Expert Panel Reports

A Review of the Potential Health Risks of Radiofrequency Fields from Wireless Telecommunication Devices

Published: March 1999

Radiofrequency Fields from Wireless Telecommunications

The use of wireless telecommunications devices, notably cellular phones, has increased dramatically in Canada over the past decade. This increased demand for wireless communication has been accompanied by the installation of a network of base stations across Canada to receive and send communications signals. This has led to public concern about the potential health effects from using cellular phones and other wireless telecommunications devices and from living, working or going to school near base stations. Wireless telecommunications devices operate through the use of radiofrequency (RF) fields. While devices such as cellular phones represent new technological developments, radiofrequency fields have long been present in our environment. AM, FM, short wave and HAM radios use radiofrequency waves to transmit signals, as do television and radar. Although the intensity of radiofrequency fields used for communications purposes is very low, RF fields can be hazardous at sufficiently high exposure levels. For example, the heating of food in a microwave oven, in which radiofrequency energy is used, demonstrates the potential of high levels of exposure to cause significant changes in biological material due to heat. In Canada, the safety guidelines for devices which produce radiofrequency fields are set out in Health Canada’s Safety Code 6. Although Safety Code 6 only applies directly to federal employees and to federally operated devices, Industry Canada bases its licensing agreements for radiofrequency field emitting devices on the guidelines in Safety Code 6. Health Canada has recently undertaken a review of Safety Code 6, and has prepared an updated version of the code. In order to ensure that this version of Safety Code 6 adequately protects the public from the potential health effects of radiofrequency fields from wireless telecommunications devices, Health Canada asked the Royal Society of Canada to bring together a panel of experts to review the Code in light of the most current scientific literature on the subject.

Keywords: Canada; Health; Health Canada; Industry Canada; Safety Code 6; Radiofrequency fields; RF; Wireless; Telecommunication; Cellular phones; Technology; Network; Radio; Signals; Electromagnetic spectrum