• What is "radiofrequency" and microwave radiation?• What is non-ionizing radiation?• How is radiofrequency energy used?• How is radiofrequency radiation measured?• What biological effects can be caused by RF energy?• Can people be exposed to levels of radiofrequency radiation and microwaves that could be harmful?• Can radiofrequency radiation cause cancer?• What research is being done on RF biological effects?• What levels are safe for exposure to RF energy?• Why has the FCC adopted guidelines for RF exposure?• How safe are mobile phones? Can they cause cancer?• How can I obtain the specific absorption rate (SAR) value for my mobile phone?• Do "hands-free" ear pieces for mobile phones reduce exposure to RF emissions? What about mobile phone accessories that claim to shield the head from RF radiation?• Can mobile phones be used safely in hospitals and near medical telemetry equipment?• Are cellular and PCS towers and antennas safe?• Are cellular and other radio towers located near homes or schools safe for residents and students?• Are emissions from radio and television antennas safe?• How safe are radio antennas used for paging and "two-way" communications? What about "push-to-talk" radios such as "walkie-talkies?"• How safe are microwave and satellite antennas?• Are RF emissions from amateur radio stations harmful?• What is the FCC's policy on radiofrequency warning signs? For example, when should signs be posted, where should they be located and what should they say?• Can implanted electronic cardiac pacemakers be affected by nearby RF devices such as microwave ovens or cellular telephones?• Does the FCC regulate exposure to radiation from microwave ovens, television sets and computer monitors?• Does the FCC routinely monitor radiofrequency radiation from antennas?• Does the FCC maintain a database that includes information on the location and technical parameters of all the towers and antennas it regulates?• Which other federal agencies have responsibilities related to potential RF health effects• Can local and state governmental bodies establish limits for RF exposure?• Where can I obtain more information on potential health effects of radiofrequency energy?
WHAT IS "RADIOFREQUENCY" AND MICROWAVE RADIATION?
Electromagnetic radiation consists of waves of electric and magnetic energy moving together (i.e., radiating) through space at the speed of light. Taken together, all forms of electromagnetic energy are referred to as the electromagnetic "spectrum." Radio waves and microwaves emitted by transmitting antennas are one form of electromagnetic energy. They are collectively referred to as "radiofrequency" or "RF" energy or radiation. Often the term "electromagnetic field" or "radiofrequency field" may be used to indicate the presence of electromagnetic or RF energy.
The RF waves emanating from an antenna are generated by the movement of electrical charges in the antenna. Electromagnetic waves can be characterized by a wavelength and a frequency. The wavelength is the distance covered by one complete cycle of the electromagnetic wave, while the frequency is the number of electromagnetic waves passing a given point in one second. The frequency of an RF signal is usually expressed in terms of a unit called the "hertz" (abbreviated "Hz"). One Hz equals one cycle per second. One megahertz ("MHz") equals one million cycles per second.
Different forms of electromagnetic energy are categorized by their wavelengths and frequencies. The RF part of the electromagnetic spectrum is generally defined as that part of the spectrum where electromagnetic waves have frequencies in the range of about 3 kilohertz (3 kHz) to 300 gigahertz (300 GHz). Microwaves are a specific category of radio waves that can be defined as radiofrequency energy where frequencies range from several hundred MHz to several GHz. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHAT IS NON-IONIZING RADIATION?
"Ionization" is a process by which electrons are stripped from atoms and molecules. This process can produce molecular changes that can lead to damage in biological tissue, including effects on DNA, the genetic material. This process requires interaction with high levels of electromagnetic energy. Those types of electromagnetic radiation with enough energy to ionize biological material include X-radiation and gamma radiation. Therefore, X-rays and gamma rays are examples of ionizing radiation.
The energy levels associated with RF and microwave radiation, on the other hand, are not great enough to cause the ionization of atoms and molecules and RF energy is, therefore, is a type of non-ionizing radiation. Other types of non-ionizing radiation include visible light, infrared radiation and other forms of electromagnetic radiation with relatively low frequencies. Often the term "radiation" is used to apply to ionizing radiation such as that associated with nuclear power plants. Ionizing radiation should not be confused with the lower-energy, non-ionizing, radiation with respect to possible biological effects, since the mechanisms of action are quite different. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
HOW IS RADIOFREQUENCY ENERGY USED?
Probably the most important use for RF energy is in providing telecommunications services. Radio and television broadcasting, cellular telephones, personal communications services (PCS), pagers, cordless telephones, business radio, radio communications for police and fire departments, amateur radio, microwave point-to-point links and satellite communications are just a few of the many telecommunications applications of RF energy. Microwave ovens are a good example of a non-communication use of RF energy. Radiofrequency radiation, especially at microwave frequencies, can transfer energy to water molecules. High levels of microwaves will generate heat in water-rich materials such as most foods. This efficient absorption of microwave energy via water molecules results in rapid heating throughout an object, thus allowing food to be cooked more quickly in a microwave oven than in a conventional oven. Other important non-communication uses of RF energy are for radar and for industrial heating and sealing. Radar is a valuable tool used in many applications from traffic enforcement to air traffic control and military applications. Industrial heaters and sealers generate RF radiation that rapidly heats the material being processed in the same way that a microwave oven cooks food. These devices have many uses in industry, including molding plastic materials, gluing wood products, sealing items such as shoes and pocketbooks, and processing food products. There are also a number of medical applications of RF energy. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
HOW IS RADIOFREQUENCY RADIATION MEASURED?
An RF electromagnetic wave or RF "field" has both an electric and a magnetic component (electric field and magnetic field), and it is often convenient to express the intensity of the RF environment at a given location in terms of units specific for each component. For example, the unit "volts per meter" (V/m) is used to measure the strength of the electric field (electric "field strength"), and the unit "amperes per meter" (A/m) is used to express the strength of the magnetic field (magnetic "field strength"). Another commonly used unit for characterizing an RF electromagnetic field is "power density." Power density is most accurately used when the point of measurement is far enough away from an antenna to be located in what is commonly referred to as the "far-field" zone of the antenna.
Power density is defined as power per unit area. For example, power density can be expressed in terms of milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm2) or microwatts per square centimeter (µW/cm2). One mW equals 0.001 watt of power, and one µW equals 0.000001 watt. With respect to frequencies in the microwave range and higher, power density is usually used to express intensity.
The quantity used to measure how much RF energy is actually absorbed in a body is called the "Specific Absorption Rate" or "SAR." It is usually expressed in units of watts per kilogram (W/kg) or milliwatts per gram (mW/g). In the case of exposure of the whole body, a standing human adult can absorb RF energy at a maximum rate when the frequency of the RF radiation is in the range of about 80 and 100 MHz. This means that the "whole-body" SAR is at a maximum under these conditions. Because of this "resonance" phenomenon, RF safety standards are generally most restrictive for these frequencies. For exposure of parts of the body, such as the exposure from hand-held mobile phones, SAR is also used to measure absorption or RF energy (see later questions on mobile phones). (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHAT BIOLOGICAL EFFECTS CAN BE CAUSED BY RF ENERGY?
Biological effects can result from animal or human exposure to RF energy. Biological effects that result from heating of tissue by RF energy are often referred to as "thermal" effects. It has been known for many years that exposure to very high levels of RF radiation can be harmful due to the ability of RF energy to heat biological tissue rapidly. This is the principle by which microwave ovens cook food. Exposure to very high RF intensities can result in heating of biological tissue and an increase in body temperature. Tissue damage in humans could occur during exposure to high RF levels because of the body's inability to cope with or dissipate the excessive heat that could be generated. Two areas of the body, the eyes and the testes, are particularly vulnerable to RF heating because of the relative lack of available blood flow to dissipate the excessive heat load.
At relatively low levels of exposure to RF radiation, i.e., levels lower than those that would produce significant heating, the evidence for production of harmful biological effects is ambiguous and unproven. Such effects have sometimes been referred to as "non-thermal" effects. Several years ago research reports began appearing in the scientific literature describing the observation of a range of low-level biological effects. However, in many cases further experimental research has been unable to reproduce these effects. Furthermore, there has been no determination that such effects constitute a human health hazard. It is generally agreed that further research is needed to determine the generality of such effects and their possible relevance, if any, to human health. In the meantime, standards-setting organizations and government agencies continue to monitor the latest experimental findings to confirm their validity and determine whether changes in safety limits are needed to protect human health. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
CAN PEOPLE BE EXPOSED TO LEVELS OF RADIOFREQUENCY RADIATION AND MICROWAVES THAT COULD BE HARMFUL?
Studies have shown that environmental levels of RF energy routinely encountered by the general public are typically far below levels necessary to produce significant heating and increased body temperature. However, there may be situations, particularly workplace environments near high- powered RF sources, where recommended limits for safe exposure of human beings to RF energy could be exceeded. In such cases, restrictive measures or actions may be necessary to ensure the safe use of RF energy. If you feel you are in danger, use a device such as our Personal RF Monitor to monitor your exposure level. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
CAN RADIOFREQUENCY RADIATION CAUSE CANCER?
Some studies have also examined the possibility of a link between RF and microwave exposure and cancer. Results to date have been inconclusive. While some experimental data have suggested a possible link between exposure and tumor formation in animals exposed under certain specific conditions, the results have not been independently replicated. In fact, other studies have failed to find evidence for a causal link to cancer or any related condition. Further research is underway in several laboratories to help resolve this question. The Food and Drug Administration has further information on this topic with respect to RF exposure from mobile phones at their web site: www.fda.gov. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHAT RESEARCH IS BEING DONE ON RF BIOLOGICAL EFFECTS?
For many years research into possible biological effects of RF energy has been carried out in laboratories around the world, and such research is continuing. Past research has resulted in a large number of scientific publications on this topic. For many years the U.S. Government has sponsored research into the biological effects of RF energy. The majority of this work has been funded by the Department of Defense, due, in part, to the extensive military interest in using RF equipment such as radar and other relatively high-powered radio transmitters for routine military operations. In addition, some U.S. civilian federal agencies responsible for health and safety, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have sponsored and conducted research in this area in the past (although relatively little civilian-sector RF research is currently being funded by the U.S. Government). At the present time, most of the non-military research on biological effects of RF energy in the U.S. is being funded by industry organizations such as Motorola, Inc. Relatively more research is being carried out overseas, particularly in Europe.
In 1996, the World Health Organization (WHO) established a program called the International EMF Project that is designed to review the scientific literature concerning biological effects of electromagnetic fields, identify gaps in knowledge about such effects, recommend research needs, and work towards international resolution of health concerns over the use of RF technology. The WHO maintains a Web site that provides extensive information on this project and about RF biological effects and research (http://www.who.int/peh-emf/en/).
The FDA, the EPA and other federal agencies responsible for public health and safety have worked together and in connection with the WHO to monitor developments and identify research needs related to RF biological effects. Most recently, the FDA has entered into an agreement with the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) to conduct a research program into the potential health effects of mobile phones. More information about this can be obtained at the FDA Web site: www.fda.gov. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHAT LEVELS ARE SAFE FOR EXPOSURE TO RF ENERGY?
Exposure standards for radiofrequency energy have been developed by various organizations and countries. These standards recommend safe levels of exposure for both the general public and for workers. In the United States, the FCC has adopted and used recognized safety guidelines for evaluating RF environmental exposure since 1985. Federal health and safety agencies, such as the EPA, FDA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have also been involved in monitoring and investigating issues related to RF exposure.
The FCC guidelines for human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields were derived from the recommendations of two expert organizations, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Both the NCRP exposure criteria and the IEEE standard were developed by expert scientists and engineers after extensive reviews of the scientific literature related to RF biological effects. The exposure guidelines are based on thresholds for known adverse effects, and they incorporate appropriate margins of safety. In adopting the most recent RF exposure guidelines, the FCC consulted with the EPA, FDA, OSHA and NIOSH, and obtained their support for the guidelines that the FCC is now using.
Many countries in Europe and elsewhere use exposure guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The ICNIRP safety limits are generally similar to those of the NCRP and IEEE, with a few exceptions. For example, ICNIRP recommends somewhat different exposure levels in the lower and upper frequency ranges and for localized exposure due to such devices as hand-held cellular telephones. One of the goals of the WHO EMF Project (see above) is to provide a framework for international harmonization of RF safety standards.
The NCRP, IEEE and ICNIRP exposure guidelines identify the same threshold level at which harmful biological effects may occur, and the values for Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) recommended for electric and magnetic field strength and power density in both documents are based on this threshold level. The threshold level is a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) value for the whole body of 4 watts per kilogram (4 W/kg). In addition, the NCRP, IEEE and ICNIRP guidelines are different for different transmitting frequencies. This is due to the findings (discussed above) that whole-body human absorption of RF energy varies with the frequency of the RF signal. The most restrictive limits on whole-body exposure are in the frequency range of 30-300 MHz where the human body absorbs RF energy most efficiently when the whole body is exposed. For devices that only expose part of the body, such as mobile phones, different exposure limits are specified (see below).
The exposure limits used by the FCC are expressed in terms of SAR, electric and magnetic field strength and power density for transmitters operating at frequencies from 300 kHz to 100 GHz. The actual values can be found in either of two informational bulletins available at the FCC website (OET Bulletin 56 or OET Bulletin 65), see listing for "OET Safety Bulletins." (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHY HAS THE FCC ADOPTED GUIDELINES FOR RF EXPOSURE?
The FCC authorizes and licenses devices, transmitters and facilities that generate RF and microwave radiation. It has jurisdiction over all transmitting services in the U.S. except those specifically operated by the Federal Government. However, the FCC's primary jurisdiction does not lie in the health and safety area, and it must rely on other agencies and organizations for guidance in these matters.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the FCC has certain responsibilities to consider whether its actions will "significantly affect the quality of the human environment." Therefore, FCC approval and licensing of transmitters and facilities must be evaluated for significant impact on the environment. Human exposure to RF radiation emitted by FCC-regulated transmitters is one of several factors that must be considered in such environmental evaluations. In 1996, the FCC revised its guidelines for RF exposure as a result of a multi-year proceeding and as required by the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Major RF transmitting facilities under the jurisdiction of the FCC, such as radio and television broadcast stations, satellite-earth stations, experimental radio stations and certain cellular, PCS and paging facilities are required to undergo routine evaluation for RF compliance whenever an application is submitted to the FCC for construction or modification of a transmitting facility or renewal of a license. Failure to comply with the FCC's RF exposure guidelines could lead to the preparation of a formal Environmental Assessment, possible Environmental Impact Statement and eventual rejection of an application. Technical guidelines for evaluating compliance with the FCC RF safety requirements can be found in the FCC's OET Bulletin 65 (see "OET Safety Bulletins" listed above).
Low-powered, intermittent, or inaccessible RF transmitters and facilities are normally "categorically excluded" from the requirement for routine evaluation for RF exposure. These exclusions are based on calculations and measurement data indicating that such transmitting stations or devices are unlikely to cause exposures in excess of the guidelines under normal conditions of use. The FCC's policies on RF exposure and categorical exclusion can be found in Section 1.1307(b) of the FCC's Rules and Regulations [(47 CFR 1.1307(b)]. It should be emphasized, however, that these exclusions are not exclusions from compliance, but, rather, only exclusions from routine evaluation. Transmitters or facilities that are otherwise categorically excluded from evaluation may be required, on a case-by-case basis, to demonstrate compliance when evidence of potential non-compliance of the transmitter or facility is brought to the Commission's attention [see 47 CFR 1.1307(c) and (d)]. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
HOW SAFE ARE MOBILE PHONES? CAN THEY CAUSE CANCER?
In recent years, publicity, speculation, and concern over claims of possible health effects due to RF emissions from hand-held wireless telephones prompted industry-sponsored groups to initiate research programs to investigate whether there is any risk to users of these devices. Research organizations funded by the cellular industry and wireless equipment manufacturers, have been investigating potential health effects from the use of hand-held cellular telephones and other wireless devices, especially with respect to concerns that mobile phones might cause cancer.
There is no scientific evidence to date that proves that wireless phone usage can lead to cancer or a variety of other health effects, including headaches, dizziness or memory loss. However, studies are ongoing and key government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continue to monitor the results of the latest scientific research on this topic. Also, as noted above, the World Health Organization has established an ongoing program to monitor research in this area and make recommendations related to the safety of mobile phones.
In 1993, the FDA, which has primary jurisdiction for investigating mobile phone safety, stated that it did not have enough information at that time to rule out the possibility of risk, but if such a risk exists, "it is probably small." The FDA concluded that there is no proof that cellular telephones can be harmful, but if individuals remain concerned several precautionary actions could be taken, including limiting conversations on hand-held cellular telephones and making greater use of telephones with vehicle-mounted antennas where there is a greater separation distance between the user and the radiating antennas. The Web site for the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health provides further information on mobile phone safety: www.fda.gov.
The Government Accounting Office (GAO) recently completed a draft report of an investigation into safety concerns related to mobile phones. The report concludes that further research is needed to confirm whether mobile phones are completely safe for the user, and the report recommends that the FDA take the lead in monitoring the latest research results.
The FCC's exposure guidelines specify limits for human exposure to RF emissions from hand- held mobile phones in terms of Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), a measure of the rate of absorption of RF energy by the body. The safe limit for a mobile phone user is an SAR of 1.6 watts per kg (1.6 W/kg), averaged over one gram of tissue, and compliance with this limit must be demonstrated before FCC approval is granted for marketing of a phone in the United States. Somewhat less restrictive limits, e.g., 2 W/kg averaged over 10 grams of tissue, are specified by the ICNIRP guidelines used in Europe and some other countries.
Measurements and analysis of SAR in models of the human head have shown that the 1.6 W/kg limit is unlikely to be exceeded under normal conditions of use of cellular and PCS hand-held phones. The same can be said for cordless telephones used in the home. Testing of hand-held phones is normally done under conditions of maximum power usage, thus providing an additional margin of safety, since most phone usage is not at maximum power. Information on SAR levels for many phones is available electronically through the FCC's Web site and database (see next question). (Back to RF FAQ Index)
HOW CAN I OBTAIN THE SPECIFIC ABSORPTION RATE (SAR) VALUE FOR MY MOBILE PHONE?
As explained above, the Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR, is the unit used to determine compliance of cellular and PCS phones with safety limits adopted by the FCC. The SAR is a value that corresponds to the relative amount of RF energy absorbed in the head of a user of a wireless handset. The FCC requires mobile phone manufacturers to demonstrate compliance with an SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram (averaged over one gram of tissue).
Information on SAR for a specific cell phone model can be obtained for many recently manufactured phones by using the FCC identification (ID) number for that model. The FCC ID number is usually printed somewhere on the case of the phone or device. In many cases, you will have to remove the battery pack to find the number. Once you have the number proceed as follows. Once you have the ID number, go to the following Web address: www.fcc.gov/oet/fccid. Once you are there you will see instructions for inserting the FCC ID number. Enter the FCC ID number (in two parts as indicated: "Grantee Code" is comprised of the first three characters, the "Equipment Product Code" is the remainder of the FCC ID). Then click on "Start Search." The grant of equipment authorization for this particular ID number should appear. Look through the grant for the section on SAR compliance, certification of compliance with FCC rules for RF exposure or similar language. This section should contain the value(s) for typical or maximum SAR for your phone.
For portable phones and devices authorized since June 2, 2000, maximum SAR levels should be noted on the grant of equipment authorization. For phones and devices authorized between about mid-1998 and June 2000, detailed information on SAR levels is typically found in the "exhibits" associated with the grant. Therefore, once a grant is accessed these exhibits can be viewed by clicking on the appropriate entry labeled "View Exhibit." Electronic records for FCC equipment authorization grants were initiated in 1998. Therefore, prior to this date FCC records for grants are in the form of paper records that are not part of our electronic database.
Although the FCC database does not list phones by model number, there are certain non- government Web sites such as www.cnet.com and www.sardata.com that provide information on SAR from specific models of mobile phones. However, the FCC has not reviewed these sites for accuracy and makes no guarantees with respect to them. In addition to these sites, some mobile phone manufacturers, such as Motorola, are now making this information available at their own Web sites. Also, phones certified by the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) are now required to provide this information to consumers in the instructional materials that come with the phones.
If you want additional consumer information on safety of cell phones and other transmitting devices please consult the information available below at this Web site. In particular, you may wish to read or download our OET Bulletin 56 (see "OET RF Safety Bulletins" listing) entitled: "Questions and Answers about Biological Effects and Potential Hazards of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields." If you have any problems or additional questions you may contact us at: email@example.com or you may call: 202-418-2464. You may also wish to consult a consumer update on mobile phone safety published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that can be found at: www.fda.gov. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
DO "HANDS-FREE" EAR PIECES FOR MOBILE PHONES REDUCE EXPOSURE TO RF EMISSIONS? WHAT ABOUT MOBILE PHONE ACCESSORIES THAT CLAIM TO SHIELD THE HEAD FROM RF RADIATION?
"Hands-free" kits with ear pieces can be used with cell phones for convenience and comfort. In addition, because the phone, which is the source of the RF emissions, will not be placed against the head, absorption of RF energy in the head will be reduced. Therefore, it is true that use of an ear piece connected to a mobile phone will significantly reduce the rate of energy absorption (or "SAR") in the user's head. On the other hand, if the phone is mounted against the waist or other part of the body during use, then that part of the body will absorb RF energy. However, mobile phones marketed in the U.S. are required to meet safety limit requirements regardless of whether they are used against the head or against the body. So either configuration should result in compliance with the safety limit.
Recently, devices have been marketed that claim to "shield" or otherwise reduce RF absorption in the body of the user. Some of these devices incorporate shielded phone cases, while others involve nothing more than some metallic accessory attached to the phone. Studies have shown that these devices generally do not work as advertised. In fact, they may actually increase RF absorption in the head due to their potential to interfere with proper operation of the phone, thus forcing it to increase power to compensate. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
CAN MOBILE PHONES BE USED SAFELY IN HOSPITALS AND NEAR MEDICAL TELEMETRY EQUIPMENT?
The FCC does not normally investigate problems of electromagnetic interference from RF transmitters to medical devices. Some hospitals have limited the use of mobile phones, due to concerns that sensitive medical equipment could be affected. The FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) has primary jurisdiction for medical device regulation. FDA staff have monitored this potential problem and more information is available from the CDRH Web site: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/default.htm. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
ARE CELLULAR AND PCS TOWERS AND ANTENNAS SAFE?
Cellular radio services transmit using frequencies between 800 and 900 megahertz (MHz). Transmitters in the Personal Communications Service (PCS) use frequencies in the range of 1850-1990 MHz. Antennas used for cellular and PCS transmissions are typically located on towers, water tanks or other elevated structures including rooftops and the sides of buildings. The combination of antennas and associated electronic equipment is referred to as a cellular or PCS "base station" or "cell site." Typical heights for free-standing base station towers or structures are 50-200 feet. A cellular base station may utilize several "omni-directional" antennas that look like poles, 10 to 15 feet in length, although these types of antennas are becoming less common in urban areas.
In urban and suburban areas, cellular and PCS service providers now more commonly use "sector" antennas for their base stations. These antennas are rectangular panels, e.g., about 1 by 4 feet in dimension, typically mounted on a rooftop or other structure, but they are also mounted on towers or poles. The antennas are usually arranged in three groups of three each. One antenna in each group is used to transmit signals to mobile units (car phones or hand-held phones), and the other two antennas in each group are used to receive signals from mobile units.
At a given cell or PCS site, the total RF power that could be transmitted from each transmitting antenna at a cell site depends on the number of radio channels (transmitters) that have been authorized and the power of each transmitter. Typically, for a cellular base station, a maximum of 21 channels per sector (depending on the system) could be used. Thus, for a typical cell site utilizing sector antennas, each of the three transmitting antennas could be connected to up to 21 transmitters for a total of 63 transmitters per site. When omni-directional antennas are used, up to 96 transmitters could be implemented at a cell site, but this would be very unusual. Furthermore, while a typical base station could have as many as 63 transmitters, not all of the transmitters would be expected to operate simultaneously thus reducing overall emission levels. For the case of PCS base stations, fewer transmitters are normally required due to the relatively greater number of base stations.
The signals from a cellular or PCS base station antenna are essentially directed toward the horizon in a relatively narrow pattern in the vertical plane. The radiation pattern for an omni- directional antenna might be compared to a thin doughnut or pancake centered around the antenna while the pattern for a sector antenna is fan-shaped, like a wedge cut from a pie. As with all forms of electromagnetic energy, the power density from a cellular or PCS transmitter decreases rapidly as one moves away from the antenna. Consequently, normal ground-level exposure is much less than exposures that might be encountered if one were very close to the antenna and in its main transmitted beam.
Measurements made near typical cellular and PCS installations, especially those with tower-mounted antennas, have shown that ground-level power densities are thousands of times less than the FCC's limits for safe exposure. In fact, in order to be exposed to levels at or near the FCC limits for cellular or PCS frequencies an individual would essentially have to remain in the main transmitting beam (at the height of the antenna) and within a few feet from the antenna. This makes it extremely unlikely that a member of the general public could be exposed to RF levels in excess of these guidelines due to cellular or PCS base station transmitters.
When cellular and PCS antennas are mounted at rooftop locations it is possible that ambient RF levels could be greater than those typically encountered on the ground. However, once again, exposures approaching or exceeding the safety guidelines are only likely to be encountered very close to or directly in front of the antennas. For sector-type antennas RF levels to the side and in back of these antennas are insignificant. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
For further information on celluar radio systems go to http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/index.htm?job=service_home&;id=cellular
ARE CELLULAR AND OTHER RADIO TOWERS LOCATED NEAR HOMES OR SCHOOLS SAFE FOR RESIDENTS AND STUDENTS?
As discussed above, radiofrequency emissions from antennas used for wireless transmissions such as cellular and PCS signals result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times less than safety limits. These safety limits were adopted by the FCC based on the recommendations of expert organizations and endorsed by agencies of the Federal Government responsible for health and safety. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students.
Other antennas, such as those used for radio and television broadcast transmissions, use power levels that are generally higher than those used for cellular and PCS antennas. Therefore, in some cases there could be a potential for higher levels of exposure on the ground. However, all broadcast stations are required to demonstrate compliance with FCC safety guidelines, and ambient exposures to nearby persons from such stations are typically well below FCC safety limits. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
ARE EMISSIONS FROM RADIO AND TELEVISION ANTENNAS SAFE?
Radio and television broadcast stations transmit their signals via RF electromagnetic waves. There are thousands of radio and TV stations on the air in the United States. Broadcast stations transmit at various RF frequencies, depending on the channel, ranging from about 550 kHz for AM radio up to about 800 MHz for some UHF television stations. Frequencies for FM radio and VHF television lie in between these two extremes. Operating powers ("effective radiated power") can be as little as a few hundred watts for some radio stations or up to millions of watts for certain television stations. Some of these signals can be a significant source of RF energy in the local environment, and the FCC requires that broadcast stations submit evidence of compliance with FCC RF guidelines.
The amount of RF energy to which the public or workers might be exposed as a result of broadcast antennas depends on several factors, including the type of station, design characteristics of the antenna being used, power transmitted to the antenna, height of the antenna and distance from the antenna. Since energy at some frequencies is absorbed by the human body more readily than energy at other frequencies, the frequency of the transmitted signal as well as its intensity is important. Calculations can be performed to predict what field intensity levels would exist at various distances from an antenna.
Public access to broadcasting antennas is normally restricted so that individuals cannot be exposed to high-level fields that might exist near antennas. Measurements made by the FCC, EPA and others have shown that ambient RF radiation levels in inhabited areas near broadcasting facilities are typically well below the exposure levels recommended by current standards and guidelines. There have been a few situations around the country where RF levels in publicly accessible areas have been found to be higher than those recommended by applicable safety standards. But, in spite of the relatively high operating powers of many stations, such cases are unusual, and members of the general public are unlikely to be exposed to RF levels from broadcast towers that exceed FCC limits. Furthermore, wherever such situations have arisen corrective measures have been undertaken to ensure that areas promptly come into compliance with the applicable guidelines.
Antenna maintenance workers are occasionally required to climb antenna structures for such purposes as painting, repairs, or beacon replacement. Both the EPA and OSHA have reported that in these cases it is possible for a worker to be exposed to high levels of RF energy if work is performed on an active tower or in areas immediately surrounding a radiating antenna. Therefore, precautions should be taken to ensure that maintenance personnel are not exposed to unsafe RF fields.(Back to RF FAQ Index)
HOW SAFE ARE RADIO ANTENNAS USED FOR PAGING AND "TWO- WAY" COMMUNICATIONS? WHAT ABOUT "PUSH-TO-TALK" RADIOS SUCH AS "WALKIE-TALKIES?"
"Land-mobile" communications include a variety of communications systems which require the use of portable and mobile RF transmitting sources. These systems operate in narrow frequency bands between about 30 and 1000 MHz. Radio systems used by the police and fire departments, radio paging services and business radio are a few examples of these communications systems. They have the advantage of providing communications links between various fixed and mobile locations.
There are essentially three types of RF transmitters associated with land-mobile systems: base-station transmitters, vehicle-mounted transmitters, and hand-held transmitters. The antennas used for these various transmitters are adapted for their specific purpose. For example, a base-station antenna must radiate its signal to a relatively large area, and, therefore, its transmitter generally has to use higher power levels than a vehicle-mounted or hand-held radio transmitter. Although these base-station antennas usually operate with higher power levels than other types of land-mobile antennas, they are normally inaccessible to the public since they must be mounted at significant heights above ground to provide for adequate signal coverage. Also, many of these antennas transmit only intermittently. For these reasons, such base-station antennas have generally not been of concern with regard to possible hazardous exposure of the public to RF radiation. Studies at rooftop locations have indicated that high-powered paging antennas may increase the potential for exposure to workers or others with access to such sites, e.g., maintenance personnel. This could be a concern especially when multiple transmitters are present. In such cases, restriction of access or other corrective actions may be necessary.
Transmitting power levels for vehicle-mounted land-mobile antennas are generally less than those used by base-station antennas but higher than those used for hand-held units. Some manufacturers recommend that users and other nearby individuals maintain a minimum distance (e.g., 1 to 2 feet) from a vehicle-mounted antenna during transmission or mount the antenna in such a way as to provide maximum shielding for vehicle occupants. Studies have shown that this is probably a conservative precaution, particularly when the percentage of time an antenna is actually radiating is considered. Unlike cellular telephones, which transmit continuously throughout a call, two-way radios normally transmit only when the "press-to-talk" button is depressed. This significantly reduces exposure, and there is no evidence that there would be a safety hazard associated with exposure from vehicle-mounted, two-way antennas when the manufacturer's recommendations are followed.
Hand-held "two-way" portable radios such as walkie-talkies are low-powered devices used to transmit and receive messages over relatively short distances. Because of the low power levels used, the intermittency of these transmissions ("push-to-talk"), and due to the fact that these radios are held away from the head, they should not expose users to RF energy in excess of safe limits. Therefore, the FCC does not require routine documentation of compliance with safety limits for push-to-talk two-way radios as it does for cellular and PCS phones (which transmit continuously during use and which are held against the head). (Back to RF FAQ Index)
HOW SAFE ARE MICROWAVE AND SATELLITE ANTENNAS?
Point-to-point microwave antennas transmit and receive microwave signals across relatively short distances (from a few tenths of a mile to 30 miles or more). These antennas are usually rectangular or circular in shape and are normally found mounted on a supporting tower, on rooftops, sides of buildings or on similar structures that provide clear and unobstructed line-of-sight paths between both ends of a transmission path or link. These antennas have a variety of uses such as transmitting voice and data messages and serving as links between broadcast or cable-TV studios and transmitting antennas.
The RF signals from these antennas travel in a directed beam from a transmitting antenna to a receiving antenna, and dispersion of microwave energy outside of the relatively narrow beam is minimal or insignificant. In addition, these antennas transmit using very low power levels, usually on the order of a few watts or less. Measurements have shown that ground-level power densities due to microwave directional antennas are normally a thousand times or more below recommended safety limits. Moreover, as an added margin of safety, microwave tower sites are normally inaccessible to the general public. Significant exposures from these antennas could only occur in the unlikely event that an individual were to stand directly in front of and very close to an antenna for a period of time.
Ground-based antennas used for satellite-earth communications typically are parabolic "dish" antennas, some as large as 10 to 30 meters in diameter, that are used to transmit ("uplinks") or receive ("downlinks") microwave signals to or from satellites in orbit around the earth. The satellites receive the signals beamed up to them and, in turn, retransmit the signals back down to an earthbound receiving station. These signals allow delivery of a variety of communications services, including long distance telephone service. Some satellite-earth station antennas are used only to receive RF signals (i.e., just like a rooftop television antenna used at a residence), and, since they do not transmit, RF exposure is not an issue.
Since satellite-earth station antennas are directed toward satellites above the earth, transmitted beams point skyward at various angles of inclination, depending on the particular satellite being used. Because of the longer distances involved, power levels used to transmit these signals are relatively large when compared, for example, to those used by the microwave point-to-point antennas discussed above. However, as with microwave antennas, the beams used for transmitting earth-to-satellite signals are concentrated and highly directional, similar to the beam from a flashlight. In addition, public access would normally be restricted at station sites where exposure levels could approach or exceed safe limits.
Although many satellite-earth stations are "fixed" sites, portable uplink antennas are also used, e.g., for electronic news gathering. These antennas can be deployed in various locations. Therefore, precautions may be necessary, such as temporarily restricting access in the vicinity of the antenna, to avoid exposure to the main transmitted beam. In general, however, it is unlikely that a transmitting earth station antenna would routinely expose members of the public to potentially harmful levels of microwaves. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
ARE RF EMISSIONS FROM AMATEUR RADIO STATIONS HARMFUL?
There are hundreds of thousands of amateur radio operators ("hams") worldwide. Amateur radio operators in the United States are licensed by the FCC. The Amateur Radio Service provides its members with the opportunity to communicate with persons all over the world and to provide valuable public service functions, such as making communications services available during disasters and emergencies. Like all FCC licensees, amateur radio operators are required to comply with the FCC's guidelines for safe human exposure to RF fields. Under the FCC's rules, amateur operators can transmit with power levels of up to 1500 watts. However, most operators use considerably less power than this. Studies by the FCC and others have shown that most amateur radio transmitters would not normally expose persons to RF levels in excess of safety limits. This is primarily due to the relatively low operating powers used by most amateurs, the intermittent transmission characteristics typically used and the relative inaccessibility of most amateur antennas. As long as appropriate distances are maintained from amateur antennas, exposure of nearby persons should be well below safety limits.
To help ensure compliance of amateur radio facilities with RF exposure guidelines, both the FCC and American Radio Relay League (ARRL) have issued publications to assist operators in evaluating compliance for their stations. The FCC's publication (Supplement B to OET Bulletin 65 can be viewed and downloaded elsewhere at their website (see "OET RF Safety Bulletins"). (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHAT IS THE FCC'S POLICY ON RADIOFREQUENCY WARNING SIGNS? FOR EXAMPLE, WHEN SHOULD SIGNS BE POSTED, WHERE SHOULD THEY BE LOCATED AND WHAT SHOULD THEY SAY?
Radiofrequency warning or "alerting" signs should be used to provide information on the presence of RF radiation or to control exposure to RF radiation within a given area. Standard radiofrequency hazard warning signs are commercially available from several vendors. Appropriate signs should incorporate the format recommended by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and as specified in the IEEE standard: IEEE C95.2-1999 (Web address: www.ieee.org ). When signs are used, meaningful information should be placed on the sign advising of the potential for high RF fields. In some cases, it may be appropriate to also provide instructions to direct individuals as to how to work safely in the RF environment of concern. Signs should be located prominently in areas that will be readily seen by those persons who may potentially have access to an area where RF fields are present. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
CAN IMPLANTED ELECTRONIC CARDIAC PACEMAKERS BE AFFECTED BY NEARBY RF DEVICES SUCH AS MICROWAVE OVENS OR CELLULAR TELEPHONES?
Over the past several years there has been concern that signals from some RF devices could interfere with the operation of implanted electronic pacemakers and other medical devices. Because pacemakers are electronic devices, they could be susceptible to electromagnetic signals that could cause them to malfunction. Some claims of such effects in the past involved emissions from microwave ovens. However, it has never been shown that signals from a microwave oven are strong enough to cause such interference.
Some studies have shown that mobile phones can interfere with implanted cardiac pacemakers if a phone is used in close proximity (within about 8 inches) of a pacemaker. To avoid this potential problem, pacemaker patients can avoid placing a phone in a pocket close to the location of their pacemaker or otherwise place the phone near the pacemaker location during phone use. Patients with pacemakers should consult their physician or the FDA if they believe that they may have a problem related to RF interference. Further information on this is available from the FDA: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/default.htm . (Back to RF FAQ Index)
DOES THE FCC REGULATE EXPOSURE TO RADIATION FROM MICROWAVE OVENS, TELEVISION SETS AND COMPUTER MONITORS?
The Commission does not regulate exposure to radiation emissions from these devices. Protecting the public from harmful radiation emissions from these consumer products are the responsibility of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Inquries should be directed to the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), and, specifically, to the CDRH Office of Compliance at (301) 594-4654. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
DOES THE FCC ROUTINELY MONITOR RADIOFREQUENCY RADIATION FROM ANTENNAS?
The FCC does not have the resources nor the personnel to routinely monitor the emissions for all the thousands of transmitters that are subject to FCC jurisdiction. However, the FCC does have measurement instrumentation for evaluating RF levels in areas that may be accessible to the public or to workers. If there is evidence for potential non-compliance with FCC exposure guidelines for an FCC-regulated facility, staff from the FCC's Office of Engineering and Technology or the Enforcement Bureau can conduct an investigation, and, if appropriate, perform actual measurements. Potential exposure problems should be brought to the FCC's attention by contacting the FCC RF Safety Program at: 202-418-2464 or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
DOES THE FCC MAINTAIN A DATABASE THAT INCLUDES INFORMATION ON THE LOCATION AND TECHNICAL PARAMETERS OF ALL THE TOWERS AND ANTENNAS IT REGULATES?
The Commission does not have a transmitter-specific database for all the services it regulates. The Commission has limited information for some services such as radio and television broadcast stations, and many larger antenna towers are required to register with the FCC if they meet certain criteria. In those cases, location is generally specified in terms of degrees, minutes, and seconds. However, this is not sufficient to distinguish between collocated transmitters. In some services, licenses are allowed to use additional transmitters or to increase power without filing with the Commission. Other services are licensed by geographic area, such that the Commission has no knowledge concerning the actual number or location of transmitters within a given geographic area.
The FCC General Menu Reports (GENMen) search engine unites most of the Commission's licensing databases under a single umbrella. Databases included are the Wireless Telecommunication Bureau's ULS, the Media Bureau's CDBS, COALS (cable data) and BLS, the International Bureau's IBFS and. Entry points into the various databases include frequency, state/county, latitude/longitude, callsign and licensee name.
The FCC also publishes on at least a weekly basis, bulk extracts of the various Commission licensing databases. Each licensing database has it own unique file structure. These extracts consisted of multiple, very large files. OET maintains an index to these databases.
OET has developed has developed a Spectrum Utilization Study Software tool-set that can be used to create a MS ACCESS version of the individual exported licensing databases and then create MapInfo "mid" and "mif" files so that radio assignments can be plotted. This experimental software is used to conduct internal spectrum utilization studies needed in the rulemaking process. No technical support is proved.
For further information on the Commission's existing databases, please contact Donald Campbell at email@example.com or 202-418-2405. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHICH OTHER FEDERAL AGENCIES HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES RELATED TO POTENTIAL RF HEALTH EFFECTS?
Certain agencies in the Federal Government have been involved in monitoring, researching or regulating issues related to human exposure to RF radiation. These agencies include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Defense (DOD).
By authority of the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act of 1968, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH) of the FDA develops performance standards for the emission of radiation from electronic products including X-ray equipment, other medical devices, television sets, microwave ovens, laser products and sunlamps. The CDRH established a product performance standard for microwave ovens in 1971 limiting the amount of RF leakage from ovens. However, the CDRH has not adopted performance standards for other RF-emitting products. The FDA is, however, the lead federal health agency in monitoring the latest research developments and advising other agencies with respect to the safety of RF-emitting products used by the public, such as cellular and PCS phones.
The FDA's microwave oven standard is an emission standard (as opposed to an exposure standard) that allows specific levels of microwave leakage (measured at five centimeters from the oven surface). The standard also requires ovens to have two independent interlock systems that prevent the oven from generating microwaves the moment that the latch is released or the door of the oven is opened. The FDA has stated that ovens that meet its standards and are used according to the manufacturer's recommendations are safe for consumer and industrial use. More information is available from: http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/default.htm.
The EPA has, in the past, considered developing federal guidelines for public exposure to RF radiation. However, EPA activities related to RF safety and health are presently limited to advisory functions. For example, the EPA now chairs an Inter-agency Radiofrequency Working Group, which coordinates RF health-related activities among the various federal agencies with health or regulatory responsibilities in this area.
OSHA is responsible for protecting workers from exposure to hazardous chemical and physical agents. In 1971, OSHA issued a protection guide for exposure of workers to RF radiation [29 CFR 1910.97]. However, this guide was later ruled to be only advisory and not mandatory. Moreover, it was based on an earlier RF exposure standard that has now been revised. At the present time, OSHA uses the IEEE and/or FCC exposure guidelines for enforcement purposes under OSHA's "general duty clause" (for more information see: www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/radiofrequencyradiation/index.html ).
NIOSH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It conducts research and investigations into issues related to occupational exposure to chemical and physical agents. NIOSH has, in the past, undertaken to develop RF exposure guidelines for workers, but final guidelines were never adopted by the agency. NIOSH conducts safety-related RF studies through its Physical Agents Effects Branch in Cincinnati,Ohio.
The NTIA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce and is responsible for authorizing Federal Government use of the RF electromagnetic spectrum. Like the FCC, the NTIA also has NEPA responsibilities and has considered adopting guidelines for evaluating RF exposure from U.S. Government transmitters such as radar and military facilities.
The Department of Defense (DOD) has conducted research on the biological effects of RF energy for a number of years. This research is now conducted primarily at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory located at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
CAN LOCAL AND STATE GOVERNMENTAL BODIES ESTABLISH LIMITS FOR RF EXPOSURE?
In the United States some local and state jurisdictions have also enacted rules and regulations pertaining to human exposure to RF energy. However, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 contained provisions relating to federal jurisdiction to regulate human exposure to RF emissions from certain transmitting devices.. In particular, Section 704 of the Act states that, "No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission's regulations concerning such emissions." Further information on FCC policy with respect to facilities siting is available in a factsheet from the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (see http://wireless.fcc.gov/). (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHERE CAN I OBTAIN MORE INFORMATION ON POTENTIAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF RADIOFREQUENCY ENERGY?
Although relatively few offices or agencies within the Federal Government routinely deal with the issue of human exposure to RF fields, it is possible to obtain information and assistance on certain topics from the following federal agencies. Most of these agencies also have Internet Web sites.
FDA: For information about radiation from microwave ovens and other consumer and industrial products contact: Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), Food and Drug Administration, Radiation Biology Branch, Rockville, MD 20857, (301) 443-7118.
EPA: The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Radiation Programs is responsible for monitoring potential health effects due to public exposure to RF fields. Contact: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Radiation and Indoor Air, 401 M Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20460, (202) 564-9235.
OSHA: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Health Response Team (1781 South 300 West, Salt Lake City, Utah 84165) has been involved in studies related to occupational exposure to RF radiation. Phone: (801) 524-7906.
NIOSH: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) monitors RF- related safety issues as they pertain to the workplace. Contact: NIOSH, Physical Agents Effects Branch, Mail Stop C-27, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226. Toll-free number: 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674) or (513) 533-8153.
DOD: Questions regarding Department of Defense activities related to RF safety and its biological research program can be directed to the Radio Frequency Radiation Branch, Air Force Research Laboratory, Brooks Air Force Base, TX 78235, (210) 536-4833.
FCC: Questions regarding potential RF hazards from FCC-regulated transmitters can be directed to the RF Safety Program, Office of Engineering and Technology, Technical Analysis Branch, Federal Communications Commission, 445 Twelfth Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554. Phone: 202-418-2464. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety. (Back to RF FAQ Index)
WHERE CAN I OBTAIN RF SAFETY TRAINING?
LBA offers a complete RF Safety Awareness Training Program and regulatory RF Compliance services.
Also be sure to check out our RF Interference and Intermodulation FAQs.
This RF FAQs is attributed to the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology.
(Back to RF FAQ Index)
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