UK exposure guidelines

Radiofrequency regulation in the UK : chronology

These guidelines are still based on the ICNIRP guidelines for safe exposure, which recognise only thermal effects at short term exposure, and not direct biological harm from non-thermal effects.

  • The Stewart Report recommended a ‘precautionary approach’ 20 years ago in 2000, and in particular, that the mobile phone industry should refrain from promoting the use of mobile phones by children. The Government has known since then that ‘children may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head and a longer lifetime of exposure’ (Stewart Report, paragraph 1.53)
  • Not surprisingly, in the UK, cancer is now the most common cause of death in children aged 1-14 years, accounting for around one-fifth of deaths in this age group. Brain tumours claim more lives than any other childhood cancer, accounting for more than a third of all childhood cancer deaths.   Childhood cancer facts and figures
  • In a letter dated July 2002 from the US Environmental Protection Agency, to the President of the EMR network.  The EPA stated that “the FCCs current exposure guidelines do not apply to chronic non-thermal exposure situations. They are considered protective of effects arising from a thermal mechanism, but NOT from all possible mechanisms. Therefore the generalization by many that the guidelines protect human beings from harm by any or all mechanisms is not justified.”
  • In 2011 the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified RF radiation as a Group 2B carcinogen“possibly carcinogenic to humans”. A report summarising the IARC’s conclusions was published in Lancet Oncology (2011; 12: 624–26). This stated that studies had found a correlation between RF radiation from mobile phones, and two kinds of brain tumour: glioma (a cancer) and acoustic neuroma (a benign schwannoma).
  • The IARC group decided there was ‘limited evidence of carcinogenicity’ because, even though ‘a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible, [..] chance, bias or confounding could not be ruled out with reasonable confidence’. They therefore wanted more research to be done and meanwhile advised taking pragmatic measures to reduce exposure such as texting or using hands-free devices.  They were worried about phones and brain tumours – but just couldnt be certain.
  • Leading experts in radiofrequency radiation effects are now calling for the classification to be strengthened to to a Class 1 carcinogen or, at the least, a Class 2A ‘probable’ carcinogen. Ex member of ICNIRP James Lin, (ICNIRP 2004-2016), and Dr Anthony Miller, ex member of IARC, both advocate for the former WHO-hazard class 1 (carcinogenic), instead of today’s 2B (possibly carcinogenic). Dr Miller, former Director of Epidemiology for the National Cancer Institute of Canada, was part of the 2011 IARC decision and now states that enough evidence has come from NTP and Ramazzini studies to upgrade the classification
  • In the UK the Public Health England (PHE) specialist review body called AGNIR reported in 2012. AGNIR based its findings on the IARC decision and AGNIR’s review remains to this day PHE’s position on safety. It has not been updated since 2012
  • The UK Government’s advisory body (AGNIR) knew of the existence of the NTP research program when it submitted it’s report in 2012 and stated that it would revise it’s own position on harm once NTP had published. NTP, however, did not publish until November 2018 – and AGNIR was disbanded in 2017 and so never got a chance to comment.
  • The Control of Electromagnetic Fields at Work (CEMFAW) Regulations 2016 provides UK legislation for acceptable safe levels in the workplace. These are based on the guidance of the ICNIRP, and enacted under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

Although the ICNIRP and PHE both issue disclaimers about their advice the fact that the CEMFAW Regulations define their AL (action levels), and ELV (exposure limit values) in accordance with the ICNIRP values means that if exposure in the workplace (not public space) can be shown to be below these levels then an organisation is legally compliant and cannot be compelled to be guided by what many would regard as much safer exposure levels.

  • Professionals continue to lobby the UK government for a review of their guidelines.  Evidence to parliament Dr Sarah Starkey, December 2017  “Evidence-base for the link between adverse childhood experiences and long-term negative outcomes”, and a call for intervention.
  • The NTP findings of clear evidence of tumours being linked to cell phones were matched by the Italian Ramazzini Institute study report from 2018. These experimental studies provide sufficient evidence to call for the re-evaluation of IARC conclusions regarding the carcinogenic potential of RFR in humans.
  • From 2008-2018 the USA federal government’s $30 million National Toxicology Program (NTP) study was conducted using laboratory rodents.

A major aim of this study was to determine whether biological effects happen at exposure levels which do not cause heating. This was shown unequivocally including DNA damage and oxidative stress in addition to the cancers.  See the report here.

The current state of play:

  • In the UK, Public Health England updated their guidance in January 2020 with regard to use of mobile phones, since uncertainties in the science suggest some additional level of precaution is warranted”.  Radio waves: reducing exposure from mobile phones
  • May 2020: some other countries have adopted limits lower than the ICNIRP guidelines, but the UK has not. The only way to change this narrative is unfortunately through extensive lobbying or legal action by the public, councils and organisations who understand and care about this.  
  • There are two Judicial Reviews being served on the UK government this year:



  • Article published by the IEEE in March 2020, they are the industry, and are concerned enough to express this opinion:

“Study Conclusion: People should be made aware that the EMR from using day to day cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices are harmful to human health. The levels of radiation observed in most cases such as phone calls, internet browsing on laptops and smart- phones, using wireless routers and hotspots, Bluetooth smart- watches and smartphones are unsafe when compared with radiations limits determined by medical bodies.  According to the current medical literature, various adverse health effects from exposure to RF EMR have been well documented. 

For now, wireless technologies must be avoided as much as possible. New and innovative wired solutions which provide the same level of user-friendliness should be encouraged. Intervention of government and medical bodies with the main purpose of protecting human health is of utmost necessity to ensure good economic development without compromising the health of the population. Countries must adopt the guide- lines suggested by medical bodies which take into account both thermal and non-thermal effects of EMR. At present, all individuals must take preventive and protective measures to protect themselves from harmful EMR exposure.”