Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones
Report Mobile Phones and Health
Summary and Recommendations
The widespread use of mobile phones is a recent phenomenon. Their use
has escalated over the past decade and to many they are now an essential
part of business, commerce and society. Over the Christmas 1999 period
alone approximately 4 million phones were sold in the UK and at present
(April 2000) there are about 25 million mobile phones in circulation.
This is equivalent to nearly one phone for every two people (see
The fact that so many people own mobile phones attests to their
perceived importance to the general public. The advent of third
generation systems will extend the use of most forms of communications
technologies, including fax, e-mail and Internet access. The use of
mobile phones and related technologies will continue to increase for the
The extensive use of mobile phones has been accompanied by public debate
about possible adverse effects on human health. The concerns relate to
the emissions of radiofrequency (RF) radiation from the phones (the
handsets) and from the base stations that receive and transmit the
signals (paragraphs 3.33.7). For the general population, the levels
of exposure arising from phones held near to the head or other parts of
the body are substantially greater than whole-body exposures arising
from base stations (paragraphs 4.284.36).
There are two direct ways by which health could be affected as a result
of exposure to RF radiation. These are by thermal (heating) effects
caused mainly by holding mobile phones close to the body, and as a
result of possible non-thermal effects from both phones and base
stations (paragraphs 5.55.26).
There can also be indirect effects. There is evidence that using a
mobile phone whilst driving can increase the risk of accidents. Also
some peoples well-being may be adversely affected by the
environmental impact of mobile phone base stations sited near their
homes, schools or other buildings, as well as by their fear of perceived
direct effects (paragraphs 5.264, 6.44 and 6.45).
Mobile phones and base stations emit RF radiation. In both cases levels
of exposure generally reduce with increasing distance from the source.
For mobile phones, exposures will be principally to the side of the head
for hand-held use, or to the parts of the body closest to the phone
during hands-free use.
For base station emissions, exposures of the general population will be
to the whole body but normally at levels of intensity many times less
than those from handsets (paragraphs 4.284.36). Base stations
communicate with mobile phones within a defined area or cell.
These can be of three types: macrocells, microcells and picocells
depending upon their size and the power output of the antenna (paragraph
Macrocells provide the main structure for the base station network. The
base stations for macrocells have power outputs of tens of watts and
communicate with phones up to about 35 kilometres (22 miles) distant.
There are at present about 20,000 macrocells covering the country
(paragraph 4.9). We believe that this number will continue to increase.
Measurements that have been made (see paragraphs 4.304.36) indicate
that exposures of the general population from these sites are typically
many hundreds, or thousands of times lower than existing exposure
guidelines. There are concerns, nevertheless, about whether the
emissions from all base stations are uniformly low, about whether the
emissions could cause unknown health effects, and whether, with the
increased use of mobile telecommunications, their output will have to
Microcells are used to infill and improve the main network, especially
where the volume of calls is high. They are sited in places such as
airports, railway stations and shopping malls. Their number is rapidly
increasing in line with the growth in demand for mobile phones. The
microcell base stations emit less power than those for macrocells and
their range is a few hundred metres. We understand that exposures above
guidelines do not occur, provided the case surrounding the antenna is
kept in place. However, as with some other items of electrical equipment
for example, lasers in CD equipment there is a possibility of
overexposure if the case is removed.
Picocell base stations have a lower power output than those of
microcells (a few watts) and are generally sited inside buildings. It is
likely that the number of picocells within buildings will substantially
increase. Although we are satisfied that their emissions should not
exceed the guidelines, the system of audits that we propose (paragraph
1.40) will provide an independent check on the output not only from
picocell antennas but from all base station types.
As well as mobile phone base stations, there are a large number of other
RF emitting sources in our environment, including antennas for radio,
television and paging (paragraphs 4.204.22). Exposures of individuals
to RF radiation from these sources will depend upon their proximity and
may be above those from mobile phone base stations, although still well
Current Guidelines on Acceptable Levels of
Exposure to Radiofrequency Radiation
Government has in place national guidelines (paragraphs 6.196.26,
6.32) established by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB)
on the maximum levels of exposure to RF radiation emitted from mobile
phones, base stations and other sources (the NRPB guidelines).
These guidelines were established in 1993 when mobile phone technology
was in its infancy. The guidelines were based on a comprehensive review
of the scientific literature carried out by NRPB, a statutory body,
which advises Government on radiological issues related to health.
In 1998 the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation
Protection (ICNIRP) published its own guidelines (paragraphs 6.276.31)
covering exposure to RF radiation. These were based on essentially the
same evidence as that used by NRPB, and for workers the limits on
exposure are similar. However, under the ICNIRP guidelines, the maximum
levels of exposure of the public are about five times less than those
recommended for workers. The reason for this approach was the
possibility that some members of the general public might be
particularly sensitive to RF radiation. However, no detailed scientific
evidence to justify this additional safety factor was provided.
The ICNIRP guidelines for the public have been incorporated in a
European Council Recommendation (1999), which has been agreed in
principle by all countries in the European Union (EU), including the UK.
In Germany the ICNIRP guidelines have been incorporated into statute
Both the NRPB and ICNIRP guidelines are based on the need to avoid known
adverse health effects. At the time these guidelines were drawn up, the
only established adverse effects were those caused by the heating of
Main Conclusions on the Possible Effects
of Mobile Phone Technology on Human Health
Despite public concern about the safety of mobile phones and base
stations, rather little research specifically relevant to these
emissions has been published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.
This presumably reflects the fact that it is only recently that mobile
phones have been widely used by the public (paragraphs 2.12.12) and
as yet there has been little opportunity for any health effects to
become manifest. There is, however, some peer-reviewed literature from
human and animal studies, and an extensive non-peer-reviewed information
base, relating to potential health effects caused by exposure to RF
radiation from mobile phone technology.
The balance of evidence to date suggests that exposures to RF
radiation below NRPB and ICNIRP guidelines do not cause adverse health
effects to the general population (Chapter 5, paragraphs 6.336.42).
There is now scientific evidence, however, which suggests that there
may be biological effects occurring at exposures below these guidelines
(paragraphs 5.1765.194, 6.38). This does not necessarily mean that
these effects lead to disease or injury, but it is potentially important
information and we consider the implications below.
There are additional factors that need to be taken into account in
assessing any possible health effects. Populations as a whole are not
genetically homogeneous and people can vary in their susceptibility to
environmental hazards. There are well-established examples in the
literature of the genetic predisposition of some groups, which could
influence sensitivity to disease. There could also be a dependence on
age. We conclude therefore that it is not possible at present to say
that exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines,
is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps
in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach
(Chapter 5, paragraphs 6.356.42).
In the light of the above considerations we recommend that a
precautionary approach to the use of mobile phone technologies be
adopted until much more detailed and scientifically robust information
on any health effects becomes available (Chapter 5, paragraphs 6.356.42).
We note that a precautionary approach, in itself, is not without cost
(paragraph 6.16) but we consider it to be an essential approach at this
early stage in our understanding of mobile phone technology and its
potential to impact on biological systems and on human health.
In addition to these general considerations, there are concerns about
the use of mobile phones in vehicles. Their use may offer significant
advantages for example, following accidents when they allow
emergency assistance to be rapidly summoned. Nevertheless, the use of
mobile phones whilst driving is a major issue of concern and
experimental evidence demonstrates that it has a detrimental effect on
drivers responsiveness. Epidemiological evidence indicates that this
effect translates into a substantially increased risk of an accident.
Perhaps surprisingly, current evidence suggests that the negative
effects of phone use while driving are similar whether the phone is
hand-held or hands-free (paragraph 5.213). Overall we conclude that
the detrimental effects of hands-free operation are sufficiently large
that drivers should be dissuaded from using either hand-held or
hands-free phones whilst on the move (paragraphs 5.2015.214,
5.2625.263 and 6.936.95).
We consider below ways in which a precautionary approach to the use of
mobile phone technology might be adopted.
We recommend that national and local government, industry and the
consumer should all become actively involved in addressing concerns
about possible health effects of mobile phones (paragraph 6.40).
Our recommendations focus on five areas:
|advice to Government,|
|advice to industry,|
|the need for better public information and consumer choice,|
|the role of NRPB.|
We recognise that the mobile phone industry impacts on people and
business around the world and that the UK is a global leader in
telecommunications technology. There are benefits that the development
of mobile telecommunications can bring, provided there is no adverse
impact on health. It is against this general backcloth that we make our
We recommend that, as a precautionary approach, the ICNIRP guidelines
for public exposure be adopted for use in the UK rather than the NRPB
guidelines. This would bring the UK into line with other countries
in the European Union and accord with the Recommendations of the House
of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology Report on Mobile
Phones and Health (1999) (paragraphs 6.196.42).
We are not convinced of the need to incorporate the ICNIRP guidelines
in statutes. We believe that they are liable to change as more
scientific information on possible health effects becomes available
It would be sensible, in line with the precautionary approach, to set in
place a long-term follow-up of workers who are occupationally exposed to
RF radiation at relatively high levels. We recommend that a register
of occupationally exposed workers be established and that cancer risks
and mortality be examined to determine whether there are any harmful
effects. If any adverse effects of exposure to RF radiation are
identified then the Health and Safety Executive should establish a
system of health surveillance (paragraph 5.240).
The siting of base stations in residential areas can cause considerable
concern and distress. At all our open meetings and in written evidence
we heard concerns about the location of base stations in sensitive
sites. These include schools, residential areas and hospitals. This
concern relates, in part, to the fact that base stations up to 15 m
(48 ft) in height can be installed in residential areas without the
need for a full planning application. We consider this to be
We are concerned at the indirect adverse impact which current planning
procedures are having on those who have been, or are, subjected to the
often insensitive siting of base stations. Adverse impacts on the local
environment may adversely impact on the publics well-being as much as
any direct health effects.
We recognise that exposures of people in the vicinity of base stations
are expected to be well within guidelines yet there is no independent
audit to ensure that this is the case (paragraphs 4.304.35).
We conclude that the balance of evidence indicates that there is no
general risk to the health of people living near to base stations on the
basis that exposures are expected to be small fractions of guidelines.
However, there can be indirect adverse effects on their well-being in
some cases (paragraphs 5.264, 6.44 and 6.45).
We perceive a lack of clear protocols to be followed in the public
interest prior to base stations being built and operated and note that
there is significant variability in the extent to which mobile phone
operators consult the public on the siting of base stations. We have
heard little specific criticism of most of the network operators, apart
from Orange. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the
Regions and the National Assembly for Wales (DETR, 1998) produced a Code
of Best Practice: Telecommunications prior approval procedures as
applied to mast/tower development. We understand that consideration is
being given to extending this to include health concerns (paragraphs
6.1046.109). We support this development.
Overall we consider that public concerns about the siting of base
stations demand changes in the planning process. Thus:
We recommend that for all base stations, including those with masts
under 15 m, permitted development rights for their erection be
revoked and that the siting of all new base stations should be subject
to the normal planning process (paragraphs 6.436.46 and 6.556.62).
We recommend that, at national Government level, a template of
protocols be developed, in concert with industry and consumers, which
can be used to inform the planning process and which must be assiduously
and openly followed before permission is given for the siting of a new
base station (paragraphs 6.586.62). We consider the protocol
should cover the following issues.
|All telecommunications network operators must notify the local
authority of the proposed installation of base stations. This should
cover installations for macrocells, microcells and picocells.|
|The local authority should maintain an up-to-date list of all such
notifications, which should be readily available for public
|The operator should provide to the local authority a statement for
each site indicating its location, the height of the antenna, the
frequency and modulation characteristics, and details of power
|Any change to an existing base station which increases its size,
or the overall power radiated, should be subject to the normal
planning process as if it were a new development.|
We recommend that a robust planning template be set in place within
12 months of the publication of this report. It should incorporate a
requirement for public involvement, an input by health
authorities/health boards and a clear and open system of documentation
which can be readily inspected by the general public (paragraphs
We recommend that a national database be set up by Government giving
details of all base stations and their emissions. This should include
the characteristics of the base stations as described in paragraphs 6.47
and 6.48 and should be an essential part of the licence application for
We recommend that an independent random, ongoing, audit of all base
stations be carried out to ensure that exposure guidelines are not
exceeded outside the marked exclusion zone and that the base stations
comply with their agreed specifications. If base station emissions are
found to exceed guideline levels, or if there is significant departure
from the stated characteristics, then the base station should be
decommissioned until compliance is demonstrated (paragraphs 6.53 and
We recommend that particular attention should be paid initially to
the auditing of base stations near to schools and other sensitive sites
(paragraphs 6.54 and 6.636.68).
We recommend, in relation to macrocell base stations sited within
school grounds, that the beam of greatest intensity (paragraphs 4.324.35
and 6.636.68) should not fall on any part of the school grounds or
buildings without agreement from the school and parents. Similar
considerations should apply to macrocell base stations sited near to
We recommend that in making decisions about the siting of base
stations, planning authorities should have the power to ensure that the
RF fields to which the public will be exposed will be kept to the lowest
practical levels that will be commensurate with the telecommunications
system operating effectively (paragraphs 6.556.62).
We recommend the establishment of clearly defined physical exclusion
zones around base station antennas, which delineate areas within which
exposure guidelines may be exceeded (paragraphs 6.496.52). The
incorporation of exclusion zones should be part of the template of
planning protocols that we advocate.
Each exclusion zone should be defined by a physical barrier and a
readily identifiable nationally agreed sign with a logo. This should
inform the public and workers that inside the exclusion zone there might
be RF emissions which exceed national guidelines. We recommend that
the design of the logo should be taken forward by the British Standards
Institute and implemented within 12 months (paragraphs 6.496.52).
We recommend that warning signs should be incorporated into microcell
and picocell transmitters to indicate they should not be opened when in
use (paragraph 6.52).
Use of mobile phones near hospitals
We are concerned about the indiscriminate use of mobile phones in
hospitals and other sites where the RF radiation could possibly
interfere with sensitive equipment. We understand that health
authorities/health boards issue guidance on the use of mobile phones.
They should ensure that all hospitals comply. This guidance should
include the placing of visible warning signs at entrances to buildings
to indicate that mobile phones should be switched off (paragraphs
4.6, 6.91 and 6.92).
Devolution in Scotland, Wales and
Where recommendations (paragraphs 1.301.46) impact on the devolved
responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh National Assembly
and the Northern Ireland Assembly then they should be considered by
their appropriate authorities or bodies. We have noted with interest the
recent report on planning procedures for telecommunications developments
produced by the Transport and the Environment Committee of the Scottish
Parliament (2000) (paragraphs 6.1126.117).
1.49 We believe that in the global economy of the 21st Century a
competitive edge will be generated by developing innovative,
technologically advanced and safe products, which can lead the field and
win competitive advantage.
We understand from the Mobile Manufacturers Forum that all mobile phones
presently marketed in the UK comply with both NRPB and ICNIRP
guidelines. A crucial issue in relation to the exposure of people using
mobile phones is the specific energy absorption rate (SAR). This
determines the amount of energy absorbed in the body of the user. In
most circumstances of use this will be the head. The SAR depends upon
the power output of the phone and its design (paragraph 4.37). We
understand that an internationally agreed standard testing procedure
that will allow the SAR from mobile phones to be compared is being
developed and will be finalised this year (2000). Such a procedure
should benefit consumers and should also be welcomed by industry. We
note that in the case of cars, standard testing procedures for fuel
consumption have been developed to inform consumer choice, and have
resulted in the development of more efficient engines. We see no reason
why, in the case of mobile phones, standard testing procedures should
not lead to a progressive reduction in exposures from the equipment.
We recommend that an international standard for the assessment of SAR
values from mobile phones should be adopted for use in the UK once it
has been demonstrated to be scientifically sound (paragraphs 6.746.79).
We recommend that information on the SAR values for mobile phones
must be readily accessible to consumers (paragraph 6.77):
|at the point of sale with information on the box,|
|on leaflets available in stores giving comparative information
on different phones and with explanatory information,|
|as a menu option on the screen of the phone and as a label on
|on a national web site, which lists the SAR values of different
If there are currently unrecognised adverse health effects from the
use of mobile phones, children may be more vulnerable because of their
developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the
tissues of the head (paragraph 4.37), and a longer lifetime of exposure.
In line with our precautionary approach, at this time, we believe that
the widespread use of mobile phones by children for non-essential calls
should be discouraged. We also recommend that the mobile phone industry
should refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by children
(paragraphs 6.89 and 6.90).
We have examined the value of mast sharing and roaming agreements. These
can offer advantages in terms of providing a better service in rural
areas and limiting environmental intrusion. We recommend that
operators actively pursue a policy of mast sharing and roaming where
practicable (paragraphs 6.69 and 6.70).
The mobile phone industry has supported a substantial and ongoing
programme of research internationally. The recent upsurge in the use of
mobile phone technology in the UK has not been matched, in general, by
the output of good quality relevant research supported by the public
sector. Too many studies have been carried out at exposure levels and
frequencies not directly related to the use of mobile phones or base
In relation to present research findings, the following three areas
deserve particular comment.
|First, the balance of the evidence available does not suggest that
RF radiation from mobile phones or base stations causes cancer or
other disease. However, there is now evidence that effects on
biological functions, including those of the brain, may be induced
by RF radiation at levels comparable to those associated with the
use of mobile phones. There is, as yet, no evidence that these
biological effects constitute a health hazard but at present only
limited data are available. This is one reason why we recommend a
|Second, concerns have been expressed that the pulsed nature of the
signals from mobile phones and masts may have an impact on brain
function. This is an intriguing possibility, which deserves further
research, particularly if pulsed signals continue to be used in the
third generation of phones and related technologies. Research should
concentrate on signal modulations representative of present and
future phone technology (paragraphs 5.4, 5.125.26 and 5.270).|
|Third, we commend the World Health Organization (WHO) for
encouraging the use of standard experimental protocols under
realistic exposure conditions relevant to mobile phone technology
(paragraph 5.284). This should allow experiments from different
laboratories to be readily compared.|
On the basis of the current state of knowledge we recommend
that priority be given to a number of areas of research related
particularly to signals from handsets (paragraph 5.270). These
should include the following:
|effects on brain function,|
|consequences of exposures to pulsed signals,|
|improvements in dosimetry,|
|the possible impact on health of sub-cellular and cellular changes
induced by RF radiation,|
|psychological and sociological studies related to the use of
|epidemiological and human volunteer studies (paragraphs 5.2495.264),
including the study of children, and individuals who might be more
susceptible to RF radiation (paragraphs 4.37, 6.29 and 6.30).|
We recommend that a substantial research programme should operate
under the aegis of a demonstrably independent panel. The aim should
be to develop a programme of research related to health aspects of
mobile phones and associated technologies. This should complement work
sponsored by the EU and in other countries. In developing a research
agenda the peer- reviewed scientific literature, non-peer reviewed
papers and anecdotal evidence should be taken into account (paragraphs
We further recommend that this programme be financed by the mobile
phone companies and the public sector (industry departments, health
departments and the research councils), possibly on a 50 : 50
basis. The contribution from industry could be made on a voluntary
basis or by a continuing levy reviewable every five years (paragraph
It will be essential for further research in this area to be kept under
review. We recommend that the issue of possible health effects of
mobile phone technology should be the subject of a further review in
three years time, or earlier if circumstances demand it (paragraph
We are concerned at the variability and the limited extent of the
information made available to consumers on mobile phone products. We
recommend that Government circulates a leaflet to every household in the
UK providing clearly understandable information on mobile phone
technology and on related health aspects, including the use of mobile
phones while driving (paragraphs 5.2015.208). This leaflet should
additionally be available at the point of sale. The leaflet should be
developed in concert with industry, which has already produced some good
leaflets (paragraphs 3.48 and 3.49).
We recommend that an Ombudsman be appointed to provide a focus for
decisions on the siting of base stations when agreement cannot be
reached locally, and on other relevant issues (paragraphs 3.50 and
There are various devices that seek to reduce exposure to RF radiation
from mobile phones. These include shields and devices that attach to
phones. We remain to be convinced of their effectiveness in reducing
personal exposure in normal conditions of use of mobile phones.
Hands-free extensions, which allow the phone to be held away from the
body, have the potential for reducing exposure, but some recent tests
have cast doubt on their general level of effectiveness. For users
wishing to reduce their exposure, we advocate the use of hands-free kits
of proven effectiveness. A satisfactory design may involve the use of
chokes or filters in the connecting lead. A standard testing procedure
should be established.
The regulatory position on the use of shielding devices and hands-free
kits, which may affect the phones performance, is unclear. In
addition, information available for the public on the use of such
devices is limited to that provided by the suppliers of the devices and
the mobile phone industry. We recommend that Government sets in place
a national system which enables independent testing of shielding devices
and hands-free kits to be carried out, and which enables clear
information to be given about the effectiveness of such devices. A kite
mark or equivalent should be introduced to demonstrate conformity with
the testing standard (paragraphs 6.866.88).
National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB)
We believe that NRPB is a valuable UK asset which should be built upon,
and that it carries out scientific work which is well-regarded
nationally and internationally.
Whilst there is no criticism of its science, we recommend that NRPB
gives greater priority to the execution of a more open approach to
issues of public concern such as mobile phone technology and that it is
proactive rather than reactive in its approach (paragraph 3.44).
We recommend that public concerns about risk be addressed by NRPB in
a more sensitive and informative manner (paragraph 3.45).
We recommend that NRPB makes more use of specialist time-limited
ad-hoc committees of experts and lay representatives to bring forward
broadly based, well-considered advice (paragraph 3.42).
We recommend that in a rapidly emerging field such as mobile phone
technology where there is little peer-reviewed evidence on which to base
advice, the totality of the information available, including
non-peer-reviewed data and anecdotal evidence, be taken into account
when advice is proffered (paragraph 3.46).
We note the paucity of resources available at NRPB for work on non-ionising
radiation, including work on mobile phones, and related research on life
sciences. We recommend that work on non-ionising radiation and
related life sciences work be strengthened at NRPB (paragraph 3.47).
DETR (1998). Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
and The National Assembly for Wales Code of Best Practice.
Telecommunications prior approval procedures as applied to mast/tower
EC (1999). Council Recommendation of 12 July 1999 on the limitation
of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (0 Hz to 300
GHz). Official Journal of the European Community L1999, 59
Science and Technology Committee (1999). Third Report. Scientific
advisory system: mobile phones and health. Volume 1, Report and
Proceedings of the Committee.
Scottish Parliament Transport and the Environment Committee (2000).
Third Report. Report on inquiry into the proposals to introduce new
planning procedures for telecommunications developments.
First issued 11 May 2000