EU non-ionising radiation limits agreed

Ministers approve recommendation on electromagnetic fields; Italy criticises measure as too weak

EU health ministers meeting in Luxembourg this week have reached political agreement on common, non-binding limits on public exposure to non-ionising radiation (electromagnetic fields) from electrical appliances, high-voltage cables and other sources. A recommendation complementing existing binding rules on exposure in the workplace was approved by all countries except Italy, which argued for stronger, legally binding measures to be taken.

The recommendation sets out standard early warning "reference" levels for public exposure to non-ionising radiation at frequencies up to 300 gigahertz, as well as less strict "basic restriction" limits to be applied if reference levels are breached. EU member states are requested to ensure that basic restriction limits are not exceeded by drawing up standards for radiation emissions from electrical devices according to the likelihood of public exposure, including the frequency of use of products such as mobile phones.

Italy has criticised the recommendation as inadequate. The country will vote against the measure when it comes up for formal adoption in the coming weeks, an Italian diplomat told ENDS Daily. The source said that a binding EU directive was needed and that the recommendation did not incorporate the precautionary principle. He also called for the European Commission to develop a long-term research programme on the effects of non-ionising radiation and greater protection for those workers not covered under current EU rules.

Exposure levels in the recommendation are based on levels developed by the International Commission on Non-ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and apply only to "acute" effects, such as the warming of body tissues and the possibility of disorienting static discharges. A spokesperson for ICNIRP stressed that current research showed that non-ionising radiation did not have long-term health effects such as inducing cancer and that counter-measures were unnecessary.

The proposal has met with a hostile response from industry. Stefano Casandrini of domestic appliance lobby group CECED told Brussels weekly European Voice before the meeting: "We still fear that some possible trade barrier could arise from this recommendation."

Since the recommendation is not binding, member states are permitted to provide a higher level of protection than that set out in the guidelines. Only the UK and Germany currently have restrictions in place on public exposure to non-ionising radiation, according to the ICNIRP.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111; ICNIRP, tel: +49 89 316 03 288.

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