New ICNIRP guidelines 2020 − The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) published new “Guidelines for Limiting Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields” in the U.S. American radiation health journal Health Physics on 11 March 2020. This publication now replaces the ICNIRP´s Radio Frequency (1998) and Low Frequency Guidelines (2010). In this article, we review the publication and clarify the most important questions.
- What developments initiated the new regulations?
- Who is the ICNIRP?
- What did the previous ICNIRP decision contain?
- What changes did the ICNIRP undertake in 2020?
- Have adjustments been made with regard to the new 5G technology?
- Is there any scientific criticism of the new guidelines?
- How might be ICNIRP guidelines affect legislation?
New ICNIRP guidelines 2020 for electromagnetic radiation
What developments initiated the new regulations?
In the run-up to the current ICNIRP publication, there were numerous reports from science and research calling for an adjustment of the 22-year-old limits. For instance, the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks of the European Commission (SCHER) estimated 5G risks to be high in its statement of December 2018. Conclusion: there are not enough facts available to develop appropriate guidelines for the new technology.
In February 2020, the EPRS (European Parliament Research Service) published a briefing on 5G health risks that served as a basis for decisions by EU parliamentarians on 5G deployment. Among other things, the authors referred to the 5G appeal submitted to the European Union by doctors and medical scientists in 2017. According to this, numerous scientific publications prove negative health consequences of electromagnetic fields. For instance an increased risk of cancer, genetic damage as well as learning, memory and neurological disorders. 5G could have a particular impact on health, as the frequency of the dense antenna network and billions of simultaneous connections lead to abnormal impulse radiation. Conclusion: further research is needed, especially studies on 5G continuous exposure.
Who is the ICNIRP?
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP) is an association registered since 1992 in Munich, Germany, as a non-profit organization with scientific mission. It consists of 13 members from different countries and scientific disciplines. The ICNIRP is a partner of the World Health Organization (WHO), recognized as a non-governmental organization and consulted by the European Union. Its objective: to protect people and the environment from the negative effects of non-ionizing radiation, to assess the risk and develop guidelines.
What did the previous ICNIRP decision contain?
The previous radiation protection limits are based on the “Guidelines for limiting exposure to time-varying electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields (up to 300 GHz)”. They are supposed to protect people exposed to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields in the range of 100 kHz to 300 GHz. You can find more information in our blog post on radiation protection limits.
What changes did the ICNIRP undertake in 2020?
The ICNIRP evaluated publications primarily until 2018, occasionally also until 2019. Prof. Dr. Martin Röösli, member of the ICNIRP, commented on the most important changes as follows: “The guidelines are basically similar to those of 1998. However, they are more precise with regard to short exposure times of less than six minutes, and with regard to exposures of small areas of the body of a few square centimeters.” In order to take scientific uncertainties into account, the proposed limit values include safety factors. These specifications for user groups are intended to be important in view of the introduction of 5G and the use of higher frequencies (above 6 GHz) in order to provide sufficient protection for the population. “Another important innovation is also that pregnant women in the workplace should not be exposed to higher levels than the general population in order to protect the fetus,” said Röösli.
Have adjustments been made with regard to the new 5G technology?
According to Eric van Rongen, ICNIRP chairman, compliance with the guidelines should ensure that even 5G technologies cannot cause harm. Particularly with regard to high frequencies (100 kHz to 300 GHz) which are relevant for 5G, the new guidelines are more precise than the old ones.
Is there any scientific criticism of the new guidelines?
Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Hygiene and Medicine at the Center for Public Health of the Medical University of Vienna, comments on the new ICNIRP guideline as follows: “The guideline continues to take into account only those studies with effects that are scientifically accepted in general. For instance, mobile phone studies in which effects are observed that have nothing to do with the well-documented warming effect of high-frequency electromagnetic fields are not included.” Hutter also emphasizes that the authors ignore the classifications of the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer of the WHO) as “potentially carcinogenic”.
How might the ICNIRP guidelines affect legislation?
Previous ICNIRP guidelines became relevant for national and international legislation. As such, the 2010 directive for the low-frequency range was incorporated into the 26th Ordinance on the Implementation of the Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchV) from 2013. The European Union also adopted the ICNIRP guidelines for limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields (0 to 300 GHz) in the Council Recommendations from 1999. It can be assumed that the new ICNIRP guidelines will also be taken into account.
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- Deutsches Ärzteblatt: New guidelines on the electromagnetic fields are supposed to prevent health damage. Berlin, Germany, 2020. https://www.aerzteblatt.de/nachrichten/111020/Neue-Richtlinien-zu-elektromagnetischen-Feldern-sollen-gesundheitlichen-Schaeden-vorbeugen
- European Commission; Health and Food Safety Directorate General: Commission publishes Statement and Position Paper on Emerging Health and Environmental Issues. EU 2019. https://ec.europa.eu/newsroom/sante/newsletter-specific-archive-issue.cfm?archtype=specific&newsletter_service_id=327&newsletter_issue_id=12735&page=1&fullDate=Mon%2014%20Jan%202019&lang=default
- Health Physics Society: Guidelines for Limiting Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields. USA 2020. https://journals.lww.com/health-physics/Abstract/publishahead/Guidelines_for_Limiting_Exposure_to.99797.aspx
- ICNIRP: Differences Between the ICNIRP (2020) and Previous Guidelines. Oberschleissheim, Germany, 2020. https://www.icnirp.org/en/differences.html
- ICNIRP: Guidelines for Limiting Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields. Oberschleissheim, Germany, 2020. https://www.icnirp.org/cms/upload/publications/ICNIRPrfgdl2020.pdf
- Science Media Center Germany: ICNIRP guidelines on exposure to electromagnetic fields. Heidelberg, Germany, 2020. https://www.sciencemediacenter.de/alle-angebote/rapid-reaction/details/news/icnirp-richtlinien-zur-exposition-durch-elektromagnetische-felder/
- European Parliament Research Service (EPRS): Impact of 5G Communications on Human Health. EU 2020. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2020/646172/EPRS_BRI(2020)646172_DE.pdf