EMF Guidelines

There is no scientific evidence that exposure to low levels of electromagnetic fields (EMF) of any frequency causes damage to human health. However, recommended EMF exposure limits are in place at a European level to protect from well-known biological and health effects of exposure to high EMF levels. The European Commission 1999 Recommendation (1999/519/EC) sets out recommended limits for exposure of the public which apply to all EMF frequencies. Although this EU Act is non-binding for Ireland and has not been transposed into Irish Law, it encourages all Member States to implement a framework regarding exposure to EMF with the objective of protecting the public. The 1999/519/EC Recommendation is based on guidelines by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), issued in 1998 (ICNIRP, 1998) and re-confirmed in 2009 (ICNIRP, 2009). ICNIRP is a publicly funded, non-governmental organisation recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO). It evaluates the scientific peer-reviewed literature on health effects from EMF exposure and regularly issues recommended exposure limits, known as “reference levels”, based on well-known biological ad health effects of exposure to high levels of EMF.

How are EMF limits derived?

The current scientific evidence does not support long-term health effects, such a cancer, due to exposure to EMF, of either low or high frequency. There is not enough evidence of harmful effects from low-level, long-term exposure to EMF to establish limits. Consequently, ICNIRP uses well-known short-term acute effects to describe threshold limits that could lead to adverse biological and health effects. The lowest threshold limit is further reduced to derive the reference levels for human exposure. For example, ICNIRP uses a reduction factor of 10 to derive the occupational limits for workers, and a factor of 50 for public exposure. In other words, the exposure reference levels for the public are 50 times below the level of EMF known to cause adverse biological and health effects. In most circumstances, public exposure to EMF is usually far below these reference levels for the general public.

New ICNIRP EMF Guidelines 

After reviewing the most up-to-date scientific literature, new guidelines have been issued for frequencies below 100 kHz (ICNIRP Guidelines)  and above 100 kHz (ICNIRP, 2020). These latter guidelines are specific for radio frequencies, including those used and envisaged for 5G. (ICNIRP, 2010) and above 100 kHz (ICNIRP, 2020). These latter guidelines, which included a public consultation, are specific for radiofrequency (RF) EMF, including those used and envisaged for 5G. The graph below compares the changes introduced by the new guidelines for RF EMF.

Differences between ICNIRP 1998, 2010 and 2020 guidelines
  1. Whole body average reference levels for the general public for the ICNIRP (1998), ICNIRP (2010) and ICNIRP (2020) guidelines, for the 100 kHz to 300 GHz frequency range. (Source: ICNIRP).


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