Electromagnetic Fields: Health Effects

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 5:12 pm on 25th June 2019.

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Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 5:12 pm, 25th June 2019

Public Health England takes its role very seriously, and is always monitoring the evidence. Since perhaps 10 years ago, there has been a lot of research into having mobile phones next to one’s ear. Of course, the way we use our phones is changing, but Public Health England is always looking at this issue and reviewing the best available evidence.

There has been a general trend from 2G through to 5G for transmitters to become smaller, to be mounted nearer to the ground, and to use less transmitted power. Dr Drew raised a point about the electronic communications code, which I think is a matter for colleagues in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Geraint Davies has left, but I do not think we are cutting down trees; in fact, I am sure that the Government have committed to planting more trees. I know that the Secretary of State is very keen on them, so I will write to him on that issue.

To answer the questions that were asked about radio frequency fields and cancer, a working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed the health effects of exposure to RF fields and concluded that such exposures are possibly carcinogenic to humans—group 2B, based on IARC’s classification scheme. There was a minority opinion in the working group that current evidence for humans was inadequate, and therefore there was no conclusion about a causal association. In terms of the different classes of carcinogens, there is a statement on the PHE website that responds to the IARC classification. PHE has summary advice statements that it sends to inquirers with a full explanation of different carcinogens; there is a broad spectrum, including petrol engine exhausts, bracken fern and talc-based body powder.

Since 2001, the Office of Communications has been carrying out an audit of the emissions from mobile phone base stations. The Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation’s 2012 report contained a summary of over 3,000 measurements made at over 500 sites by Ofcom. The maximum exposure found at any location was hundreds of times below the international guideline levels, and typical exposures were much lower still. Public Health England advises that there may be a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves when 5G is added to an existing network or a new area, but that is expected to remain low relative to guidelines.

I hope I have demonstrated that the Government take seriously the potential health effects of the introduction of 5G, and that Public Health England is well placed to identify and respond to any important new evidence that may emerge. I reiterate that the public’s levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields from telecommunications networks are currently very low in relation to the international guideline levels, and are expected to stay that way after the deployment of 5G.