08/07/2016 4 min

Exposure of children to radiofrequencies: a call for moderate and supervised use of wireless technologies

ANSES is today publishing an expert appraisal on the exposure of children to radiofrequencies and the potential effects on their health. In its conclusions, the Agency emphasises that children can be more exposed than adults because of their morphological and anatomical features, in particular their small size, as well as the characteristics of some of their tissues. It is issuing a series of recommendations aimed at adapting the regulatory limit values in order to reduce the exposure of children to electromagnetic fields, which starts from a very early age due to the expansion of the use of new technologies. In this context, ANSES recommends moderate and supervised use of wireless communication technologies by children.

ANSES received a formal request from the public authorities to determine whether the regulatory provisions currently in force for the marketing of radio devices intended for children provide sufficient protection in terms of health and safety for children under six years of age. A preliminary report had been submitted for public consultation on the Agency's website from 9 June to 21 August 2015, in order to collect comments from interested stakeholders. The Agency is today publishing its opinion and final report on this issue, following its experts’ analysis of all the comments received from the scientific community and interested stakeholders.

Possible effects on cognitive functions and well-being

The expert appraisal work carried out by the Agency on the basis of current data from the international scientific literature was unable to conclude as to whether or not radiofrequencies have effects on children’s behaviour, auditory functions, development, male and female reproductive systems, immune system and systemic toxicity, or carcinogenic or teratogenic effects.

On the other hand, the Agency did find a possible effect of exposure to radiofrequencies on the well-being of children and on their cognitive functions (memory, executive functions and attention). The effects observed on well-being may however be more related to the use of mobile telephones rather than to the radiofrequencies they emit.

Children exposed ever earlier to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields 

The data available on exposure show strong expansion of the use of new wireless technologies, especially among very young children. The multiplicity and diversity of the places frequented by children generate multiple exposure situations, while the uses of radio devices (tablet computers, connected toys, etc.) are also evolving rapidly. In addition, children have their own mobile telephones at an ever earlier age.

Moreover, unlike previous generations, children today are, for the most part, exposed to multiple sources of radiofrequencies from a very early age and even potentially from the in utero development phase. The expert appraisal work also showed that children can be more exposed than adults, because of their small size, their morphological and anatomical features, and the characteristics of some of their tissues. 

The Agency’s recommendations

On the basis of the results of the expert appraisal, the Agency is recommending that the regulations be changed in order that:

  • all radio devices, and in particular those intended for children (tablet computers, baby monitors, connected toys, etc.), are subject to the same regulatory obligations, in terms of control of exposure levels and information to the public, as those governing mobile telephones;
  • the regulatory exposure limit values are enforced, regardless of the mobile transmitter devices used, according to reasonably foreseeable conditions of use (for example positioning in contact with the body).

It also seems necessary to:

  • reconsider the reference levels aiming to limit environmental exposure to electromagnetic radiofrequency fields, in order to ensure that the safety margins are large enough to protect the health and safety of the general population, and particularly of children;
  • reassess the relevance of the specific absorption rate (SAR)used to establish exposure limit values for individuals, for the purposes of protection against the known and proven health effects (thermal effects) of radiofrequencies, and develop a representative indicator of the actual exposure of mobile telephone users, regardless of the conditions of use: signal used, good or bad reception, method of use (voice calls, loading data, etc.).

Specifically concerning mobile telephones, ANSES reiterates the recommendation it had already formulated, calling for a reduction in exposure of children, by advocating moderate use and favouring the use of hands-free kits.

Lastly, the expert appraisal identified several studies highlighting an association between intensive and inadequate use of mobile telephones by young people and mental health problems (risk behaviour, depression, suicidal thoughts, etc.). However, it was not possible to use these studies to explore the causality of the observed associations.

ANSES recommends that additional studies assess the health and psychosocial impact (school learning, social and family relationships, etc.) in children associated with the use of mobile communication technologies, especially because of addictive phenomena, circadian rhythm disorders, etc. Pending these results, the Agency recommends that parents encourage their children to adopt reasonable use of mobile telephones, avoiding night-time communications and limiting the frequency and duration of calls.