Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) Radiation

International Guidelines for ELF Radiation

Overview of ICNIRP

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is the national authority for radiation protection. Singapore currently takes guidance from the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)’s guidelines1 for ELF radiation.

The ICNIRP is an independent international organisation formally recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It provides scientific advice and guidance on the health and environmental effects of non-ionising radiation. Its guidelines are widely accepted by many countries.

Details of ICNIRP’s funding sources and governance can be found here.

ICNIRP Guidelines

ICNIRP guidelines specify quantitative ELF levels for personal exposure; adherence to these levels is intended to protect people from all substantiated effects2 of ELF radiation exposure that are harmful to health

ICNIRP “adopts a conservative approach to developing the guidelines in order to ensure that its limits would remain protective even if exceeded by a substantial margin.

Two guidelines for human exposures:

  1. Basic restrictions – Restrictions on time-varying exposure that are based directly on established health effects
  2. Reference levels – Levels provided for practical exposure assessment purposes to determine whether basic restrictions are likely to be exceeded

ICNIRP also states that “observing the reference levels will result in substantially lower exposures than the corresponding basic restrictions allow”

Reference Levels

From the ICNIRP guidelines for ELF radiation, the limits for general public exposure to ELF radiation depends on the frequency of the ELF radiation. The limits for ELF radiation at 50 Hz are shown in the table below.

Type of ELF Radiation Reference Level from ICNIRP 1998 Guidelines  
ELF Electric Field (50 Hz)5000 V/m 
ELF Magnetic Field (50 Hz)100 µT

The ICNIRP guidelines are widely accepted by many countries, like Germany, Japan and United Kingdom. Some countries have chosen to adopt a different set of guidelines to reduce long term radiation at an early stage while research continues to look into the health effects of ELF radiation. The consensus of many expert reviews is that there are no established health risks when ELF-EMF levels comply with the limits (i.e. reference levels) in the ICNIRP guidelines. 

NEA will continue to monitor global developments and assess best practices.

1Note: “ICNIRP guidelines” refers to the “ICNIRP reference levels”
2Substantiated effects include short-term, immediate health effects such as stimulation of nerves and muscles and changes in nerve cell excitability in the central nervous system