Base stations and your health
Mobile phones cannot work without base stations. Our comprehensive network of base stations allows us to keep improving our coverage and to introduce new services such as video calling, internet and mobile TV.
While most people welcome more mobile phone coverage, we at Vodafone recognise that some people are concerned about possible health effects of base stations and we are committed to addressing these concerns.
What the World Health Organization says
The World Health Organization's (WHO) fact sheet on base stations and wireless technologies states that "there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF (radio frequency) signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."
The WHO 2010 Research Agenda states that the recent German and Swiss research programs have focussed on well-being and nonspecific symptoms of ill health. However, the results published so far "do not indicate effects from such exposures in the everyday environment, although longitudinal studies are still scarce".
So what are the levels of RF exposure around base stations?
Public exposure to RF (radio frequency) from base stations is actually very low. Independent monitoring of RF exposure levels around mobile phone base stations has been conducted since 1999 under the control of the government agency, ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency). Findings from the 2007-2011 ARPANSA survey, show that the maximum measured values ranged from 1.33% to less than 0.001% of the ARPANSA Standard RPS3.
Measuring RF levels around base stations
- What is RF?
- Is it safe to have mobile base stations in schools or near homes?
- Can you guarantee that living and working near a base station is 100% safe?
- Can I find out RF exposure levels from base stations near my home?
- Is safe to have a base station on an apartment or office roof?
- How is my safety assured, i.e. do special regulations apply for base stations?
- I want to know about reported illness clusters near base stations
- Frequently asked questions about base stations
What is RF?
Radio frequency fields (RF) are radio waves. They are a form of electromagnetic (EM) field - energy transmitted as waves through space.
To place a call from our mobile handset, both our handset and the base station antenna send and receive RF fields. RF fields are the medium carrying the conversations (voice), messages (SMS), photographs, music or videos (data) we want to share with another person.
In the environment there are many sources of electromagnetic fields (often called electromagnetic radiation), in other words energy transmitted in wave form. They occur naturally and have artificial sources. The majority of electromagnetic waves are invisible and travel at the speed of light. Only one part of this type of radiation can be detected by the human eye, and that is the visible light, which produces various colours of the rainbow.
Natural sources of EM fields include light from the sun, lightning and the earth's magnetic field. Even the human body has its own natural EM fields, which carry messages along the nervous system. When operating refrigerators, hairdryers and computers produce EM fields. TV, radio, mobile phones, remote control devices, baby monitors and microwave ovens not only generate EM fields but also rely on them to function. Emergency Services systems communicate using EM fields. So do wireless technologies such as WiFi, which is increasingly used by computer networks, to connect to the internet and to connect different electronic items
- Tell me more about RF
- I want to know about other electromagnetic fields
- What about RF from WiFi systems in schools and homes?
- How much RF do Femtocells emit?
RF fields from base station antennas
Most of the radio frequency (RF) fields spread out from a high base station antenna, like a beam of light from a lighthouse. There is a "shadow area" where the RF field strength is low close to and directly below the base station. At ground level, the RF field strength initially increases to a small peak at 50 - 150 metres depending on the tilt of the antenna and then reduces rapidly as the distance increases.
Radio waves from a base station work rather like light from a lighthouse
This means that, when a base station is placed on a rooftop, be it on a residential unit block, school or office, the people in the building directly below receive very low exposure. In addition roof materials such as timber, steel and concrete reduce the strength of the radio signal as it passes through. This means that the exposure levels inside the building are many times lower than on the rooftop itself. The panel antennas on buildings usually point outwards often on the edge of the roof to service the required coverage area. As a result the area immediately behind the panel antenna has a very low RF field strength.
On the rooftop itself, if the antennas are not mounted on the outer edge of the building, they are mounted high enough to ensure that the RF strength in all publically accessible areas meets the ARPANSA public exposure standard. Very close to the front of the antennas, there is an area or volume where it is possible that the ARPANSA public exposure levels could be exceeded. This is known as the RADHAZ zone. For these areas, measures are taken in the form of signage and physical barriers (e.g. locked access), to prevent inadvertent access to this area by the public.
The area where people receive the higher exposure is, in fact, typically between 50 and 150 metres away, depending on the height and angle of the antenna. However, this is still a fraction of the recommended limit for public exposure to RF from base stations set in the ARPANSA Standard RPS3 (and ICNIRP).
All our base stations comply with the ARPANSA public exposure standard. In fact, people's maximum exposure in publically accessible areas is usually between 0.01% and 3% of the ARPANSA Standard for public exposure. Even people who live or work near a base station are not exposed to more than this amount.
- Where to I find information if maintenance work needs to be done close to RF antennas?
- How can I find the RF exposure levels from base stations near my home?
How is my safety assured?
Public exposure limits and regulation of RF signals
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to ACMA has set mandatory limits for RF exposure for all devices that produce radiofrequency signals. Mobile phones and their base stations are included in these mandatory limits, as are AM and FM radio and TV broadcast stations. These ACMA limits are based on the levels set in the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency - ARPANSA Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields -3kHz to 300 GHz (RPS3), which is derived from the International Commission Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) Guidelines.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority's website has extensive information on health and mobile phone technology including:
1. Consumer booklet titled Mobile phones your health and regulation of electromagnetic energy
2. Consumer Fact sheets which has special sections which answer questions associated with the installation of mobile phone base stations in a local area, the use of mobile handsets and other associated health issues.
3.Information about EMR Human Exposure Standard
The ARPANSA Standard
The International and Australian standards have radiofrequency (RF) exposure limits based on a "whole body" threshold electromagnetic energy (EME) exposure of four watts/kg. Exposure to energy from RF signals above this threshold has been experimentally demonstrated to produce adverse health effects.
To ensure the protection of people and the community, a number of safety factors have been applied to the whole body threshold. For trained technicians working with RF technology, a safety factor of 10 is incorporated for exposure levels, and for members of the general public, a further safety factor of 5 is incorporated (meaning the whole body threshold is divided by 10 and 50 respectively). Thus the current Australian ARPANSA Standard stipulates that members of the general public are exposed to no more than 0.08 watts/kg.
To ensure these limits are not exceeded when measuring RF exposure levels in the field, ARPANSA has set a number of reference levels. For the radio frequencies used by mobile phone base stations, the reference levels are usually expressed in power density units (watts per square metre). Exposure reports, such as the ARPANSA EME Report, express exposure as a percentage of the reference limits set in the ARPANSA Standard.
How do we know that the ARPANSA Standard is safe?
ARPANSA undertook a thorough review of the International scientific literature and studies relating to RF standards before formulating the 'Radiation Protection Standard - Maximum Exposure Levels - 3kHz to 300 GHz (ARPANSA Standard, 2002).
This review confirmed the basic exposure limit of 0.08 watts/kg, with its safety factor of 50, was ample to protect the general public from any harmful effects from RF signals. The ARPANSA Standard is one of the world's most comprehensive standards, and includes requirements for the management of risk in occupational exposure, and additional information on measurement and assessment of compliance.
Finding out RF levels from base stations near your home - ARPANSA EME report
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has developed a standardised industry methodology for monitoring and reporting on the existing and predicted EME levels of base stations operated by carriers.
This methodology is used to keep the community informed about existing base stations and proposals under the Communications Alliance (previously called ACIF) Code for the Deployment of Mobile Phone Network Infrastructure.
RF exposure levels are calculated by considering factors such as power input, cable loss, antenna gain, path loss, and height and distance from the source. The exposure calculations must take into account RF transmitters from all telecommunications carriers at the site. The cumulative calculations are given as a percentage of the ARPANSA Standard, which is the Australian general public RF exposure limit.
You can use the industry's RF National Site Archive (RFNSA) website (www.rfnsa.com.au) to locate base stations and EME reports in your neighbourhood. Use the "Quick search Tips":
- Type suburb name, postcode, or site number into the search box
- Select the site from the list by clicking on the site number
- Select tabs for site information and reports (including the EME report).
The RFNSA website also has links to ARPANSA's guide on EME reports and the Mobile Carrier's Forum (MCF) Factsheets which includes "Understanding the ARPANSA EME Report" and "Reading the ARPANSA EME Report"
- Does ARPANSA track health complaints about EME?
- Does ARPANSA keep the community informed on research papers on EME?
- Does ARPANSA undertake RF exposure measurements around base stations?
Building our network
As part of our commitment to responsible deployment, Vodafone applies the principles of safe systems, consultation and sensitive environmental planning, good design and environmental protection to all its base station network development and operations.
Commitment to base station safety
Community health and safety is paramount to us. Vodafone strictly adheres to all the national guidelines and standards relating to mobile phones and mobile infrastructure, including base stations. Vodafone applies a strict policy of building and operating its base stations well within the limits of national health and safety standards, applying the objective of minimising electromagnetic energy (EME) whilst meeting service requirements.
Commitment to consultation and sensitive environmental planning
When formulating proposals for base station siting and design, we undertake a thorough assessment in order to identify the most environmentally friendly solution. This process involves assessing:
- the impact of a proposed facility design on existing land uses
- specialist consultant advice as to the likely environmental impact of siting proposals
- regulatory requirements of Commonwealth, State and Local authorities and compliance with relevant standards
- the minimum size and type of structure required for achieving network planning objectives.
In order to meet these objectives, we aim to use existing buildings and structures. Where possible, we will use existing antenna structures and design the base stations to keep the amount of telecommunications equipment to a minimum.
Commitment to protect the natural and built environment
Vodafone seeks to protect, and where possible, enhance the natural and built environment by:
- assessing potential concerns of residents and users in areas affected by its activities
- preserving the aesthetic, anthropological, archaeological, architectural, cultural, historical, social and scientific value of the area
- minimising the impact on ecosystems and preserving existing flora and fauna
- minimising the use of natural resources, and creating and disposing of waste in a safe and responsible manner
- seeking to minimise the visual impact of facilities on the local environment and minimising environmental pollution such as land disturbance and noise
- incorporating the use of environmentally friendly products in the construction whenever possible
Frequently asked questions about base stations
1. How close can members of the general public get to a base station antenna and not exceed exposure limits?
Base stations are designed so that no member of the public would be able to gain access inadvertently to the limited area near the antenna where there is the possibility that exposure limits could be reached (generally less than 10m directly in front of the antenna devices for a macro or full size base station). It is important to remember that the pole or tower simply supports the antennas and does not emit radiofrequency signals. The nearby cabins housing electrical cabling and other equipment are not designed to emit radiofrequency signals.
2. What are the emission levels from a typical mobile phone base station?
The emission levels from a Vodafone base station depend on a number of factors, including the area the cell is designed to cover and the number of simultaneous calls it is designed to carry. Depending on the base station, power levels will normally be between two and 150 watts. Radiofrequency exposure levels from a typical Vodafone base station at ground level are normally 0.1 to 3 per cent of the Australian Communications and Media Authority's mandatory limits (i.e. the ARPANSA Standard).
3. Is it safe to have a base station near schools or near my home?
Yes. The ARPANSA Standard for radiofrequency fields is designed to safeguard everyone regardless of age and at all times.
Base stations operate at low power. Independent surveys demonstrate that the background RF level in the community, including levels near schools and homes from base stations is very low, and similar to the levels from broadcast radio and television.
The World Health Organization monitors scientific research into wireless technologies and concludes, "Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."
4. Why can't mobile phone base stations be sited away from schools and residential areas?
For mobile networks to work, low powered base stations are required to be located in proximity to where people use their phones. In order to provide quality coverage, it is not always possible to locate a base station in areas far away from residences.
In relation to the proximity of proposed facilities to schools and residential areas and potential health effects, we appreciate that sometimes members of the community are particularly concerned about such facilities being placed near schools and residences. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) who is responsible for the formulating the Australian EME exposure standard states the following in relation to this:
"Regulations to protect the public from RF EME exposure from telecommunications facilities established by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) do not set any distance requirements between the facility and other land uses such as residences, schools or hospitals.
Similarly, the ACIF Code does not specify arbitrary distances at which infrastructure must be sited from community sensitive locations, because arbitrary distances do not necessarily reflect a precautionary approach. In fact, infrastructure sited further from a community sensitive area may need to operate at a higher power and may result in higher EME exposures in that sensitive area. Furthermore, it must be remembered that evidence gathered by ARPANSA suggests that exposure levels in public areas are so far below the exposure limit set by ACMA, and that EME emissions from mobile phone base stations have no implications for health.
5. If more than one carrier is sharing a site, are the emission levels increased?
Generally yes. A shared site will have higher emission levels. However, the regulations require cumulative assessments to be undertaken for all carriers on a shared site. The cumulative exposure levels for the general public at shared sites cannot exceed the ARPANSA RF safety limits.
6. When 3G and/or LTE antennas are added to an existing 2G base station, do emissions increased?
As with a shared site, adding an additional 3G antennas will increase emissions. But the resultant levels are still expected to be a fraction of the ARPANSA RF safety limits. The cell size for the 3G antennas is generally smaller and the cell size "shrinks" when in high use. Only low levels of power are required to operate a 3G and/or LTE antenna.
7. Can the emissions from a mobile phone base station affect the health of those nearby?
A lot of research has been done over the past five decades into the effects of radiofrequency (RF) signals.
The safety of wireless technologies including base stations is backed up by the World Health Organization who state:
"Over the past 15 years, studies examining a potential relationship between RF transmitters and cancer have been published. These studies have not provided evidence that RF exposure from the transmitters increases the risk of cancer."
"Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects." (WHO Fact Sheet 304, May 2006).
Australia's health authority, the Australian Radiation Protection & Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) states:
"the weight of National and International scientific opinion is that there is no substantiated evidence that living near a mobile phone antenna causes adverse health effects. There is no evidence of a link between exposure to radiofrequency (RF) EME and adverse health effects in humans at levels below the limits specified in the ARPANSA Radiation Protection Standard (2002) "Maximum Exposure Levels to Radiofrequency Fields - 3kHz to 300 GHz". Although subtle biological effects caused by RF EME emissions have been reported in some laboratory studies, there is no evidence that these effects may lead to adverse health outcomes. However, there are gaps in the knowledge that have been identified for further research to better assess health risks. "(ARPANSA EME Series Fact Sheet 2, revised July 2011).
Vodafone ensures base stations comply with the national and international guideline limits in all publicly accessible areas. Access is restricted and signage is used around base stations to indicate the very limited area immediately around an antenna where it is possible for exposures to be above the National and International guideline limits.
8. Can you guarantee that living and working near a base station is safe?
It is impossible to give such a guarantee about anything in life. In 1999, the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee explained that "no matter how much research is done, it will never be possible to prove that something is not harmful. Scientific research can say that there is no evidence of risk or it can demonstrate that any risk is very low, but it cannot produce evidence of no risk." (UK House of Commons Mobile Phones and Health, 1999).
In May 2000, the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (Stewart Enquiry) endorsed this view, stating that "Some people propose that new developments should only be permitted when they have been shown to be completely safe, but this is unrealistic. Science can never provide a guarantee of zero risk." (Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP), Stewart Report, 2000. paragraph 6.15)
Whilst science cannot provide a zero risk guarantee, Vodafone supports independent quality research and the continued monitoring and health assessment by recognised expert groups such as the World Health Organization Electromagnetic Fields project.
9. How can anyone be sure that research will not show in years to come that mobile phones and their base stations are harmful to health?
Research into the effects of radiofrequency signals goes back more than five decades and this enormous body of research has been analysed by scientists from all over the world. The World Health Organization concludes that the thousands of scientific studies carried out to date do not confirm that exposure to radiofrequency fields from mobile devices and base stations has any health effects.
Most experts agree that the RF energy produced by a mobile device is not sufficient to cause long-term changes in the body. Furthermore, research has not demonstrated that RF fields are carcinogenic, but it has not been able to rule out cancer risks from mobile phone devices used close to the body over more than 10 years of heavy use.
IARC, which is part of the WHO, has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer.
IARC said in its statement:
"The evidence was reviewed critically, and overall evaluated as being limited among users of wireless telephones for glioma and acoustic neuroma, and inadequate to draw conclusions for other types of cancers. The evidence from the occupational and environmental exposures mentioned above was similarly judged inadequate."
IARC concluded that there could be some risk, and therefore there was a need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk.
We have now been using mobile phones for nearly 30 years and they have been in widespread use for two decades without any significant increase in the rates of brain tumour being found.
According to the IARC World Cancer Report 2008, the incidence of brain tumours since the introduction of widespread mobile phone use has remained relatively stable:
"After 1983 and more recently during the period of increasing prevalence of mobile phone users, the incidence has remained relatively stable for both men and women."
A US study of more than 38,000 brain cancer cases from 1977 to 2006, published in July 2010 by the US National Cancer Institute, found:
"Overall, these incidence data from the United States based on high-quality cancer registries do not provide support for the view that use of cellular phones causes brain cancer."
It is worth noting that when exposure guidelines are defined, they are based on preventing a known adverse health effect to which additional safety factors are added. People should also keep in mind that when scientists or expert groups refer to a biological effect, this does not necessarily mean an adverse health effect. For example, drinking a glass of water or even listening to music will produce a biological effect and we experience these effects throughout our lives. Indeed, vision is a biological effect based on the eye detecting radiofrequency signals at frequencies higher than those used for radio communications.
10. Who can I ask for an independent view on the safety of mobile phone base stations?
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) provides advice to the general public on such issues. Their website offers a series of electromagnetic emission fact sheets that cover the Radiofrequency Exposure Standard, public health issues related to electro magnetic emission, mobile phone networks and base stations, broadcast towers, potential interference issues, mobile phones and children and Australian research into electro magnetic emission (EME).
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) also responds to enquiries from the general public about the use of radio and interference issues.
You can access independent expert review reports from national and international health authorities here
11. Will a base station interfere with other electrical equipment - for example my computer or television?
There are national and international standards governing all forms of electronic equipment regarding the interference that such equipment produces and, in turn, its immunity to interference from outside. Any equipment compliant with these standards is unlikely to suffer or cause interference.
However, if a member of the public contacts Vodafone on a matter of interference in relation to its base stations, Vodafone will investigate the matter and take appropriate action if required. The Australian Communications and Media Authority will also investigate issues raised regarding interference in its management of the radiofrequency spectrum.
12. Will a mobile phone base station affect hospital equipment? Why are we told not to use mobile phones in hospitals?
A mobile phone base station, whether nearby or on the hospital roof, should not interfere with any equipment. Vodafone carries out special field strength studies in hospitals to make sure emissions are even lower than those recommended in the national and international standards. A study by the UK Medical Devices Agency found no significant levels of interference to medical devices from mobile phone base stations. (MDA Device Bulletin DB9702: Electromagnetic compatibility of Medical Devices with Mobile Communications, 1997)
In most areas of a hospital, mobile phones do not pose any problems. However, using a mobile phone close to some sensitive electronic devices could possibly result in interference.