5G can only be deployed if it meets limits designed to protect the public from exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF). These limits are in place because high levels of EMF can be damaging to human health, causing cancers and affecting fertility. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has produced guidelines to protect the public from harmful effects associated with EMF. These guidelines at set at 50 times less than the level where there has been substantiated evidence of health damage (see ICNIRP GUIDELINES p484 and 492). A European Council Recommendation (1999/519/EC) set EMF limits based on the ICNIRP guidelines.
The 2018 Electronic Communications Code says protecting public health is “imperative” and urges Member States to take a consistent approach having “particular regard” to Recommendation (1999/519/EC). However, these limits are not binding on Member States and there is inconsistency in how they are applied.
This is of concern for two reasons. Firstly, any country which sets very high limits creates a potential health risk, although we have found no examples of this. Secondly, setting very low limits makes it technically difficult or prohibitively expensive to roll out networks, so restricting the economic and social benefits of mobile technologies, including 5G.
For example, for nearly a decade, mobile operators in the city of Brussels complained about a radiation limit what was considerably lower than the ICNIRP limits and slowed the deployment of their services. This was amended in August this year and is now 14.5 V/m limit, significantly higher than the previous limit of 6 V/m, but still the most restrictive in Europe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a maximum radiation limit of 41.2 V/m. The mobile operator Proximus welcomed the change but said moving towards the WHO standards would “avoid limitations”.