ITU members have affirmed their commitment to the responsible consideration of health effects associated with the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that underpin wireless communications. ITU’s standards-making arm (ITU-T) has long been engaged with the subject of human exposure to ICT-emitted EMFs and an ITU workshop in Turin, Italy, 9 May 2013, has concluded with a Call to Action giving further impetus to this work.
Man-made sources of electromagnetic fields include those generated by ionizing radiation and the electricity provided by the power sockets in our homes. ICTs such as mobile phones and wireless routers emit higher-frequency electromagnetic radiation to transmit information through the air.
The ITU Workshop on human exposure to electromagnetic fields was organized in partnership with the Ministry for Economic Development of Italy , supported by Huawei and hosted by Telecom Italia at its innovation laboratories in Turin.
The Call to Action encourages ITU-T Study Group 5 (Environment and climate change) to lead cooperation among standards development organizations (SDOs) in the interests of harmonized international EMF standards. In particular it calls on ITU-T to extend its work on human exposure to EMFs by developing and promoting EMF information and education resources accessible to all communities; establishing specialised EMF assessment and accreditation training programs for developing countries; and promoting open online compliance and reporting systems as well as the development of a standardized online system to demonstrate compliance with international EMF standards. Read the full text of the Call to Action here.
The workshop offered policy makers an overview of EMF and also sought to identify further actions through which to respond to WTSA Resolution 72 “Measurement concerns related to human exposure to electromagnetic fields” . First agreed by the 2008 World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly in Johannesburg (WTSA-08) and revised by 2012’s WTSA in Dubai (WTSA-12), Resolution 72 recognizes the integral role that wireless technologies are playing in bridging the digital divide and responds to developing countries’ concerns with the risks of human exposure to EMF and local communities’ growing resistance to the deployment of radio installations in their surrounds. Specifically, the Resolution stresses the value of ITU-T guides on the use of international EMF-focused standards, with particular emphasis on those relating to measurement methodologies.
Malcolm Johnson, Director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU: “The rational solution to citizens’ concerns regarding exposure to EMFs is to ensure that the actions of national regulators and network operators are accompanied to the greatest possible extent by transparency and communication with citizens. Compliance with international standards and associated reporting mechanisms assures citizens that regulators and network operators have complied with international best practices in deploying base stations, thereby safeguarding citizens’ health.”
ITU-T Study Group 5 studies health considerations associated with wireless communications under Question 7/5 "Human exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) due to radiocommunication systems and mobile equipment" . The resulting ITU-T Recommendations give operators, manufacturers and government agencies the tools required to assess the EMF levels attributable to telecommunication and radiocommunication systems and to verify compliance with World Health Organization (WHO) recommended human-exposure guidelines set out by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the IEEE International Committee Electromagnetic Safety (ICES).
Question 7/5 has produced “EMF Estimator” software that calculates the cumulative radio frequency exposure levels in the vicinity of transmitting antennas. Part of Recommendation K.70 “Mitigation techniques to limit human exposure to EMF’s within vicinity of radiocommunication stations” , EMF Estimator contains a library of transmitting antennas’ radiation patterns for a wide range of radio communication and broadcast services. A typical application for EMF Estimator would be the calculation of EMF levels in a local community from a cellular base station or community broadcast service.
Another key reference for standards implementers is Recommendation ITU-T K.91 “Guidance for assessment, evaluation and monitoring of the human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMF)” .ITU-T K.91 provides guidance on methods to assess and monitor human exposure to RF EMF in areas with surrounding radiocommunication installations; based on existing exposure and compliance standards in the frequency range of 9 kHz to 300 GHz. While existing standards are product or service-oriented, the K.91 guide is intended for the examination of areas accessible to people in the real environment of currently operated services with many different sources of RF EMF.