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Radiation Protection Limits − How are they created and why are they outdated?

Radiation Protection Limits How are they created and why are they outdated?

Numerous studies substantiate health risks caused by non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. Already in 2002, 1,000 doctors around the world signed the Freiburg Appeal in which they attempted to sensitize the medical profession, public healthcare, politics and the general public for the topic. Finally, in 2015, 194 scientists from 39 countries demanded in an appeal to the United Nations (UN), their member states and the World Health Organization (WHO), to deal with the health and environmental risks of increasing radiation exposure, to educate the public, to take precautionary measures and to tighten regulations. The upheaval is completely unsubstantiated, the radiation protection limits authorities assure us. Recommended limits are supposed to protect us adequately and sufficiently. But where does this certainty originate from when, at the same time, the experts´ outcry is becoming louder and louder? To arrive at an answer, we want to clarify the following issues.

  • Who sets the radiation protection limits? 
  • What exactly are radiation protection limits? 
  • Why do they appear to be inviolable?
  • Once 5G is introduced, will there be new radiation protection limits?

Who sets the radiation protection limits?

Authorities do not engage in research

European radiation protection authorities do not engage in any research of electromagnetic fields but rather lean on assessments of international expert groups such as, for instance:

  • International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)
  • Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks of the EU (SCENIHR/SCHEER)
  • EMF Group of the World Health Organization (WHO)
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer, WHO Cancer Department (IARC).

ICNIRP − an association with just 13 members writes the limits

Established in 1992 in Munich (Germany), the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is a registered non-profit organization with scientific assignment. It consists of experts from various countries and scientific fields dealing with protection from electric, magnetic, electromagnetic, and optical radiation. It is an official partner of the World Health Organization, recognized as non-governmental organization (NGO) and consulted by the European Commission. 

The ICNIRP evaluates the radiation and health risk research and sets guidelines for radiation protection limits. Its propagated objective is to protect humans and the environment from the adverse effects of non-ionizing radiation, to assess the risk and to draw up guidelines.

The association is composed as follows:

The ICNIRP is funded by national and international public institutions, such as:

  • German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU)
  • European Union Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI)
  • International Radiological Protection Association (IRPA).

What exactly are radiation protection limits? 

How are they set?

The ICNIRP guidelines and radiation protection limits

Radiation protection limits are based on the “Guidelines for limiting exposure to time-varying electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields (up to 300 GHz)”. These are based on the thermal effect − the warming of the body tissue. 

For instance, body temperature can rise when electromagnetic radiation is absorbed by the body and converted into heat energy. Valid limits depend on the radiation intensity that warms an inanimate body by 1°C within 30 minutes. This is because natural regulatory mechanisms cannot function comprehensively beyond this change in body temperature. For example, mobile phones must not exceed a value of two watts per kilogram (SAR values); otherwise the thermal effect sets in. 

As long as the limits are observed, there is no health risk, according to the ICNIRP. However, this does not take into account long-term effects and the much greater physiological sensitivity of the heads of children. Furthermore, the ICNIRP guidelines which have been in existence for 20 years have not been adapted to the ever-changing technology. 

Studies confirm health risk

Contrary to the appeasement of the ICNIRP, numerous scientists say, based on the evaluation of 2,200 studies, that people can suffer harm if exposed to mobile radiation far below the limits. This can lead not only to a thermal but also to a biological effect, especially during many years of use. For instance, there is clear evidence of an increase in brain cancer. You can find more information about this in our blog post “How dangerous is 5G? 

Nevertheless, the ICNIRP does not intend to change its recommendations. Eric van Rongen does not deny that mobile phone radiation has effects below the recommended radiation protection limits. “However, we are not convinced that these effects are harmful to health,” he told Investigate Europe, a pan-European journalist team researching and critically examining topics of relevance, as in their informative video contribution: 



Fig. 1: The 5G mass experiment: big promises, unknown risks. Source: Investigate Europe.

Which mobile phone limits apply in an international comparison?

As in Germany, there are binding regulations for high-frequency electromagnetic radiation in many countries worldwide. In 1999, the European Union also joined the ICNIRP guidelines as part of the EU Council Recommendation. Most EU countries have followed suit. Even outside Europe, they are taken into account in many countries. In the USA, Canada and Taiwan, mobile phone limits are based on the recommendations of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) which are comparable with the ICNIRP guidelines.

Countries that have decided against the ICNIRP limit recommendations, such as Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Russia and Poland, justify this by pointing to an increased desire for precaution. For example, the Swiss Environmental Authority: “The Federal Council could not wait for science to provide the desired answers. The precautionary principle of the Environmental Protection Act requires that the burden should in principle be as low as is technically possible.”

ICNIRP criticism

After publication of the ICNIRP guidelines, criticism became increasingly loud, with the focus on the association itself. 

Experts like David Carpenter, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Albany, New York, warned the WHO that the ICNIRP ignores studies. The environmental scientist Professor Neil Cherry, who was commissioned by the New Zealand government to review the ICNIRP guidelines before their introduction, was particularly clear. In 1999, he wrote the “ICNIRP Guidelines Critique” which has been ignored until today but remained unchallenged. His conclusion: “The ICNIRP guideline is faulty and contrary to the law. It contains a pattern of biases, omissions and deliberate distortions.”

In addition, the election procedure for new ICNIRP members is particularly questionable. It is a closed election procedure. This means that they are elected to the commission every four years on the proposal of the acting members and the Executive Council of the International Radiological Protection Association (IRPA). If we take a closer look at the qualifications of the 13 members in total, it becomes clear that only four are trained EMF experts and can make a professional judgment on this topic. Among the members of this elitist, meaningful, self-governing association are, for example, some epidemiologists, a health psychologist and an electrical engineer. 

Furthermore, membership in the ICNIRP is a conflict of interest in the scientific assessment of health risks. This is especially true as the ICNIRP guidelines are of enormous importance to the influential telecommunications, military and energy industries. Another conflict is that members officially assess potential health effects under their own ICNIRP guidelines. Critical views are not heard. No balanced scientific assessment is made. And this commission sets globally recognized radiation protection limits?

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Why do the radiation protection limits appear to be inviolable?

Overlap of scientists in key committees

The ICNIRP is only one of several important scientific groups that are conspicuously staffed by the same experts. Out of 13 ICNIRP members, six are represented in at least one other committee. In the WHO group, this applies to six out of seven members.



Fig. 2: The above diagram shows how close the links between members within key expert groups are. To do this, move the mouse over the graphic. Click on one of the circles to learn more about the person or organization. Source: Investigate Europe.

The EU´s “Scientific Committee on Emerging Health Risks” reviews the current state of research and recommends what conclusions should be drawn from any new findings. In 2015, the committee was supposed to assess the dangers of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation. Four of the twelve members came from the ICNIRP. Their conclusion: there are no new findings. Also in the WHO EMF project, which is to investigate the dangers of radiation, four out of six experts are ICNIRP members or closely associated with the association. 

Harald Schumann, journalist of the research network “Investigate Europe”, investigated which scientists sit on the decisive committees of the UN and EU: “It is surprising that, out of several hundred scientists far more skeptical about this matter, none of them are represented on these committees. Indeed, there is a camp formation taking place, and one camp is more or less excluded from the decision-making process.”

The influence of the industry on the ICNIRP

According to Dariusz Leszczynski, former long-term researcher at the Finnish Radiation Protection Authority, the ICNIRP limits primarily take into account the needs of the telecommunications industry. In 2011 he sat on the committee of the WHO cancer organization IARC when it determined that electromagnetic fields (EMF) are “potentially carcinogenic“ to humans. According to Leszczynski, the ICNIRP´s goal is to “set safety limits that do not kill people while the technology is working”.

Victor Leach of the radiation-critical non-governmental organization OSAAR evaluated 3,300 studies to find out which ones support the ICNIRP position: “We found a very complex network. A great many scientists who assess the health risks of electromagnetic radiation for the UN seem to have industrial connections and belong to the camp of those who do not see any radiation effects before the tissue warms up. Many of the representatives on the crucial UN body have research relations – directly or indirectly – with the ICNIRP […].”

Businesses benefit

The large international consensus on the ICNIRP guidelines is convenient for the industry. Mobile phone companies are aware of the dangers of electromagnetic radiation and yet warn their investors of stricter limits. For instance, Vodafone wrote in its 2017 annual report: “Electromagnetic signals emitted by mobile devices and base stations can pose health risks with potential implications including: changes in national legislation, a reduction in mobile phone use, or litigation.”

Source of funding may influence study results

Often there is a connection between study results and the source of the research money. Martin Röösli, associate professor at the Swiss Tropical Institute, member of the ICNIRP and other advisory bodies: “Studies that are financed exclusively by the industry are likely to be biased. […] Researchers can create uncertainty in order to raise funds for their research.” Long-term studies financed by the industry are particularly profitable for scientists. A conflict of interest!

In any case, the industry should pay for research into the potential hazards of its products. However, this should be carried out independently of the donors, says Zenon Sienkiewicz, British physiologist and member of the ICNIRP commission. Research is highly dependent on external funding, adds former ICNIRP scientist Norbert Leitgeb, professor at the Institute of Medical Technology at the Technical University of Graz, Austria. “The important question is whether efficient firewalls are in place to ensure that stakeholders cannot interfere with research and influence the scientific outcome or conclusions,“ he says.

Will there be new radiation protection limits with 5G?

Researchers call for stricter rules and reappointments within the ICNIRP

Lennart Hardell, Swedish cancer researcher, calls for high-frequency electric magnetic radiation to be upgraded from “possibly carcinogenic” to “probably carcinogenic”. Van Rongen takes a completely different view: “The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the situation is still unclear. This can only be solved with new, improved studies […].” The World Health Organization, the EU Commission and the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) also based their assessment on the ICNRP head.

In addition, 220 radiation scientists appealed to the UN to appoint an independent panel to challenge the ICNIRP standard and reflect all scientific views. Researchers from countries that have introduced lower limits than those advocated by the ICNIRP are underrepresented in UN bodies, says Victor Leach, a member of OSAAR, urging the WHO to recast the commission. But there is no sign that the ICNIRP is being questioned. 

5G and new radiation protection limits? – The EU Treaty requires citizens to be protected!

With the development of the new 5G mobile network, the actions and rethinking of the decisive committees will be particularly explosive. For 5G has properties whose effects have not yet been researched. It radiates on other, higher frequencies. The higher the frequency, the more data can be transmitted, but the more the wave is attenuated, for example by walls or human tissue. This is why 5G masts have a smaller range than previous mobile phone masts. The antennas no longer radiate 360 degrees around the mast but focus beams in a targeted manner to reach those who are currently making calls or receiving data. In order to provide 5G coverage throughout Germany, the entire network must be upgraded considerably: 800,000 additional radio masts are required. There is uncertainty about the health risks associated with the new mobile phone technology. Urgently needed long-term studies are missing. 

How uncertainty should be dealt with is set out in Article 191 of the EU Treaty: the precautionary principle applies. Citizens in Europe must always be protected against products whose safety has not yet been proven. This was also demanded by more than 400 scientists in an appeal to the UN, EU and all states. Vytenis Andriukaitis, head of cabinet of the current EU health commissioner, wrote in a letter to protesting scientists: “Recourse to the precautionary principle to stop the distribution of 5G technology seems to drastic a measure.” The EU wants to wait and see how 5G technology is applied and how the scientific evidence develops.

Waveguard – your partner for all aspects of electromagnetic radiation

We are increasingly exposed to radiation. Whether mobile phone radiation within the applicable radiation protection limits damages our health is controversial. Although thousands of doctors and scientists around the world have repeatedly drawn attention to health risks to the UN and WHO and called for the replacement of the 13-member ICNIRP commission that sets the guidelines and enjoys worldwide renown. Furthermore, the qualifications of their members, and thus their professional judgment, are questionable. Moreover, critics of the thermal effect are missing from the decisive committee. The demand that this should be made more transparent, democratic and balanced is becoming increasingly clear. 

Without state precautions, we can hardly protect ourselves against electromagnetic radiation. However, there are no signs of change and insight so far. 5G long-term studies are supposed to provide certainty, but the results must be awaited. 

Especially for electrosensitive people it is important to implement radiation protection in their own homes. Take the steps to support your family from the risks that electrosmog presents. For this purpose, we at Waveguard develop exclusive products both on the move and at home or in the office. Our Qi technology is integrated in all Qi maschines.

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Did you like this article? Follow the latest news on the subject of electrosmog in our Waveguard blog.

Sources (German)

Free: Checklist for EMF protection in your workplace

Electrosmog can often trigger health related problems, such as headaches and poor concentration.

What you’ll discover:

  • What is electrosmog and why it is so harmful to health;
  • How to mitigate EMF exposure in your workplace;
  • Easy and effective protective measures to promote wellbeing of every employee in your workplace.

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