Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation

Effects of RF Radiation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has found no convincing scientific evidence of adverse health effects in populations or individuals that are a result of exposure to very low levels of RF radiation. Based on WHO and overseas regulators, there is also no confirmed evidence so far on the health effects due to short-term or long-term exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

The limits from ICNIRP guidelines serve to prevent heating effects. Common sources of RF radiation (e.g. mobile phones) are low in power and measurements have shown that our ambient RF radiation levels are typically thousands of times below the limits in the ICNIRP guidelines.

According to ICNIRP, there is no evidence thus far that RF causes cancer and that, if there were evidence that RF did cause cancer, it would have been fed into the guideline setting process and the limits amended accordingly.

WHO has said that “no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use”. They have also maintained that “studies have not provided evidence that RF transmitters increases the risk of cancer”, and “long-term animal studies have not established an increased risk of cancer from exposure to RF fields, even at levels that are much higher than produced by base stations and wireless networks”.

However there is still continuing concern of possible association of high levels of RF radiation with brain cancer. Several case-control and registry-based cohort studies have found little evidence to support such as association1. Whereas a few other case-control studies, such as the Interphone study (2010) and a Swedish study by Hardell et al have reported modest to large associations with glioma2-4 ; these studies have generally found no association with other brain tumor types such as meningioma. Based on these findings, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’5.

NEA has assessed that IARC has taken a cautious approach and there is no convincing scientific evidence of adverse health effects in populations or individuals that are a result of exposure to very low RF radiation. Government agencies, including NEA will continue to closely monitor international developments and consult health experts as appropriate.

Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance

Some individuals may have experienced symptoms which they suspect are due to exposure to EMF (including RF radiation).

The WHO has stated the following:
  • Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is characterised by a variety of non-specific symptoms, which afflicted individuals attribute to exposure to EMF
  • A more general term for sensitivity to environmental factors is Idiopathic# Environmental Intolerance (IEI)
  • There is no scientific basis to link IEI symptoms to EMF exposure
The Academy of Medicine Singapore has issued a statement on IEI. Details of the statement can be found here.

#Note: Idiopathic means relating to an unknown cause

Ways to Minimise RF Exposure

While there is no established scientific evidence that the use of smartphones causes any health effects and further research is being carried out, members of public can adopt the following measures to minimise your RF exposure:
  1. Use hands-free kit or speaker mode when talking on your mobile phones to keep the mobile phones further away from the head and the body
  2. Reduce your usage of your mobile phones and cordless phones
  3. Reduce exposure in children by encouraging moderate mobile phone use
  4. Refrain from using your mobile phones in areas with poor cell connectivity
  5. Reduce exposure by selecting mobile phones with a low Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value
  6. Use wired connections (via LAN) instead of Wi-Fi
There are mobile phone accessories (e.g. shields) in the market which claim to reduce the exposure of RF radiation.

Based on the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC)6 and ARPANSA7, there is no scientific evidence that such accessories are effective in reducing the level of RF radiation emitted from the mobile phones. Furthermore, the so-called shields may interfere with phone signal, causing it to draw even more power to communicate with the base station, and hence, possibly emit even more RF radiation.

1Scientific Committee on Emerging Newly Identified Health Risks (2015). Opinion on potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields. Bioelectromagnetics, 36(6), 480–484.
2INTERPHONE Study Group (2010). Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study. International journal of epidemiology, 39(3), 675–694.
3Hardell, L., Carlberg, M., & Hansson Mild, K. (2011). Pooled analysis of case-control studies on malignant brain tumours and the use of mobile and cordless phones including living and deceased subjects. International journal of oncology, 38(5), 1465–1474.
4Ostrom, Q. T., Bauchet, L., Davis, F. G., et al. (2014). The epidemiology of glioma in adults: a "state of the science" review. Neuro-oncology, 16(7), 896–913.
5Baan, R., Grosse, Y., Lauby-Secretan, B., et al. (2011). Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. The Lancet. Oncology, 12(7), 624–626.
6US Federal Trade Commission. (2011, Jun 16). FTC Offers Tips to Help Consumers Avoid Cell Phone Radiation Scams.
7ARPANSA. How to reduce exposure from mobile phones and other wireless devices.