Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic Field Exposure and Contribution of Sources in the General Population: An Organ-Specific Integrative Exposure Assessment

Luuk van Wel, Ilaria Liorni, Anke Huss, Arno Thielens, Joe Wiart, Wout Joseph, Martin Röösli, Milena Foerster, Amelie Massardier-Pilonchery, Myles Capstick, Elisabeth Cardis, and Roel Vermeulen, Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology 2021, online 02 March 2021; doi: 10.1038/s41370-021-00287-8

In order to achieve an integrated radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) dose assessment, detailed information about source-specific exposure duration and output power is needed. We developed an Integrated Exposure Model (IEM) to combine energy absorbed due to use of and exposure to RF-EMF sources and applied it to a sample of the general population to derive population RF-EMF estimates. The IEM used specific absorption rate transfer algorithms to provide RF-EMF daily dose estimates (mJ/kg/day) using source-specific attributes (e.g. output power, distance), personal characteristics and usage patterns. Information was obtained from an international survey performed in four European countries with 1755 participants. We obtained median whole-body and whole-brain doses of 183.7 and 204.4 mJ/kg/day. Main contributors to whole-brain dose were mobile phone near the head for calling (2G networks) and far-field sources, whereas the latter together with multiple other RF-EMF sources were main contributors for whole-body dose. For other anatomical sites, 2G phone calls, mobile data and far-field exposure were important contributors. The IEM provides insight into main contributors to total RF-EMF dose and, applied to an international survey, provides an estimate of population RF-dose. The IEM can be used in future epidemiological studies, risk assessments and exposure reduction strategies.

The scientific and technical impact of the study can be summarized as:

  • Development of the most comprehensive RF-EMF dose estimation tool to date
  • This study obtained realistic population exposure scenarios by using data on mobile phone use from an international survey in the model
  • Overall RF-EMF dose for the whole-body and whole-brain was found to be higher in younger age groups in comparison with older groups, with mobile phone calls on 2G networks found to be the main contributor to whole-brain RF-EMF dose
  • For whole-body dose, far-field exposure from telecommunications other RF-EMF sources plays a prominent role