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Update and Review of Research on Radiofrequencies: Implications for a Prudent Avoidance Policy in Toronto

Nov 24, 2010

Executive Summary:
This report is an update to a 1999 Toronto Public Health (TPH) review summarizingresearch on exposure and health effects from radiofrequency (RF) emissions. The recentliterature on RFs leads TPH to conclude that many of the uncertainties in the scienceidentified in the 1999 review remain. Despite limitations in the body of research to date,the possibility of harmful health effects from RF exposures cannot be ruled out.

Current safety standards for RF exposure are based on avoiding tissue damage fromheating effects. The standards do not account for the effects that may occur at exposurelevels that do not involve tissue heating. The public and some scientists have concernsabout the potential for cumulative, whole-body exposure to RFs from their widespreaduse and presence in the environment.

There is agreement that biological (i.e. non-thermal) effects from radiofrequencies areevident from research with animals, cell cultures and in humans. Continued research intothese effects, including potential mechanisms of action and the significance of theseeffects for long-term human health, is warranted.

A great deal of the new research on human health effects from RFs has come fromstudying those who use cell phones. Some recent studies suggest that low-level, long-term exposure to RFs may be linked to leukemia and certain brain cancers, among long-term cell phone users. Studies of the impacts on children from cell phone RFs, whilelimited in number, do not rule out the possibility that children require greater protectionfrom RF exposure.

Research in populations near cell phone base stations in Europe indicates that somepeople living within about 300 metres of a base station are more likely to experiencesymptoms, such as headache, memory changes, dizziness, tremors, depression and sleepdisturbance, that are similar to a condition known as “microwave sickness”. Such studiesare limited and have not yet been conducted in North America. Some scientists concludethere is need to ensure that RFs are kept as low as possible to protect people living closeto cell phone towers.

It is commonly agreed that the cellular and wireless technologies relying on RFs have notbeen in use long enough to adequately assess the potential for all long-term health effects.

The expanding network of cell phone towers, antennas and wireless communicationtechnologies and installations in Toronto, together with the increasing use of theassociated devices by the public, likely translate to increasing rather than decreasingexposure of the public over time. Current data on RF levels measured in Toronto indicatethat with few exceptions, levels of RFs are typically many times below the HealthCanada exposure guidelines.

Despite diverse views on whether exposure limits are adequately health protective, anumber of jurisdictions have moved to adopt more stringent exposure standards. ThePrudent Avoidance Policy previously endorsed by the Board of Health in 1999 requeststhat applicants who wish to install new antennas or modified antennas demonstrate thatradio frequency (RF) exposures in areas where people normally spend time, (that is, workplaces, residences or areas where the public has unrestricted access) will be at least100 times below those currently recommended by Health Canada’s limits for publicexposure, known as Safety Code 6.

The approach of the TPH Prudent Avoidance Policy has been applied successfullyalready to cell tower and wireless antenna sitings and has not placed undue burden onstaff time or on the industry’s ability to comply.

Health Canada has not revised its guidelines to address the concerns raised in 1999. Thisreview indicates that, in the face of uncertain risks, prudent avoidance is still the bestapproach to minimize public exposure from the new and increasing number of RFsources in Toronto. The Medical Officer of Health recommends that the City continuewith a prudent avoidance approach in siting new telecommunication towers and antennasin the City. Initial consultations can be used to collect data from cell phone carriers onpredicted RF levels of proposed towers and antennas. This will allow the City to monitorthe potential impact of proposed telecommunications facilities in Toronto and toencourage voluntary adoption of the Prudent Avoidance Policy.

Full Report: https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.toronto.ca/health/hphe/pdf/technical_report.pdf