Chountala C., Baldini G., Electromagnetic emissions from mobile networks and potential effect on health –
Preliminary study, EUR 30586 EN, , Publications Office of the European Union, 2021, ISBN 978-92-76-29839-7, doi:10.2760/41189,
Radio Frequency (RF) Electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure from mobile phone networks and possible adverse health impact is an issue causing much concern among citizens and several public bodies. Despite extensive research on this subject, many questions have remained unanswered due to methodological inconsistencies and lack of data. This report provides a preliminary analysis, including a literature survey of recent government and research activities into the health impact of RF EMF exposure. This report also attempts to explore a possible relationship between RF EMFs and incidence of brain cancer based on publicly available national datasets. The preliminary results, presented in this paper do not reveal any such relationship, but more work is necessary to overcome the limitations of the existing data. The findings of the empirical study show that the level of uncertainties in the current state of art are still very high, and the report recommends pro-active initiatives, such as the collection of better quality data, standardization of experimentation protocols and collaboration between interdisciplinary research groups, that could improve the state of play. Finally, further research on the EMF exposure in mm Wave frequency bands and any effects on human health (and possibly the environment) is recommended to supplement the current knowledge.
6 Conclusions and future work
This study is a preliminary attempt to explore possible links between RF-EMF exposure from mobile phone networks and health issues. The assessment was based on existing literature as well as on statistical analysis of publically available medical data on brain and other CNS cancer incidence using methodologies widely adopted by the research community. Health data on cancer were drawn from the
European Cancer Information System (ECIS), which provides the latest information on indicators that quantify cancer burden across Europe.
The literature review focuses on studies mostly published in the last five years, taking into consideration most health aspects (e.g., appearance of cancers, sleep effects, cognitive capabilities) of human beings. This work tries to analyze scientific studies independently of whether or not they find effects of electromagnetic fields on human health. It also reviews laboratory animal studies and experiments on cells (e.g., in vitro cultures).
The following key observations and findings are identified:
In the majority of the studies reviewed by the current report, exposure levels were reported significantly lower than the EMF reference levels set by ICNIRP’s guidelines.
Measurements of RF-EMF from cellular networks indicate that downlink power from mobile base stations is the most significant contribution to overall RF-EMF exposure of humans. There is a general consensus in literature on this finding. In addition, RF-EMF exposure is proportional to the density of mobile users or the level of mobile network traffic.
Some studies have shown that base stations of cellular networks located on rooftops might generate very high (i.e., reported exposure in a similar range to the reference levels of the most restrictive member states in Europe) levels of RF-EMF exposure in habitation spaces (e.g., apartments, balconies) in proximity of the base stations.
Most studies focusing on the impact of RF-EMF exposure on human health (e.g. cancer, sleep and cognitive functions) did not report any significant health effects in their findings.
Some laboratory studies on animals and cells have found negative metabolic activities in in-vitro cultures or mice with prolonged exposure to RF-EMF (Incident E-field strength of 50 V/m at 1800 MHz, which is still below the ICNIRP levels ).
Studies suggest that other toxic stimuli (e.g., pollution) and their cumulative impact (possible adverse health effects) should also be considered when evaluating possible effect of RF-EMF emissions on health.
Most of the reviewed studies did not report a significant correlation between the emergence of cancers and mobile phone usage, except for some studies (even if not conclusive) that report that there is a consistent pattern of increased risk of glioma and acoustic neuroma associated with mobile and cordless phone usage indicating that further research is needed.
Many epidemiological studies reported the issue of the lack of availability of sufficient medical data sets with a large time span because the emergence of cancer may appear only on a very long time span (e.g., 10 years and more).
The current statistical analysis by the JRC found no evidence of an increase in the incidence of brain and other CNS cancers during the years that followed the evolution of cellular networks in the regions under study. Despite the different types of identified uncertainties, the above finding is in agreement with the conclusions of the literature review, which does not report a significant correlation among the emergence of cancers and the mobile communications.
Based on the above observations, the following potential future developments of this report are suggested:
- Because of the fact that RF-EMF exposure of current cellular networks is proportional to their density (e.g., large number of mobile base stations with small cell areas) and communication traffic more research is needed in dense cell areas, taking into account specific exposure conditions of the population under study.
- One significant gap in the research is that most studies are using different exposure scenarios. More work is needed in defining a specific standardized protocol when assessing EMF impact on biological functions for the specific technology that is used, so that findings can be reproduced or compared more easily.
- More research is needed to supplement the current knowledge on the impact of mmWave frequencies that will be used by 5G networks and beyond as indicated by some researchers who also claim that there is only a small number of conducted studies in these frequencies and they lack consistency .
- Further analysis should be carried out using a joint effort of several disciplines of the research community, as well as recent (covering a longer time span and in particular data covering the period after 2012 when mobile phone use increased significantly with the introduction of 4G networks) and better localized data, in order to overcome some of the limitations of this analysis.
- Although there is some ongoing research in this field in Europe more projects could be funded in the Horizon Europe programme to further investigate the issue of electromagnetic fields and possible implications on health and environment. In this sense, the definition of ‘environment’ should include the radio environment.
The JRC could support the definition of protocols and standards in terms of exposure to 5G signals under various traffic scenarios, adherent to real situations, measurement and analysis of the exposure and the results. In addition, the JRC is conducting research on the evaluation of electromagnetic fields emitted by 5G networks using massive MIMO antennas and dense small cells.