The last quarter of the 20th and the first two decades of the 21st centuries are characterized by increasing hazards of electromagnetic fields for the biosphere and public health. This anthropogenic factor has been considered in two distinct directions: low frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) from power lines and high frequency EMF from cellular communications.
Public fear as well as scientific understanding have pointed to the serious problems for public health. World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the importance of this issue and originated “The international EMF project” which during the last two decades has organized a series of international meetings in different locations of the world with the intention to harmonize standards for EMF radiation and exposure. Unfortunately, this activity did not end with a more or less defined conclusion or at least a recommendation.
With respect to EMF emitted for the purpose of mobile communications, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has recognized the non-ionizing radiation from microwaves used in mobile communications as a possible carcinogenic source (category 2B). This paper discussed the basic physics problems related to characterization of the non-ionizing radiation that are of importance for public health. Special attention is paid to missing definitions for basic terminology and to the non-thermal effects of EMF as well as the incorrect use of SAR [Specific Absorption Rate] for defining conditions of exposure. The core of the paper is the potential hazard of mobile communications for human health.
In conclusion, today the entire biosphere and mankind are subjected to signals from space and terrestrial sources, unknown by numbers and by their physical characteristics. We are at the bottom of the ocean of electromagnetic waves. What is worse— this global “experiment” is conducted without protocol, monitoring, and the possibility to produce any protections. The mobile communication industry is creating newer and newer tools in order to eventually increase the speed of communications.
Smartphones and smart meters significantly change the electromagnetic environment not only for occupational conditions, but in every home. Billions of people are not informed about the fact that their homes and they themselves are subjected to the “new and advanced” technological developments. This cohort includes babies and elderly people, school children and professionals. What is even worse, the new 5G mobile technology is being introduced even before the development of industrial standards. No health hazard estimation is planned; no guidance for protection and standards are developed. It is time to ring the bell.
Cell Phone Radiation: Evidence From ELF and RF Studies Supporting More Inclusive Risk Identification Many national and international exposure standards for maximum radiation exposure from the use of cell phones and other similar portable devices are ultimately based on the production of heat, particularly in regions of the head, that is, thermal effects (TE). The recent elevation in some countries of the allowable exposure, that is, averaging the exposure that occurs in a 6 minute period over 10 grams of tissue rather than over 1-g, allows for greater heating in small portions of the 10-g volume compared to the exposure that would be allowed averaged over a 1-g volume. There is concern that ‘hot’ spots, that is, momentary higher intensities, could occur in portions of the 10-g tissue piece, which might have adverse consequences, particularly in brain tissue. There is another concern about exposure to cell phone radiation that has been virtually ignored except for the National Council of Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) advice given in a publication in 1986 (National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements, Biological Effects and Exposure Criteria for Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements, 1986, 400 pp.). This NCRP review and guidance explicitly acknowledged the existence of non-thermal effects (NTE), and included provisions for reduced maximum-allowable limits should certain radiation characteristics occur during the exposure.
If we are to take most current national and international exposure standards as completely protective of thermal injury for acute exposure only (6 min time period), then the recent evidence from epidemiological studies associating increases in brain and head cancers with increased cell phone use per day and per year over 8–12 years raises concerns about the possible health consequences of NTE first acknowledged in the NCRP 1986 report (National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements, Biological Effects and Exposure Criteria for Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements, 1986, 400 pp.). This paper will review some of the salient evidence that demonstrates the existence of NTE and the exposure complexities that must be considered and understood to provide appropriate, more thorough evaluation and guidance for future studies and for assessment of potential health consequences.
Unfortunately, this paper is necessary because most national and international reviews of the research area since the 1986 report (National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements, Biological Effects and Exposure Criteria for Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields, National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements, 1986, 400 pp.) have not included scientists with expertise in NTE, or have not given appropriate attention to their requests to include NTE in the establishment of public health-based radiation exposure standards. Thus, those standards are limited because they are not comprehensive. Conclusions There is substantial scientific evidence that some modulated fields (pulsed or repeated signals) are bioactive, which increases the likelihood that they could have health impacts with chronic exposure even at very low exposure levels.
Modulation signals may interfere with normal, nonlinear biological processes. Modulation is a fundamental factor that should be taken into account in new public safety standards; at present it is not even a contributing factor. To properly evaluate the biological and health impacts of exposure to modulated RFR (carrier waves), it is also essential to study the impact of the modulating signal (lower frequency fields or ELF-modulated RF). Current standards have ignored modulation as a factor in human health impacts, and thus are inadequate in the protection of the public in terms of chronic exposure to some forms of ELF-modulated RF signals.
The current Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) standards are not sufficiently protective of public health with respect to chronic exposure to modulated fields (particularly new technologies that are pulse-modulated and heavily used in cellular telephony). The collective papers on modulation appear to be omitted from consideration in the recent World Health Organization (WHO) and IEEE science reviews. This body of research has been ignored by current standard setting bodies that rely only on traditional energy-based (thermal) concepts. More laboratory as opposed to epidemiological research is needed to determine which modulation factors and combinations are bioactive and deleterious at low intensities, and are likely to result in disease-related processes and/or health risks; however, this should not delay preventative actions supporting public health and wellness. If signals need to be modulated in the development of new wireless technologies, for example, it makes sense to use what existing scientific information is available to avoid the most obviously deleterious exposure parameters and select others that may be less likely to interfere with normal biological processes in life.
The current membership on Risk Assessment committees needs to be made more inclusive by adding scientists experienced with producing nonthermal biological effects. The current practice of segregating scientific investigations (and resulting public health limits) by artificial, engineering-based divisions of frequency needs to be changed because this approach dramatically dilutes the impact of the basic science results and eliminates consideration of modulation signals, thereby reducing and distorting the weight of evidence in any evaluation process.
Public Exposure to Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields The increasing use of various wireless devices and development of new telecommunication technologies has resulted in a fundamental change of radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) exposure in the everyday environment. In the last three decades, a large number of scientific studies on the exposure assessment of the general public to RF-EMF in different environments were completed. The results of numerous exposure assessment studies come to almost the same conclusions: that public RF-EMF exposures in different micro environments are only a small fraction of existing RF exposure standards. Conclusions In general, all the research studies related to exposure assessment of the general public to fixed RF-EMF sources in the environment including base stations, broadcasting, and wireless systems clearly demonstrated that the total mean value of the electric field was quite low and did not exceed 10% of the internationally recognized limit values.
It is expected that the strength and complexity of EMF exposures will increase continuously, especially in relation to expansion of the 5th generation of mobile telephony and other emerging technologies that will use different frequency bands. An increasing number of devices and processes employing these frequencies (household appliances, telecommunication, etc.) have already been introduced into everyday life. Almost nothing is known about these exposures and potential exposure levels. It is expected that global mobile data traffic will grow at a compound annual rate of 45% in the coming years, which represents a tenfold increase between 2016 and 2022 (Ericsson, 2016). This increase is driven largely by the adoption of mobile video streaming. On top of that, the Internet of Things (IoT) is shifting from a vision to reality. The 29 billion connected devices by 2022 are expected to include 18 billion IoT or machine-to-machine (M2M) devices. Subsequently, the future 5G mobile networks will need to support new challenging and new use cases, which will demand more spectrum in ever higher frequency ranges.
Furthermore, emissions will continue to change in characteristics and levels due to new infrastructure deployments, smart environments, and novel wireless devices. Thus it is expected that the complexity of EMF exposures will increase in the future.
Health Effects of Chronic Exposure to Radiation From Mobile Communication Due to strong evidence showing the critical role of the exposure duration for the effects of nonthermal microwaves (NT MW), studies with prolonged chronic exposures became of key importance in assessment of the MW health effects. Given the undoubted key role of specific signal characteristics such as frequency, modulation, and polarization, the studies with chronic exposures to real signals of mobile communication become of predominant importance for assessment of health effects from mobile communication. There were a number of such studies performed recently. Most of them confirmed results of animal studies with chronic MW exposure previously performed in Russia/The Soviet Union by showing detrimental health effects including those related to carcinogenesis. Conclusions Chronic exposure to nonthermal microwaves (NT MW) may result in various health effects affecting the central nervous system, fertility, immune functions, and causing/promoting cancer.
Taken together, available studies indicate that response to NT MW depends on PD and duration exposure. The SAR based ICNIRP safety standards, which have been widely adopted for protection against acute thermal effects of MW, are insufficient to protect the public from chronic exposures to NT MW from mobile communication. New safety standards should commonly be adopted based on data from multiple studies on chronic exposures and mechanisms for nonthermal MW effects (106). It should be anticipated that definite parts of human population, such as children, pregnant women, and hypersensitive persons, which constitute about 1%–10% of the general population in economically developed counties (113), could be especially vulnerable to chronic NT MW exposures. In general, new signals of mobile communication should be tested with chronic exposures before being put into practice.