networks and base stations.

You can access independent expert review reports from national and international health authorities here.

More information

For the very latest information try the following resources:

Or contact Vodafone’s EME team at: eme@vodafone.com.au