FAQs – IARC Classification of RF Emissions

What classification has IARC given to RF electromagnetic fields and what does this mean?

The IARC working group meeting of May 2011 has classified exposure to radio frequency as: Group 2B: possibly carcinogenic to humans. This is the 3rd of the 5 classifications and means that the working group concluded that combined strength of the evidence from human and animal studies showed a possible (rather than certain or probable) cancer hazard to humans. Governments and public agencies will now conduct risk assessments to determine if there is a risk to the public at current levels of exposure to radio signals.

IARC says that Group 2B is used for agents for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when there is inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in humans but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.

What does this mean for TETRA users and the public?

It is important to note that IARC has only assessed the potential for RF electromagnetic fields to cause harm (hazard) in some circumstances and not the likelihood that in normal use they do cause harm (risk).

Handsets, other terminals and base stations are designed to operate within international and national exposure limits which already have substantial safety margins built into them, so the existing advice from WHO and other health agencies remains valid. For example, the exposure levels from base stations are typically thousands of times below the WHO recommendations for public exposure.

What is the TETRA industry going to do about the classification?

The IARC monograph will be considered by health authorities, such as the WHO, who will evaluate whether there are any overall health impacts from wireless equipment and what if anything needs to be done to address them.

Members of the TETRA Health Group all recognise the value of continuing well-conducted independent peer-reviewed research. THG member organisations are all committed to complying fully with the relevant national and international safety standards and guidelines.