Summary and Recommendations
The text on this page comprises the summary and recommendations
section (Chapter 1 of the report). The wording has not been changed and
the text retains the original numbering. It therefore includes
cross-references to the full report. Some minor changes in layout have
however been necessary to accommodate the publication medium here.
- Summary and recommendations
||The widespread use of mobile phones is a recent
phenomenon. Their use has escalated over the past decade and to
many they are now an essential part of business, commerce and
society. Over the Christmas 1999 period alone approximately 4
million phones were sold in the UK and at present (April 2000)
there are about 25 million mobile phones in circulation. This is
equivalent to nearly one phone for every two people (see
||The fact that so many people own mobile phones
attests to their perceived importance to the general public. The
advent of third generation systems will extend the use of most
forms of communications technologies, including fax, e-mail and
Internet access. The use of mobile phones and related
technologies will continue to increase for the foreseeable
||The extensive use of mobile phones has been
accompanied by public debate about possible adverse effects on
human health. The concerns relate to the emissions of
radiofrequency (RF) radiation from the phones (the handsets) and
from the base stations that receive and transmit the signals
(paragraphs 3.3–3.7). For the general population, the levels of
exposure arising from phones held near to the head or other
parts of the body are substantially greater than whole-body
exposures arising from base stations (paragraphs 4.28–4.36).
||There are two direct ways by which health could
be affected as a result of exposure to RF radiation. These are
by thermal (heating) effects caused mainly by holding mobile
phones close to the body, and as a result of possible
non-thermal effects from both phones and base stations
||There can also be indirect effects. There is
evidence that using a mobile phone whilst driving can increase
the risk of accidents. Also some people's well-being may be
adversely affected by the environmental impact of mobile phone
base stations sited near their homes, schools or other
buildings, as well as by their fear of perceived direct effects
(paragraphs 5.264, 6.44 and 6.45).
||Mobile phones and base stations emit RF
radiation. In both cases levels of exposure generally reduce
with increasing distance from the source. For mobile phones,
exposures will be principally to the side of the head for
hand-held use, or to the parts of the body closest to the phone
during hands-free use.
||For base station emissions, exposures of the
general population will be to the whole body but normally at
levels of intensity many times less than those from handsets
(paragraphs 4.28–4.36). Base stations communicate with mobile
phones within a defined area or 'cell'. These can be of three
types: macrocells, microcells and
picocells depending upon their size and the power output of
the antenna (paragraph 4.9).
||Macrocells provide the main structure
for the base station network. The base stations for macrocells
have power outputs of tens of watts and communicate with phones
up to about 35 kilometres (22 miles) distant. There are at
present about 20,000 macrocells covering the country (paragraph
4.9). We believe that this number will continue to increase.
Measurements that have been made (see paragraphs 4.30–4.36)
indicate that exposures of the general population from these
sites are typically many hundreds, or thousands of times lower
than existing exposure guidelines. There are concerns,
nevertheless, about whether the emissions from all base stations
are uniformly low, about whether the emissions could cause
unknown health effects, and whether, with the increased use of
mobile telecommunications, their output will have to rise.
||Microcells are used to infill and
improve the main network, especially where the volume of calls
is high. They are sited in places such as airports, railway
stations and shopping malls. Their number is rapidly increasing
in line with the growth in demand for mobile phones. The
microcell base stations emit less power than those for
macrocells and their range is a few hundred metres. We
understand that exposures above guidelines do not occur,
provided the case surrounding the antenna is kept in place.
However, as with some other items of electrical equipment – for
example, lasers in CD equipment – there is a possibility of
overexposure if the case is removed.
||Picocell base stations have a lower
power output than those of microcells (a few watts) and are
generally sited inside buildings. It is likely that the number
of picocells within buildings will substantially increase.
Although we are satisfied that their emissions should not exceed
the guidelines, the system of audits that we propose (paragraph
1.40) will provide an independent check on the output not only
from picocell antennas but from all base station types.
||As well as mobile phone base stations, there
are a large number of other RF emitting sources in our
environment, including antennas for radio, television and paging
(paragraphs 4.20–4.22). Exposures of individuals to RF radiation
from these sources will depend upon their proximity and may be
above those from mobile phone base stations, although still well
||Government has in place national guidelines
(paragraphs 6.19–6.26, 6.32) established by the National
Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) on the maximum levels of
exposure to RF radiation emitted from mobile phones, base
stations and other sources ('the NRPB guidelines'). These
guidelines were established in 1993 when mobile phone technology
was in its infancy. The guidelines were based on a comprehensive
review of the scientific literature carried out by NRPB, a
statutory body, which advises Government on radiological issues
related to health.
||In 1998 the International Commission on
Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) published its own
guidelines (paragraphs 6.27–6.31) covering exposure to RF
radiation. These were based on essentially the same evidence as
that used by NRPB, and for workers the limits on exposure are
similar. However, under the ICNIRP guidelines, the maximum
levels of exposure of the public are about five times less than
those recommended for workers. The reason for this approach was
the possibility that some members of the general public might be
particularly sensitive to RF radiation. However, no detailed
scientific evidence to justify this additional safety factor was
||The ICNIRP guidelines for the public have been
incorporated in a European Council Recommendation (1999), which
has been agreed in principle by all countries in the European
Union (EU), including the UK. In Germany the ICNIRP guidelines
have been incorporated into statute (paragraph 6.33).
||Both the NRPB and ICNIRP guidelines are based
on the need to avoid known adverse health effects. At the time
these guidelines were drawn up, the only established adverse
effects were those caused by the heating of tissues.
||Despite public concern about the safety of
mobile phones and base stations, rather little research
specifically relevant to these emissions has been published in
the peer-reviewed scientific literature. This presumably
reflects the fact that it is only recently that mobile phones
have been widely used by the public (paragraphs 2.1–2.12) and as
yet there has been little opportunity for any health effects to
become manifest. There is, however, some peer-reviewed
literature from human and animal studies, and an extensive
non-peer-reviewed information base, relating to potential health
effects caused by exposure to RF radiation from mobile phone
||The balance of evidence to date
suggests that exposures to RF radiation below NRPB and ICNIRP
guidelines do not cause adverse health effects to the general
population (Chapter 5, paragraphs 6.33–6.42).
||There is now scientific evidence,
however, which suggests that there may be biological effects
occurring at exposures below these guidelines
(paragraphs 5.176–5.194, 6.38). This does not necessarily mean
that these effects lead to disease or injury, but it is
potentially important information and we consider the
||There are additional factors that need to be
taken into account in assessing any possible health effects.
Populations as a whole are not genetically homogeneous and
people can vary in their susceptibility to environmental
hazards. There are well-established examples in the literature
of the genetic predisposition of some groups, which could
influence sensitivity to disease. There could also be a
dependence on age. We conclude therefore that it is not
possible at present to say that exposure to RF radiation, even
at levels below national guidelines, is totally without
potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge
are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach
(Chapter 5, paragraphs 6.35–6.42).
||In the light of the above considerations
we recommend that a precautionary approach to the use of
mobile phone technologies be adopted until much more detailed
and scientifically robust information on any health effects
becomes available (Chapter 5, paragraphs 6.35–6.42).
||We note that a precautionary approach, in
itself, is not without cost (paragraph 6.16) but we consider it
to be an essential approach at this early stage in our
understanding of mobile phone technology and its potential to
impact on biological systems and on human health.
||In addition to these general considerations,
there are concerns about the use of mobile phones in vehicles.
Their use may offer significant advantages – for example,
following accidents when they allow emergency assistance to be
rapidly summoned. Nevertheless, the use of mobile phones whilst
driving is a major issue of concern and experimental evidence
demonstrates that it has a detrimental effect on drivers'
responsiveness. Epidemiological evidence indicates that this
effect translates into a substantially increased risk of an
accident. Perhaps surprisingly, current evidence suggests that
the negative effects of phone use while driving are similar
whether the phone is handheld or hands-free (paragraph 5.213).
Overall we conclude that the detrimental effects of
hands-free operation are sufficiently large that drivers should
be dissuaded from using either handheld or hands-free phones
whilst on the move (paragraphs 5.201–5.214, 5.262–5.263
||We consider below ways in which a precautionary
approach to the use of mobile phone technology might be adopted.
||We recommend that national and local
government, industry and the consumer should all become actively
involved in addressing concerns about possible health effects of
mobile phones (paragraph 6.40).
||Our recommendations focus on five areas:
- advice to Government.
- advice to industry.
- research requirements.
- the need for better public information and consumer
- the role of NRPB.
||We recognise that the mobile phone industry
impacts on people and business around the world and that the UK
is a global leader in telecommunications technology. There are
benefits that the development of mobile telecommunications can
bring, provided there is no adverse impact on health. It is
against this general backcloth that we make our recommendations.
||We recommend that, as a precautionary
approach, the ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure be adopted
for use in the UK rather than the NRPB guidelines. This
would bring the UK into line with other countries in the
European Union and accord with the Recommendations of the House
of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology Report on
Mobile Phones and Health (1999) (paragraphs 6.19–6.42).
||We are not convinced of the need to
incorporate the ICNIRP guidelines in statutes. We
believe that they are liable to change as more scientific
information on possible health effects becomes available
||It would be sensible, in line with the
precautionary approach, to set in place a long-term follow-up of
workers who are occupationally exposed to RF radiation at
relatively high levels. We recommend that a register of
occupationally exposed workers be established and that cancer
risks and mortality be examined to determine whether there are
any harmful effects. If any adverse effects of exposure to RF
radiation are identified then the Health and Safety Executive
should establish a system of health surveillance
||The siting of base stations in residential
areas can cause considerable concern and distress. At all our
open meetings and in written evidence we heard concerns about
the location of base stations in sensitive sites. These include
schools, residential areas and hospitals. This concern relates,
in part, to the fact that base stations up to 15 m (48 ft) in
height can be installed in residential areas without the need
for a full planning application. We consider this to be
||We are concerned at the indirect adverse impact
which current planning procedures are having on those who have
been, or are, subjected to the often insensitive siting of base
stations. Adverse impacts on the local environment may adversely
impact on the public's well-being as much as any direct health
||We recognise that exposures of people in the
vicinity of base stations are expected to be well within
guidelines yet there is no independent audit to ensure that this
is the case (paragraphs 4.30–4.35).
||We conclude that the balance of
evidence indicates that there is no general risk to the health
of people living near to base stations on the basis that
exposures are expected to be small fractions of guidelines.
However, there can be indirect adverse effects on their
well-being in some cases (paragraphs 5.264, 6.44 and
||We perceive a lack of clear protocols to be
followed in the public interest prior to base stations being
built and operated and note that there is significant
variability in the extent to which mobile phone operators
consult the public on the siting of base stations. We have heard
little specific criticism of most of the network operators,
apart from Orange. The Department of the Environment, Transport
and the Regions and the National Assembly for Wales (DETR, 1998)
produced a Code of Best Practice: Telecommunications Prior
Approval Procedures as applied to mast/tower development.
We understand that consideration is being given to extending
this to include health concerns (paragraphs 6.104–6.109). We
support this development.
||Overall we consider that public concerns about
the siting of base stations demand changes in the planning
||We recommend that for all base
stations, including those with masts under 15 m, permitted
development rights for their erection be revoked and that the
siting of all new base stations should be subject to the normal
planning process (paragraphs 6.43–6.46 and 6.55–6.62).
||We recommend that, at national
Government level, a template of protocols be developed, in
concert with industry and consumers, which can be used to inform
the planning process and which must be assiduously and openly
followed before permission is given for the siting of a new base
station (paragraphs 6.58–6.62). We consider the
protocol should cover the following issues.
- All telecommunications network operators must notify the
local authority of the proposed installation of base
stations. This should cover installations for macrocells,
microcells and picocells.
- The local authority should maintain an up-to-date list
of all such notifications, which should be readily available
for public consultation.
- The operator should provide to the local authority a
statement for each site indicating its location, the height
of the antenna, the frequency and modulation
characteristics, and details of power output.
- Any change to an existing base station which increases
its size, or the overall power radiated, should be subject
to the normal planning process as if it were a new
||We recommend that a robust planning
template be set in place within 12 months of the publication of
this report. It should incorporate a requirement for public
involvement, an input by health authorities/health boards and a
clear and open system of documentation which can be readily
inspected by the general public (paragraphs 6.55–6.62).
||We recommend that a national database
be set up by Government giving details of all base stations and
their emissions. This should include the characteristics of the
base stations as described in paragraphs 6.47 and 6.48 and
should be an essential part of the licence application for the
||We recommend that an independent
random, ongoing, audit of all base stations be carried out to
ensure that exposure guidelines are not exceeded outside the
marked exclusion zone and that the base stations comply with
their agreed specifications. If base station emissions are found
to exceed guideline levels, or if there is significant departure
from the stated characteristics, then the base station should be
decommissioned until compliance is demonstrated
(paragraphs 6.53 and 6.54).
||We recommend that particular attention
should be paid initially to the auditing of base stations near
to schools and other sensitive sites (paragraphs 6.54
||We recommend, in relation to macrocell
base stations sited within school grounds, that the beam of
greatest intensity (paragraphs 4.32–4.35 and 6.63–6.68)
should not fall on any part of the school grounds or
buildings without agreement from the school and parents. Similar
considerations should apply to macrocell base stations sited
near to school grounds.
||We recommend that in making decisions
about the siting of base stations, planning authorities should
have the power to ensure that the RF fields to which the public
will be exposed will be kept to the lowest practical levels that
will be commensurate with the telecommunications system
operating effectively (paragraphs 6.55–6.62).
||We recommend the establishment of
clearly defined physical exclusion zones around base station
antennas, which delineate areas within which exposure guidelines
may be exceeded (paragraphs 6.49–6.52). The
incorporation of exclusion zones should be part of the template
of planning protocols that we advocate.
||Each exclusion zone should be defined by a
physical barrier and a readily identifiable nationally agreed
sign with a logo. This should inform the public and workers that
inside the exclusion zone there might be RF emissions which
exceed national guidelines. We recommend that the design
of the logo should be taken forward by the British Standards
Institute and implemented within 12 months (paragraphs
||We recommend that warning signs should
be incorporated into microcell and picocell transmitters to
indicate they should not be opened when in use
||We are concerned about the indiscriminate use
of mobile phones in hospitals and other sites where the RF
radiation could possibly interfere with sensitive equipment.
We understand that health authorities/health boards
issue guidance on the use of mobile phones. They should ensure
that all hospitals comply. This guidance should include the
placing of visible warning signs at entrances to buildings to
indicate that mobile phones should be switched off
(paragraphs 4.6, 6.91 and 6.92).
||Where recommendations (paragraphs 1.30–1.46)
impact on the devolved responsibilities of the Scottish
Parliament, the Welsh National Assembly and the Northern Ireland
Assembly then they should be considered by their appropriate
authorities or bodies. We have noted with interest the recent
report on planning procedures for telecommunications
developments produced by the Transport and the Environment
Committee of the Scottish Parliament (2000) (paragraphs
||We believe that in the global economy of the
21st century a competitive edge will be generated by developing
innovative, technologically advanced and safe products, which
can lead the field and win competitive advantage.
||We understand from the Mobile Manufacturers
Forum that all mobile phones presently marketed in the UK comply
with both NRPB and ICNIRP guidelines. A crucial issue in
relation to the exposure of people using mobile phones is the
specific energy absorption rate (SAR). This determines the
amount of energy absorbed in the body of the user. In most
circumstances of use this will be the head. The SAR depends upon
the power output of the phone and its design (paragraph 4.37).
We understand that an internationally agreed standard testing
procedure that will allow the SAR from mobile phones to be
compared is being developed and will be finalised this year
(2000). Such a procedure should benefit consumers and should
also be welcomed by industry. We note that in the case of cars,
standard testing procedures for fuel consumption have been
developed to inform consumer choice, and have resulted in the
development of more efficient engines. We see no reason why, in
the case of mobile phones, standard testing procedures should
not lead to a progressive reduction in exposures from the
||We recommend that an international
standard for the assessment of SAR values from mobile phones
should be adopted for use in the UK once it has been
demonstrated to be scientifically sound (paragraphs
||We recommend that information on the
SAR values for mobile phones must be readily accessible to
consumers (paragraph 6.77):
- at the point of sale with information on the
- on leaflets available in stores giving
comparative information on different phones and with
- as a menu option on the screen of the phone and
as a label on the phone.
- on a national web site, which lists the SAR
values of different phone types.
||If there are currently unrecognised
adverse health effects from the use of mobile phones, children
may be more vulnerable because of their developing nervous
system, the greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the
head (paragraph 4.37), and a longer lifetime of
exposure. In line with our precautionary approach, at this time,
we believe that the widespread use of mobile phones by children
for non-essential calls should be discouraged. We also recommend
that the mobile phone industry should refrain from promoting the
use of mobile phones by children (paragraphs 6.89 and
||We have examined the value of mast sharing and
roaming agreements. These can offer advantages in terms of
providing a better service in rural areas and limiting
environmental intrusion. We recommend that operators
actively pursue a policy of mast sharing and roaming where
practicable (paragraphs 6.69 and 6.70).
||The mobile phone industry has supported a
substantial and ongoing programme of research internationally.
The recent upsurge in the use of mobile phone technology in the
UK has not been matched, in general, by the output of good
quality relevant research supported by the public sector. Too
many studies have been carried out at exposure levels and
frequencies not directly related to the use of mobile phones or
||In relation to present research findings, the
following three areas deserve particular comment.
- First, the balance of the evidence available does not
suggest that RF radiation from mobile phones or base
stations causes cancer or other disease. However, there is
now evidence that effects on biological functions, including
those of the brain, may be induced by RF radiation at levels
comparable to those associated with the use of mobile
phones. There is, as yet, no evidence that these biological
effects constitute a health hazard but at present only
limited data are available. This is one reason why we
recommend a precautionary approach.
- Second, concerns have been expressed that the pulsed
nature of the signals from mobile phones and masts may have
an impact on brain function. This is an intriguing
possibility, which deserves further research, particularly
if pulsed signals continue to be used in the third
generation of phones and related technologies. Research
should concentrate on signal modulations representative of
present and future phone technology (paragraphs 5.4,
5.12–5.26 and 5.270).
- Third, we commend the World Health Organization (WHO)
for encouraging the use of standard experimental protocols
under realistic exposure conditions relevant to mobile phone
technology (paragraph 5.284). This should allow experiments
from different laboratories to be readily compared.
||On the basis of the current state of knowledge
we recommend that priority be given to a number of areas
of research related particularly to signals from handsets
(paragraph 5.270). These should include the following:
- effects on brain function.
- consequences of exposures to pulsed signals.
- improvements in dosimetry.
- the possible impact on health of sub-cellular and
cellular changes induced by RF radiation.
- psychological and sociological studies related to the
use of mobile phones.
- epidemiological and human volunteer studies (paragraphs
5.249–5.264), including the study of children, and
individuals who might be more susceptible to RF radiation
(paragraphs 4.37, 6.29 and 6.30).
||We recommend that a substantial
research programme should operate under the aegis of a
demonstrably independent panel. The aim should be to
develop a programme of research related to health aspects of
mobile phones and associated technologies. This should
complement work sponsored by the EU and in other countries. In
developing a research agenda the peer-reviewed scientific
literature, non-peer reviewed papers and anecdotal evidence
should be taken into account (paragraphs 5.270–5.272).
||We further recommend that this
programme be financed by the mobile phone companies and the
public sector (industry departments, health departments and the
research councils), possibly on a 50:50 basis. The
contribution from industry could be made on a voluntary basis or
by a continuing levy reviewable every five years (paragraph
||It will be essential for further research in
this area to be kept under review. We recommend that the
issue of possible health effects of mobile phone technology
should be the subject of a further review in three years time,
or earlier if circumstances demand it (paragraph
||We are concerned at the variability and the
limited extent of the information made available to consumers on
mobile phone products. We recommend that Government
circulates a leaflet to every household in the UK providing
clearly understandable information on mobile phone technology
and on related health aspects, including the use of mobile
phones while driving (paragraphs 5.201–5.208).
This leaflet should additionally be available at the point of
sale. The leaflet should be developed in concert with industry,
which has already produced some good leaflets
(paragraphs 3.48 and 3.49).
||We recommend that an Ombudsman be
appointed to provide a focus for decisions on the siting of base
stations when agreement cannot be reached locally, and on other
relevant issues (paragraphs 3.50 and 3.51).
||There are various devices that seek to reduce
exposure to RF radiation from mobile phones. These include
shields and devices that attach to phones. We remain to be
convinced of their effectiveness in reducing personal exposure
in normal conditions of use of mobile phones.
||Hands-free extensions, which allow the phone to
be held away from the body, have the potential for reducing
exposure, but some recent tests have cast doubt on their general
level of effectiveness. For users wishing to reduce their
exposure, we advocate the use of hands-free kits of proven
effectiveness. A satisfactory design may involve the use of
chokes or filters in the connecting lead. A standard testing
procedure should be established.
||The regulatory position on the use of shielding
devices and hands-free kits, which may affect the phone's
performance, is unclear. In addition, information available for
the public on the use of such devices is limited to that
provided by the suppliers of the devices and the mobile phone
industry. We recommend that Government sets in place a
national system which enables independent testing of shielding
devices and hands-free kits to be carried out, and which enables
clear information to be given about the effectiveness of such
devices. A kite mark or equivalent should be introduced to
demonstrate conformity with the testing standard
||We believe that NRPB is a valuable UK asset
which should be built upon, and that it carries out scientific
work which is well-regarded nationally and internationally.
||Whilst there is no criticism of its science,
we recommend that NRPB gives greater priority to the
execution of a more open approach to issues of public concern
such as mobile phone technology and that it is proactive rather
than reactive in its approach (paragraph 3.44).
||We recommend that public concerns about
risk be addressed by NRPB in a more sensitive and informative
manner (paragraph 3.45).
||We recommend that NRPB makes more use
of specialist time-limited ad hoc committees of experts and lay
representatives to bring forward broadly based, well-considered
advice (paragraph 3.42).
||We recommend that in a rapidly emerging
field such as mobile phone technology where there is little
peer-reviewed evidence on which to base advice, the totality of
the information available, including non-peer-reviewed data and
anecdotal evidence, be taken into account when advice is
proffered (paragraph 3.46).
||We note the paucity of resources available at
NRPB for work on non-ionising radiation, including work on
mobile phones, and related research on life sciences. We
recommend that work on non-ionising radiation and related life
sciences work be strengthened at NRPB (paragraph 3.47).
DETR (1998). Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions
and The National Assembly for Wales Code of Best Practice.
Telecommunications prior approval procedures as applied to mast/tower
EC (1999). Council Recommendation of 12 July 1999 on the limitation
of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (0 Hz to 300
GHz). Official Journal of the European Community L1999, 59
Science and Technology Committee (1999). Third Report. Scientific
advisory system: Mobile phones and health. Volume 1, Report and
Proceedings of the Committee.
Scottish Parliament Transport and the Environment Committee (2000).
Third Report: Report on inquiry into the proposals to introduce new
planning procedures for telecommunications developments.