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Public Exposure Guidelines

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What Are They?

There are now 89.9 million active mobile handsets and mobile data connections in the UK. However, alongside this adoption of mobile technology there is some community concern about exposure to radio waves from base stations (commonly called ‘masts’). To date, the balance of evidence from research suggests masts pose no health risk to the general population. International health and safety guidelines are in place to limit public exposure to radio waves from base stations and mobile phones, and are set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Fully adopted by the UK’s four mobile phone network operators, these guidelines provide protection against known adverse health effects.


ICNIRP is an international independent scientific organisation that provides guidance and advice on the health hazards of non-ionizing radiation exposure. Its guidelines are endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Protection against the adverse health effects of non-ionizing radiation is a broad field demanding knowledge of many scientific disciplines. ICNIRP’s aim is to bring together independent experts to provide advice on the health issues relating to non-ionizing radiation exposure.

The ICNIRP guidelines are based on an analysis of all relevant scientific literature, including both thermal and non thermal studies.

How Do The Guidelines Work?

Radio waves are electromagnetic energy. It is established that such energy can lead to the heating of the body, but radio waves do not have enough energy to damage cell structures and are therefore known as 'non-ionizing'. Scientific research has led to the conclusion that a temperature rise of no more than 1 degree celsius is a safe level for the body to cope with. The guidelines ensure this level is not exceeded – and the guidelines include a substantial safety margin for limiting public exposure.

When Were They Set?

The National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) now part of Public Health England (PHE) had previously set the national guidelines for the UK. In May 2000, the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones – chaired by Sir William Stewart – concluded that the evidence to date suggests that exposure to radio waves below the guidelines do not cause adverse health effects to the general population. However, the Stewart Report called for a precautionary approach and recommended that this should include adopting the ICNIRP guidelines in the UK. The ICNIRP limits for exposure for the general public are based on the same science as that used by the NRPB, but have an additional precautionary factor built into them. The NRPB Report in January 2005 endorsed the use of the ICNIRP guidelines. ICNIRP carried out a review of the scientific literature in 2009 and confirmed the existing exposure guidelines. Following the publication of the Interphone study in 2010 ICNIRP stated that the results gave no reason for alteration of the guidelines. ICNIRP has been carrying out a review of the possible health effects of radiowaves and it will take into account the material in the International Agency for Cancer Research Monograph.

Who Complies?

Immediately following publication of the Stewart Report in May 2000, the mobile network operators ensured their sites complied with the ICNIRP public exposure guidelines. With every planning application for a new base station, the operators provide a certificate declaring the proposed site will be ICNIRP-compliant. This was a key point in the operators ‘Ten Commitments to best siting practice’, launched in August 2001. These can be found at: All existing base stations meet the ICNIRP public exposure guidelines and all new base stations are built to this standard.

National Audit

In May 2000, the Government asked the Radio communications Agency (now part of the Office of Communications, Ofcom) to conduct a national audit of base station emissions to confirm they comply with ICNIRP guidelines. The surveys, which began in December 2000, have shown that even maximum levels of exposure are a small fraction of the guidelines. The results of the audits are available on the Ofcom website (



No Established Adverse Health Effects

Mobile phones operate by using radio waves, a form of non-ionising radiation. There is a large body of scientific evidence on the effects of exposure to radio waves because they have been widely used for decades: for example, radio, TV and radar signals are radio waves. The scientific consensus is that, apart from the increased risk of a road accident due to mobile phone use when driving, there is no clear evidence of adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones or from phone masts. (Source: Health Protection Agency, Health Advice on Mobile Phones, May 2010).

A Wealth of Research

A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use. (Source: World Health Organisation Fact Sheet N°193, June 2011).