Answer to Question #11223 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
Category: Cell Phones
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
I know your article on radiofrequency (RF) safety states that, at ground level, RF levels from cell phone towers are really low. But I live on the third floor of an apartment complex about 9 meters (m) off the ground. Within 200 m are three cell phone towers. I had the RF levels measured by a professional and they range from 0.10 to 0.25 milliwatts per square centimeter (mW cm-2). Is this safe? It is a constant rate all through our apartment, but by the windows it is 0.25 mW cm-2. I am very concerned because we have a two-year-old daughter who sleeps right next to the window. Should we move out? We have been there for eight months and are not sure what to do. Will our health suffer in the future, e.g., from cancer?
I am especially concerned since I heard the story about the Tower of Doom in Britain.
Thank you for contacting us regarding your exposure concerns. Living 200 m from a series of cell phone base towers is a considerable distance, and it is unlikely that the cell phone transmitters are the primary source of the RF exposure as the combined indoor exposure from three cellular towers at that distance is likely to be 0.01 mW cm-2 at most. I suspect that there are a number of FM radio and TV transmitters in the area that are also contributing to the overall background RF exposure. Having said that, exposures in homes as high as 0.25 mW cm-2 are not common, but unless the RF source is a single FM radio station, they are not likely to be close to the exposure standard. If you could forward the report provided by the professional performing the measurements I could review it for you, as I have a hard time believing that the exposures reported are accurate.
A direct quote from a Health Canada press release 13 March 2015 states that "over 60 countries have the same exposure standards including most of Europe and North America. The current standards are designed to provide protection for all age groups, including infants and children, on a continuous basis (24 hours per day, seven days per week)." In short, even if the 0.25 mW cm-2 from a number of RF sources was real, the standards adequately account for this and this level is not a cause for concern.
The executive summaries from two recent reviews of the science regarding RF exposures and possible adverse health effects discuss these issues.
The first is a 10-year update from the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, which says: "Research on mobile telephony and health started without a biologically or epidemiologically based hypothesis about possible health risks. Instead the inducement was an unspecific concern related to a new and rapidly spreading technology. Extensive research for more than a decade has not detected anything new regarding interaction mechanisms between radiofrequency fields and the human body and has found no evidence for health risks below current exposure guidelines. While absolute certainty can never be achieved, nothing has appeared to suggest that the since long established interaction mechanism of heating would not suffice as basis for health protection."
The second is from the United Kingdom Health Protection Agency, which has also pointed out that well-performed, large-scale studies have found no evidence that RF fields affect the initiation and development of cancer nor does the evidence suggest that exposures below the guideline levels cause acute symptoms (such as headaches, fatigue, etc.).
Finally, regarding the "Tower of Doom," exposures in the upper floor of a building which house cell phone radio transmitters on the roof typically present very little building exposure because the RF energy is being directed away from the building. There are a whole host of basic problems with the premise that the cellular antennas on a rooftop could be the source of cancer, aside from the lack of supporting evidence for such a connection. The age of the residents (the cancer rate increases with age), the number of different cancers identified (the lack of specificity of a single cancer type), and cancer latency issues associated with the onset of the cancer and the time since the installation of the cellular antennas are just a few problems with the premise that come to mind.
Drew Thatcher, CHP
Answer posted on 27 May 2015. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.