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Status report on electrosmog

1. Growing mobile communications sector and increasing electricity consumption (driver) 

The term «electrosmog» is widely used to describe all technically generated electrical and magnetic fields. Low frequency electrical and magnetic fields arise wherever electricity is generated, transported and consumed.

Mobile telephone base stations, radio transmitters and other radio applications also generate radiation in the high-frequency range, and in both cases this is in the form of non-ionising radiation (NIR).

Switzerland's electricity consumption has increased continuously since the mid-1940s thanks to the ever-increasing use of electrical devices. Although the proportion of electricity to total end energy consumption  remained stable at around 24 per cent during the 1990s, it started to rise again in 2000 and is now at around 25%.

The number of mobile communications devices in Switzerland has increased to over 10 million since the 1990s.

2. Increasing radiation exposure (pressures) 

As a result of the boom in mobile telephony, there has also been a significant increase in high-frequency radiation in the environment in recent years. To operate the mobile communications networks, mobile communications antennas were installed at more than 15,500 sites by the end of 2011.

In addition to mobile communications, radio relay systems, cordless telephones and wireless local area networks (WLANs) also emit in the high-frequency range.

The increase in electricity consumption and the international merging of networks have resulted in higher electricity transmission rates via the distribution network. This means that low-frequency magnetic fields will continue to increase along existing transmission lines.

3. Good compliance with specified limit levels (state)

The exposure thresholds are only reached or exceeded in very exceptional cases in the immediate proximity of installations that emit radiation. In most everyday situations, the level of electrosmog pollution from infrastructure is well below the specified threshold.

Individual exposure, however, is often determined by weak transmitters operated close to the body. Due to their immediate proximity to users, mobile telephones therefore cause significantly greater exposure than any base station in the vicinity.

4. Unknown health risks (impacts) 

The effect of non-ionising radiation on humans depends on the intensity and frequency of the radiation.

Very intensive low-frequency radiation can trigger nerve impulses and involuntary muscle contractions, while intensive high-frequency radiation can cause the warming of tissue. Internationally applicable limit values provide protection against levels of exposure that trigger such effects.

However, various studies provide evidence of biological effects even from weak radiation exposure below these limit values.

Experiments with weak doses of low-frequency radiation have triggered effects, for example, on the behaviour, learning capacity and hormonal system of animals.

In experiments with weak levels of high-frequency radiation, effects have been observed on human brainwaves and sleep patterns, on animal behaviour and on the metabolism of cell cultures.

In order to better assess the potential risks of electrosmog, a national research programme was conducted in Switzerland from 2007 to 2011. While uncertainty still remains about the long-term effects on human health, no harmful effects were observed in the short or medium term below the specified limit levels.

5. Protection against electrosmog (response)

In order to protect the population against electrosmog, the Federal Council adopted the Ordinance on Protection against Non-Ionising Radiation (NISV), which specifies thresholds for the radiation emitted by stationary installations such as high-voltage electricity lines, mobile phone base stations and radio transmitters.

The existing legislation governing environmental protection does not apply to electrical devices such as mobile telephones and microwave ovens, since these primarily affect users rather than the environment.

The exposure thresholds provide adequate protection against the scientifically recognised effects on health (warming of tissue, nerve impulses, muscle contractions), and have to be complied with wherever people are present, including for short periods of time.

Based on the principle of precaution principle that is applied in environmental legislation, when it adopted the NIR ordinance the Federal Council also specified significantly more stringent requirements on installations. The main aim here is to reduce long-term radiation at an early stage while science continues to carry out research into the effects of low-frequency radiation on our health.

This means that Switzerland's legally binding regulations governing locations at which people spend considerable amounts of time (houses/apartments, schools, hospitals, offices, etc.), are among the most stringent in the world.

Contact: info@bafu.admin.ch
Last updated on: 03.09.2013

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