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Throughout time, every population has been exposed to various degrees of EMF. There has, however, been a tremendous increase in EMF levels over the last century, and this will only continue to rise as technology improves. This has necessitated a need for an EMF exposure regulation or standard.
The WHO (World Health Organization) created the global EMF Project in 1996 to study the scientific evidence of EMF health effects via the frequency range of 0 -300 GHz and develop internationally acceptable EMF exposure standards to serve as EMF regulations globally.
Despite attempts by the WHO and ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection) to have a unified global EMF standard or regulation, some regions or countries adjusted or chose not to abide by the international recommended guidance.
Read on to see the current EMF regulations in the US, Europe, Australia, and Asia.
Overview of International EMF Regulations
The ICNIRP is an independent commission established to provide science-based advice on limiting exposure to non-ionizing radiation. It aims to protect people and the environment from the harmful effect of non-ionizing radiation by determining exposure limits for electromagnetic fields utilized by devices like cellular phones. ICNIRP is also the de-facto radiation safety setter in much of Europe and in the world.
In 1998, the organization set guidelines for public exposure to time-varying EMFs up to 300 GHz with the radiofrequency EMF spectrum. (See the 1998 ICNIRP updated radiofrequency EMF guidelines)
Despite the global guidelines and recommendations by the WHO and ICNIRP, diverse EMF regulations are carried out in every region since there are no compulsory safety standards for EMF exposure. Currently, the WHO offers an overview of global standards for restricting exposure to EMFs in its WHO Global Health Observatory portal. The organization allows clear comparisons of standards or regulations among countries.
Separately, there also the EU (European Union) guidelines and recommendations for restricting the general public or worker’s exposure. This has become a common ground for EMF legislation in several European countries.
In the two EU guidance documents, the restrictions are derived from the ICNIRP recommendations. However, there have been differences in the EU member states’ execution of the guidelines and recommendations.
Note– Some of these recommendations may be outdated and might not be satisfactory in the present dispensation.
There’s no uniform regulation to restrict electromagnetic radiation in the US.
There are also no U.S. federal standards limiting residential or occupational exposure to electric and magnetic fields (EMF) from power lines – as of January 2023 .However, some states have set standards for transmission line fields.
Some US states of Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, Hawaii, and Ohio apply the model of “prudent avoidance,” in which the population exposure to 60 Hz fields needs to be restricted, but at considerable cost. For states like Minnesota, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Montana, and Oregon, fixed limits are seen for the power line fields lying between 0.2x and almost 2.5x of the 1999 European Council recommendation reference levels.
And for radio systems, the US federal legislation puts the fundamental limits identical to the European Council Recommendation.
But because of another calculation approach, the reference levels are higher. In particular, at 900 MHz by 1/5 for the electric and magnetic field strengths and by 1/3 for the power density.
Find more about the specific regulation governing the use of EMF in the United States here to gain a more in-depth understanding of the subject matter. You can also go to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ EMF Q&A pamphlet to see more information about the American state standards or regulations.
On Wifi cell phones and 5G technology, while the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has created safety guidelines to limit RF energy exposure, Environmental Health Trust (EHT) experts have spoken against the FCC’s outdated limits that have put Americans at risk, including with new 5G technologies. Read more here. With this in mind, it’s important to take the right precautions before it is too late. The FCC licenses facilities and transmitters that generate RF energy. And has agreed on exposure limits for RF energy. The organization wants all wireless devices in the US to comply with the limits.
However, in 2021, EHT won a court case against the FCC concerning its inability to update its 1996 exposure limits for wireless radiation from wireless devices, cell towers, and cell phones. The court discovered that the FCC has failed to answer evidence that RF radiation exposure at levels below present limits might create adverse health impacts. The court ruling wants the FCC to offer a “reasoned record of review” of the evidence before maintaining or updating its guidelines. Meanwhile, check this webpage to see information about the FDA’s function in cell phone regulation. And this page lists FCC’s function in wireless device safety.
The EU member states are bound by guidelines and recommendations of the European Parliament and the Council. The member states execute the recommendations and guidelines through laws and regulations in their national laws. They comply with the restrictions put in place by the EU guidelines, including the permissible exposure upper limits. Though countries define additional stringent national limits to the minimum requirements (so it can differ depending on the country).
This leads to diverse national regulations for general occupational and public exposure. And for daily life devices like electrical households and cell phones that create low-frequency or high-frequency fields, the emissions are being controlled via item standards the producers should comply with. Some countries applied partially stricter restrictions in their national policies than the ones recommended by the EU and ICNIRP.
The countries are Netherlands and Switzerland for low-frequency ranges. For high-frequency ranges, including mobile communications, the countries with more stringent regulations include Luxembourg, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland.
The German government aims to minimize EMF when creating or modifying alternating current and direct current facilities with voltages bigger than 1 kilovolt.
And that high-voltage power lines for alternating current on new routes shouldn’t pass buildings designed for long people stay. Generally, the compliance limit for general humans in low-frequency and radiofrequency field ranges is regulated by law (Ordinance on Electromagnetic Fields). And for the low-frequency range, the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection compiled the limits and regulations in Europe in an overview. This exposure overview limits in diverse countries are in the ranges of 50 Hz fields and mobile communication fields like GSM-1800 and GSM-900 for the general human and occupational exposure. This has stayed the same since 2013 as of now.
Netherland applies the low-frequency reference levels for power lines based on ICNIRP guidelines. There’s also the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment recommendation in 2005 applies to new power lines around sensitive areas in which a 0.4 µT magnetic flux density shouldn’t be exceeded. A suggestion from a government department encourages municipalities and electric grid operators to do their utmost to prevent creating new circumstances where children reside long-term near overhead high-voltage power lines that have an annual average magnetic flux density exceeding the same 0.4 microtesla. This counsel is pertinent when shaping spatial strategies, deciding the path of these power lines, or when altering current strategies or existing power lines. For current situations, the reference level in the EU recommendation should be taken into consideration. And in the electric field, the reference level of 5 kV/m by ICNIRP remains unchanged.
In Switzerland, the restriction for power line 50 Hz magnetic fields depends on the 1998 ICNIRP recommendations. It’s 100 µT, identical to the German reference level. Since 2000, a regulation concerning the safeguarding from non-ionizing radiation has been operative. Exposure limits that are identical to the reference levels in the EU recommendation are applicable to all public-accessible areas. A more stringent, precautionary limit on magnetic flux density, which is 1% of the reference level in the EU recommendation, is enforced at areas deemed as sensitive (for example residences, schools, children’s play areas). This applies to the subsequent categories of installations unless the proprietor can demonstrate that all technically feasible and economically viable measures to minimize exposure have been implemented: new high-voltage power lines (both overhead and cables); significant alterations of existing high-voltage power lines; existing and new transformers and substations. For existing high-voltage power lines, when the precautionary limit on magnetic flux density is surpassed, the phase order must be optimized.
For the radiofrequency range, Italy doesn’t use the ICNIRP guidelines. Its reference levels in the range 3 MHz and 3 GHz are fixed. And for all sources of low-frequency emissions other than power lines, the EU’s recommended reference levels and basic restrictions hold. For electric and magnetic fields at 50 hertz originating from power lines and corresponding installations, exceeding the EU’s recommended reference level is not permissible. Moreover, a cautionary ‘notice value’ and ‘quality objective’ are applicable to 24-hour average exposure in homes, playgrounds, schools, and locations where individuals can stay for more than four hours. The ‘notice value,’ which is 10% of the EU’s reference level for magnetic flux density, is applicable in existing conditions. The ‘quality objective,’ which is 3% of the EU’s reference level for magnetic flux density, is applicable in new conditions. A more stringent limit for magnetic flux density (0.2% of the reference level) was adopted in three regions before the federal law was implemented. This too is applicable to power lines close to homes, schools, and other places where individuals may stay for more than 4 hours daily.
In Belgium, the restriction of EMF exposure among the general public is the responsibility of the three autonomous regions. In Flanders, an advisory statement from the ministry for the planning of new power lines asserts that they should not pass over schools and childcare centers and their crossing over residences should be minimal. New schools and childcare facilities should not be situated in the magnetic field zone where the average exposure over the year exceeds 0.4 microtesla (0.4% of the reference level in the EU recommendation). Furthermore, a decree concerning the indoor environment obliges those who construct or manage homes and public buildings to maintain exposure to power frequency magnetic fields below 10 microtesla (10% of the reference level in the EU recommendation) and encourages them to aim for a ‘quality goal’ of 0.2 microtesla (0.2% of the reference level in the EU recommendation). In the Brussels region, a ministerial directive for environmental permits necessitates that the magnetic field in areas near newly installed transformers where children under 15 may stay is maintained below a 24-hour average of 0.4 microtesla. Wallonia does not have a precautionary policy for power frequency magnetic fields, but applies the limits in the EU recommendation to transformers.
For the power frequency field for general public exposure, the French ministerial recommendation says that the prefectures should avoid creating new childcare facilities and hospitals near cables, power lines, and transformers where children can be exposed to magnetic fields more powerful than 1 microtesla. A directive from the ministry suggests that Prefectures do their utmost to refrain from building new hospitals, maternity wards, and childcare facilities near power lines, cables, transformers, and bus bars where children could be exposed to a magnetic field exceeding 1 microtesla. For new or modified electrical infrastructure, the grid operator typically strives to prevent as much as possible the establishment of new electrical infrastructure near such places when planning a new grid development. The grid operator is legally required to oversee the intensity of EMF near power lines in urban areas. Moreover, citizens have the ability to seek information about the intensity of EMF from local power lines through their mayor.
Luxemburg’s ministerial recommendation advises its populace not to establish living spaces around overhead power lines for the power frequency field for general public exposure. There is also a ministerial recommendation not to create any new living spaces in the immediate vicinity of overhead power lines (within 20 metres for 65 kilovolt lines and 30 metres for 100 to 220 kilovolt lines).
In Australia, there’s no government regulation for general population exposure to EMF with frequencies less than 3 kilohertz. The ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) maintained that the ICNIRP low-frequency guidelines are in line with its general public protection from EMF low-frequency exposure. Also, the grid operators use a ‘prudent avoidance’ approach to take considerable steps to restrict field exposures from substations, underground cables, and power lines at low or no cost.
For radiofrequency fields, the basic restrictions are identical to the EU recommendation. For occupational exposure under power-frequency fields, the basic restrictions and reference levels are identical to the 2010 and 2009 ICNIRP guidelines on low and static frequency fields. Furthermore, in the occupational exposure under radiofrequency fields, the restrictions and reference levels are set by the national radiation protection standard and are equally identical to the 1998 ICNIRP guidelines.
Like in the US and Europe, there’s no uniform EMF regulation across countries within Asia.
In China, the power frequency magnetic fields limit is identical to the reference levels in the EU recommendation, which is about 800 hertz. However, it’s lower for frequencies bigger than 800 hertz. A national criterion for safeguarding the general populace under the Environmental Protection Act establishes boundaries for environmental exposure to EMF, excluding household devices. The restrictions for power frequency magnetic fields align with the reference levels in the EU suggestion up to 800 hertz, but they are lower for frequencies above 800 hertz. For electric fields, the restrictions are beneath the reference levels in the EU recommendation for all frequencies. The standard also refers to the precautionary principle and urges owners of facilities and equipment to adopt effective strategies to diminish public exposure. For occupational exposure to the power frequency field, China’s limits for workplace physical agents give a restriction of 5 kilovolts per meter. In the radiofrequency field for occupational exposure, China’s limits for workplace physical agents provide a restriction for radiofrequency EMF with frequencies ranging from 100 kilohertz to 300 gigahertz. For these frequencies, the exposure restrictions are 8% to 41% of the EU directive action levels. Meanwhile, the restrictions for partial body exposure are 10x higher than the ones for full-body exposure.
In India, there’s no federal regulation of the strength of EMF power frequency. The ministerial memorandum puts the limits on EMF general public exposure. The restriction is 33% of the EU recommendation reference levels for magnetic and electric field strength plus 10% for the power density. There’s no legal limit on occupational exposure to EMF power frequency. Also, there are no legally binding limits on occupational exposure to EMF power frequency.
The Japanese ministerial regulations for standards of railways and electrical equipment limit power frequency magnetic fields to the 2010 ICNIRP
guidelines reference level. The restriction for power frequency electric fields is lesser than the EU recommendation and ICNIRP guidelines. And they’re designed to prevent any electric shock. The ministerial radiofrequency radiation protection guidelines for EMF human exposure have a mandatory restriction for mobile phones similar to the EU recommendation. There’s no legal limit on occupational exposure to EMF power frequency. Also, there are no legally binding limits on occupational exposure to EMF power frequency.
Overall, it is evident that EMF regulations change with country and their respective organizations. Despite no global standard, it’s imperative to recognize that not all guidelines are the most up to date or reflective of newly published studies. With this knowledge, it’s important to spread awareness while also taking the right precautions for your own safety as we transcend into a more technologically advanced world and hold tight for additional research to buttress major hypotheses.
Updated: July 2nd, 2023