Report from the German Mobile Telecommunication Research Program
Dr. Cornelia Baldermann, Mr Rüdiger Matthes, and
Dir. und Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Wolfgang Weiss
Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz
Fachbereich Strahlenschutz und Gesundheit
Strahlenrisiko und Strahlenschutzkonzepte unter
Einschluss der Risikokommunikation
Ingolstädter Landstr. 1
85764 Oberschleißheim / Neuherberg
The German Mobile Telecommunication Research Program (DMF) was carried out between 2002 and 2008 under the leadership of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) with financial resources of 17 million Euro. A total of 54 research projects were funded in the fields of biology, dosimetry, epidemiology and risk communication. Questions on potentially adverse health effects and the perception of high frequency electromagnetic fields in society and on risk communication were also investigated.
In dosimetry, the research focused on the development of measurement and calculation methods to determine the exposure of the public. These were expected to answer open dosimetric problems associated with the exposure of research subjects in laboratory studies, and the classification of exposure in epidemiological studies. It has been shown that everyday exposure of the public to electromagnetic fields is subject to significant temporal and spatial fluctuations. The increased use of wireless technology leads to a constant rise in exposure of the public. These results are corroborated by measuring programs in several federal states in Germany and by the Federal Network Agency. Nevertheless, the exposure of the public at the investigated mobile communication frequencies is on average well below the limit values. Exposure values approaching these limits can only be reached when using sources close to the body, such as mobile telephones.
As part of the research in the areas of biology and epidemiology, possible acute and chronic health effects from exposure to mobile communication fields were investigated. The research projects, carried out on cell cultures in order to investigate possible mechanisms, primarily aimed at the “athermic” area below the limit values. This research approach is of high importance, because through the knowledge of mechanisms, detection and in-depth study of the specific impacts caused by high frequency electromagnetic fields on the organism can be improved. Several cellular parameters were investigated, including those related to hormonal processes, the metabolism and different functions, as well as the reaction of cells to external influences. In addition, the impact of electromagnetic fields on the acoustic and visual system was explored.
Studies on cells related to the immune system showed no significant biological effects of high frequency electromagnetic fields on the scrutinized endpoints. The same applies to the retina as well as the hearing cell activity. In general, the indications of possible “athermic” effects, as discussed at the beginning of the DMF program, were not supported by the results. Changes in the gene expression in a cell culture model of the blood-brain-barrier, observed in one case, do not question the overall assessment. However, they give reason to recommend further clarification of this point.
Acute health effects were primarily analyzed by means of clinical studies. Those studies centered on the question whether high frequency electromagnetic fields affect sleep, cognitive performance, memory or the processing of visual and acoustic stimuli. Overall, this was not the case and this was confirmed by epidemiological studies, which showed no connection between the measured electromagnetic fields from mobile phone base station and sleep disorders, headaches, general health complaints as well as mental and physical life quality.
To investigate possible impacts of a chronic exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields, long-term studies were carried out on animals, exploring the blood-brain-barrier, the induction of tinnitus, different cancers as well as reproduction and development. These studies did not result in any indications of an “athermic” impact due to high frequency electromagnetic fields.
Studies on several generations of animals do not support the hypothesis of a particular sensitivity during early developmental stages. Nevertheless, the question whether the health risk as a result of long-term exposure is higher for children than for adults, either due to age differences or due to a longer lifetime exposure, could not be answered fully by the DMF studies. This question remains an open issue and must be clarified by further investigations.
Epidemiological studies so far have not found an increased brain cancer risk for mobile phone users. The present findings also show no increased risk to develop an uveal melanoma (malignant intraocular tumor). A study on large radio and television transmitters found no indication of a connection between RF exposure and an increased risk for childhood leukemia. The question of long-term effects (a period of use for more than 10 years) remains an open issue, due to the long latency periods for cancer and the comparably short-term use of mobile communication technology by the general public.
Regarding electromagnetic hypersensitivity, scientific evidence demonstrates that there is no causal relation between exposure to electromagnetic fields and unspecific symptoms such as sleeping disorders, concentration disruptions or headaches.
Discussions on the topic of “Mobile communication and health”, carried out by the press and the public over the last few years, have been highly passionate. To some degree, this has significantly impeded the factual communication on technical and health aspects of electromagnetic fields. Several research projects looked further into the perception of mobile communication in society and identified possibilities for improving information and communication. It became clear that the mobile communication and health topic does not play a major role in public per ception compared to other possible health risks. Within certain groups, however, a major concern about electromagnetic fields as well as a subjectively and strongly perceived impairment through electromagnetic fields, do exist. Information and communication offers must be tailored to the information needs of specific groups. The transfer modality needs to take into account the information behavior and information processing of each group. This is the only practical way for the addressed group to perceive the information and use it to form educated opinions.
The DMF was able to contribute significantly towards an improved risk assessment and communication with the public. The DMF findings give no reason to question the protective effect of current limit values. However, as some studies found minimal physiological reactions and indications that children could be more exposed than adults, along with the constantly open question on health risks from long-term exposure for adults and in particular for children, make it necessary to continue dealing carefully with wireless communication technologies. It is indispensable to retain the appropriate precautionary measures formulated by the BfS and the German Commission for Radiation Protection (SSK, 2006), especially with regard to children and young adults.
The principle of optimization in radiation protection should be applied when operating actual wireless communication technologies and developing new ones. The remaining uncertainties in risk assessment must be further curbed by way of purposeful research. Future information measures for the general public should provide a clear contextual knowledge and show possible scope of action for the individual. In this view, statements on scientific findings and knowledge limitations must be formulated in the simplest and the most precise language possible and elude complexity.
The results of the German Mobile Telecommunication Research Program (DMF) are summarized in a final report which includes also an evaluation of the results by BfS. The whole final report can be ordered at the Wirtschaftsverlag NW / Verlag für neue Wissenschaft GmbH, Postfach 10 11 10, Bürgermeister-Smidt-Straße 74-76, 27568 Bremerhaven (BfS-SG-08/2008,ISBN 978-3-86509-826-9).
More detailed information on the German Mobile Telecommunication Research Program and the individual research projects conducted within the Program on the Program’s internet portal are available at: http://www.emf-forschungsprogramm.de