Workers Health & Safety Centre

Wireless radiation exposure limits outdated and unsafe

The science behind supposed safe exposure limits for radiation from cell phones and other wireless devices is being challenged by a coalition of noted, global researchers.

This challenge is outlined in a peer reviewed paper authored by the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields (ICBE-EMF), recently published in the journal Environmental Health. The authors highlight research studies, they contend, demonstrate how the current exposure limits for radiofrequency radiation (RFR) from cell phones and other wireless telecommunication devices and supporting infrastructure fail to adequately protect workers, children, hypersensitive individuals, and the general population from short-term or long-term exposures. They conclude, “That an independent evaluation based on the scientific evidence with attention to the knowledge gained over the past 25 years is needed to establish lower exposure limits. These limits must be based on scientific evidence rather than on erroneous assumptions, especially given the increasing worldwide exposures of people and the environment to RFR, including novel forms of radiation from 5G telecommunications for which there are no adequate health effects studies.”

WHSC training for prevention. Register today

Exposure limits fail to consider modern exposures

The RFR exposure limits in question were initially adopted in the late 1990s by the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and reaffirmed in 2020. They are based on behavioural effects observed after short-term, acute exposures in a few studies conducted on a small number of animals in the 1980s along with a range of assumptions. They were also established before cell phones and other wireless devices became commonly and constantly used in all aspects of our lives.   
The ICBE-EMF suggest research demonstrates acute behavioural studies are inadequate for developing health protective exposure limits for humans and wildlife, and that inherent assumptions underlying the FCC’s and ICNIRP’s exposure limits are not valid. They cite research, for instance, countering key assumptions biological effects are caused solely by excessive tissue heating and no health impacts would occur below a specific absorption rate (SAR) threshold of 4.0 W/kg. This threshold remains the basis for the U.S. and Canadian (Safety Code 6) RFR exposure standards.

Significant worker and public health impacts

“Many studies have demonstrated oxidative effects associated with exposure to low-intensity RFR, and significant adverse effects including cardiomyopathy, carcinogenicity, DNA damage, neurological disorders, increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier, and sperm damage,” explains Dr. Ronald Melnick, ICBE-EMF chair and a former senior toxicologist with the U.S. National Toxicology Program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “These effects need to be addressed in revised and health-protective exposure guidelines.”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) first classified RFR as a possible human carcinogen (Group 2B) in 2011. Authors of a 2019 literature review say IARC should now upgrade RFR’s designation to carcinogenic to humans (Group 1). More recently, in March 2021, a report by the former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded there is a high probability RFR from cell phones causes brain cancer.

Greater awareness and protection needed

For many, a principal source of RFR exposure are cell phones, particularly when they are carried close to our bodies and even more so when held directly against the ear in which case radiation is absorbed into the head and brain. Concerned about lack of public awareness, Berkeley, California passed a city ordinance in 2015 to support the public right to know requiring cell phone retailers to display safety information relating to this exposure.
A national survey completed for CBC Marketplace in 2017 found 81 per cent of Canadians were not aware of the mandatory manufacturer warnings to keep cell phones 5-15 mm away from our bodies to help reduce exposure to radiation. When told this precaution information is available through their cell phone, most could not find the information

Many are concerned with lack of awareness and safety measures. More than 250 scientists who have published peer-reviewed papers on the biological or health effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields including RFR have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal calling for the full disclosure of the potential health risks and harm reduction strategies along with stronger guidelines and regulatory standards. 
Learn more

WHSC training can help

The Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) assists workplaces through training programs and information services aimed at raising awareness about hazardous exposures, including RFR and targeting prevention in the workplace and community.

In fact, WHSC is Ontario’s official occupational health and safety training centre and is approved to provide mandatory Certification Training for joint health and safety committee (JHSC) members who possess the legal authority to identify hazards including RFR and recommend measures to eliminate or reduce exposure. Similar training is available for worker health and safety representatives in smaller workplaces who possess these same rights. 
WHSC Supervisor Training helps employers and supervisors meet and exceed awareness and competency requirements so critical to preparing them to meet their significant obligation to protect workers.

Learn more from WHSC about radiofrequency radiation
Learn more from WHSC
Additional training: Check out all WHSC programs
Contact a WHSC training services representative in your area.
Connect with and follow us on TwitterFacebookLinkedInInstagram and YouTube.