Frequently Asked Questions

What Department is responsible for electromagnetic field health effects?

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is currently responsible for policy relating to the health effects of non-ionising radiation including electromagnetic fields.

What studies have taken place into electromagnetic field health effects in Ireland and abroad?

An Expert Group was established to examine a wide range of issues in relation to potential health effects of electromagnetic fields, including those produced by mobile telecommunications. In their Report of 2007, the group concluded that no adverse short or long-term health effects have been found from exposure to the radiofrequency signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters. Radiofrequency signals have not been found to cause cancer. The report is available in the publications and documents section.

A substantial volume of research on this issue is being carried out internationally by bodies with responsibilities for monitoring the health effects of electromagnetic fields, including the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). This Committee recently published a Final Opinion on Potential Health Effects of exposure to Electromagnetic Fields, updating its previous opinions back in 2009 and taking account of the studies undertaken in the intervening years.

The findings of this research are being monitored by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) EMF Project.
 
We will continue to monitor this and other scientific evidence as it is made available, and will consider any policy implications in this context.

The Government has published the report of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of the Netherlands (RIVM) examining international developments and research on the health effects of non-ionising radiation through exposure to electromagnetic fields.

What is the view of the Chief Medical Officer on mobile phone usage?

The Chief Medical's Officer's opinion on this issue can be found on his website.

Is electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields?

No. Studies have not established that exposure to electromagnetic fields leads to the subjective symptoms reported by EHS individuals. Several studies have shown that while the symptoms reported by EHS sufferers are real, they are not linked to exposure to fields. EHS sufferers do not experience worse symptoms when exposed to electromagnetic fields.

What are the international electromagnetic exposure limits?

The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is a body of independent scientists who have expertise in researching the possible adverse health effects of exposure to non-ionising radiation. ICNIRP has published a set of guidelines on limiting human exposure to electromagnetic fields. These guidelines are freely available from their website.

The ICNIRP guidelines apply only to short-term exposure. How can they protect against long-term exposure?

When the ICNIRP guidelines are drafted, the totality of the scientific evidence is assessed. Studies on both short-term and long-term exposures are evaluated to reach conclusions on health effects. Only short term acute health effects have been established by the scientific evidence. However the ICNIRP limit values apply to all exposure situations, including long-term exposures.

How can safety be assured when new technologies are introduced before their health effects can be assessed?

There are a large number of novel technologies being developed using radiofrequency signals for various purposes. Examples include WiFi, Bluetooth, Ultra-wide Band, and others. All of these are assessed for safety by the strength and frequency of their radiofrequency emissions. These emissions are then compared with the limits allowed in the international standards. If the new technology emits fields less than these limits they are considered safe, and vice-versa. Thus the advantage of having adopted international exposure limits is that they provide information on safe levels of electromagnetic field exposure from any existing device or any device produced in the future, but also provides manufacturers with the exposure limits within which they must manufacture their devices. Within the European Union, devices having the “CE” mark are considered to be safe for their intended purpose.

How do the planning laws concerning phone masts have regard to public health and safety regarding electromagnetic field exposure?

The Department’s current advice to those living in close proximity to mobile masts or base stations, based on the conclusions of the Expert Group, is that there is no scientific basis for, or evidence of, adverse health effects in children or adults as a result of exposure to electromagnetic fields below ICNIRP levels. This applies irrespective of the location of the mobile phone mast.

This Department has no role in the siting of individual phone masts which is a matter for the local planning authorities. Local Authorities are responsible for having them located where they are least objectionable but still permitting a high quality network to operate.

The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government published Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Telecommunications and Support Structures in 1996. The guidelines are intended to facilitate planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála, the licensed providers of mobile telecommunications services and the public by providing guidance on dealing with these developments within the planning system.

The guidelines set out a locational hierarchy in relation to the siting of masts. In the vicinity of larger towns and in city suburbs, operators should endeavour to locate in industrial estates or in industrially zoned land. The guidelines further advise that, only as a last resort, and if all the alternatives are unavailable or unsuitable, should free-standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools. Under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, planning authorities are required to have regard to any Ministerial guidelines, in the performance of their functions.

In October 2012, the Department of Environment , Community and Local Government partially updated the 1996 guidelines, which made further recommendations, including advising against attaching a condition to a permission for telecommunication masts and antennae which limit their life to a set temporary period, except where particular site or environmental conditions apply; advising planning authorities not to include separation distances in their development plans in order to deal with each application totally on a case by case basis; and a recommendation that future permissions should include a condition stating that when the structure is no longer required it should be demolished, removed and the site re-instated at the operators’ expense.

Is there any information available on the emissions from phone masts in my neighbourhood?

ComReg is the licensing authority for the telecommunications industry. It has provided an on-line site viewer to allow the public view details of the mobile masts throughout Ireland. ComReg has commissioned audit reports to verify that licensed operators are in compliance with their licence conditions relating to emission limits for non-ionising radiation. The results from the emission measurements taken at very many sites to date have shown compliance with the ICNIRP guidelines with values that were typically thousands of times below the limits.

ComReg’s information on phone masts and monitoring of their emissions.

Are there any harmful health effects from living near power lines and using electrical appliances?

Power lines and electrical appliances are sources of Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded, on the basis of limited evidence in humans that ELF magnetic fields are a possibly human carcinogen. This does not mean that ELF magnetic fields are actually carcinogenic, simply that there is that possibility. Evidence for the association between ELF magnetic field exposure and childhood leukaemia derives from epidemiological studies. These studies, taken individually or as collectively reviewed by expert groups, are insufficient either to make a conclusive judgement on causality or to quantify appropriate exposure restrictions. Apart from this there are no other identified harmful health effects from ELF exposure, where such exposures are below the international limits.

With regard to Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields of non-ionising radiation emitted by electricity power lines, the 2007 Report – Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields – mentioned above, concluded that there is limited scientific evidence of adverse health effects. The Expert Group recommended that precautionary measures be used, where appropriate, and that Ireland continue to adopt the international guidelines developed by the ICNIRP and endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Union, which we continue to do.​