Radiofrequencies have been the subject of considerable health, environmental and societal concerns in France for several years. On the one hand, the development of new wireless communication technologies has been accompanied by a permanent change in the radio signals used and the nature of the communication terminals. On the other hand, the increase in the number of users and types of use is leading to rapid changes and a potential increase in exposure to radiofrequencies.
In this context, in 2011 ANSES set up a specific scheme that sought to answer the many questions concerning health and safety: the creation of a permanent expert group on “Radiofrequencies and Health” and the establishment of a dialogue committee involving the main stakeholders. In this framework, ANSES issued an internal request in order to update its 2009 situation report.
Today, after two years of work, ANSES is publishing the results of its assessment of the risks related to exposure to radiofrequencies. It drew on the widest possible review of the international studies published since 2009. The issue of hypersensitivity to electromagnetic waves will in turn be addressed in a specific expert appraisal due to begin at the end of this year.
All the potential health effects of radiofrequencies, carcinogenic or not, were studied and their levels of evidence classified on the basis of an assessment method inspired by that of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
The findings of the risk assessment have not brought to light any proven health effects. Certain publications nonetheless mention a possible increase in the risk of cerebral tumours, in the long term, for heavy mobile phone users. The findings of this expert appraisal are therefore consistent with the classification of radiofrequencies proposed by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as "possibly carcinogenic" for heavy users of mobile phones. In addition, the expert appraisal nevertheless shows, with limited levels of evidence, different biological effects in humans or animals,some of which had already been reported in 2009: these can affect sleep, male fertility or cognitive performance.
Biological effects corresponding to generally reversible changes in the inner functioning of the body can thus be observed, as is also found in the case of exposure to different stimuli of everyday life. However, the Agency’s experts were unable to establish any causal link between the biological effects described in cell models, animals or humans, and any possible resulting health effects.
Given this evidence, proposing new exposure limits for the general population on health grounds does not seem justified. However, the Agency notes that the risk assessment for various potential effects cannot yet be conducted due to the lack of available data in humans or animals, and that the potential impact of the communication protocols used (2G, 3G, 4G) seems to be poorly documented.
The Agency also highlights the massive growth in applications of radiofrequencies in indoor or outdoor environments, leading to an increase in population exposure.
Moreover, although recent work conducted at national level shows low overall exposure in relation to the exposure limits currently used for the geographical areas that were investigated, it nevertheless demonstrates the existence of areas where exposure is significantly higher and could be reduced by technical means.
In this context, although mobile phones are the main source of exposure for users, environmental exposure in the general population, and its variations over time, needs to be better documented.
Therefore, to limit exposure to radiofrequencies, especially in the most vulnerable population groups, the Agency recommends:
- for intensive adult mobile phone users (in talk mode): use of hands-free kits and more generally, for all users, favouring the purchase of phones with the lowest SAR values;
- reducing the exposure of children by encouraging only moderate use of mobile phones;
- continuing to improve characterisation of population exposure in outdoor and indoor environments through the use of measurement campaigns;
- that the development of new mobile phone network infrastructures be subject to prior studies concerning the characterisation of exposures, and an in-depth study be conducted of the consequences of possibly multiplying the number of relay antennas in order to reduce levels of environmental exposure;
- documenting the conditions pertaining at those existing installations causing the highest exposure of the public and investigating in what measure these exposures can be reduced by technical means;
- that all common devices emitting electromagnetic fields intended for use near the body (DECT telephones, tablet computers, baby monitors, etc.) display the maximum level of exposure generated (SAR, for example), as is already the case for mobile phones.
Finally, in order to resolve the various uncertainties it identified when conducting this work, and in addition to the research projects already undertaken under the National Plan for Research on Environmental and Occupational Health, the Agency is also making a series of research recommendations.
Specific Absorption Rate