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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 used.

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

Switzerland's energy consumption has stabilised since around 2000 while gross domestic product and the population continued to grow. Electricity consumption has not been tracking the GDP and population growth rates since 2005 either.

The number of mobile communications devices in Switzerland has increased to over 10 million since the 1990s. In addition, the volume of data transmitted via mobile communication networks increased by a factor of 24 between 2008 and 2012.

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. Up to mid-2013, mobile antennae were installed at over 16,000 sites. In addition to mobile communications, radio relay systems, cordless telephones and wireless local area networks (WLANs) also emit radiation in the high-frequency range.

The increase in electricity consumption and intensification of trade on the liberalised electricity markets 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 limit values for radiation exposure are only reached or exceeded in very exceptional cases in the immediate vicinity of installations that emit radiation. In most everyday situations, the level of electrosmog pollution generated by infrastructure is well below the exposure limit value.

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 tissue warming. Internationally applicable limit values provide protection against levels of exposure that trigger such effects.

Various studies present evidence of biological effects, however, including in the case of weak radiation exposure below these limit values. For example, weak high-frequency radiation can alter electric brain activity and influence brain metabolism and blood flow. Whether these effects have an impact on health is still unclear.

According to the studies carried out up to now, short- to medium-term health impacts should not be expected from exposure to weak non-ionising radiation. There is no definitive answer, however, concerning the impacts of long-term exposure. For example, it is suspected that weak low-frequency radiation increases the risk of leukaemia in children. The World Health Organisation (WHO) ahs classified both low-frequency and high-frequency radiation as possibly carcinogenic to humans. In addition, some people firmly believe that they suffer from impaired well-being and health impacts due to very weak radiation. Ways of helping so-called electrosensitive persons are only beginning to emerge.

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: 27.01.2015

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