LCQ4: Radiation levels of mobile base stations
Following is a question by the Hon Ho Kai-ming and a reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (July 5):
The Government has repeatedly stated that as the radio-frequency electromagnetic fields generated by radio base stations for mobile communications (RBSs) are a type of non-ionising radiation with lower energy, they will not cause harm to the human body. However, quite a number of members of the public (particularly those living in the vicinity of RBSs) have relayed to me that they are still very worried. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the current total number of RBSs across the territory; the number of those installed in residential buildings, with a breakdown by RBSs installed in subsidised housing and those in private housing; the highest number of RBSs installed in one single building at present; the names of those buildings in subsidised housing installed with RBSs, and the number of RBSs installed in each of such buildings (to be set out in a table);
(2) whether it knows the total amount of licence fees collected in each of the past five years by the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA) in respect of the RBSs installed in the housing estates and courts under its management; whether HA will ask mobile network operators to relocate to other places those RBSs which are in close proximity to residential units or too closely packed, and whether HA will regularly measure, in accordance with the radiation safety standards of Hong Kong and those of the Mainland respectively, the levels of radiation generated by RBSs and make public the results; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(3) whether the Government will issue guidelines or enact legislation on the shortest distance between an RBS and a residential unit and the highest density of RBSs, so as to allay public concern?
According to the professional advice from the Department of Health (DH), the radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (EMF) generated by mobile base stations (base stations) are a type of non-ionising radiation (NIR) which differs greatly from ionising radiation such as X-rays and nuclear radiation. Simply put, NIR has lower energy and is insufficient to change the chemical properties of substances. It cannot cause harm by breaking chemical bonds in the human body. In addition, the strength of RF EMF decreases rapidly with distance from the source.
The Communications Authority (CA) has, according to the professional advice from DH, adopted the standards endorsed by the World Health Organization and developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) based on scientific literature and health risk assessments as the criteria for vetting applications for installing base stations.
A consolidated reply of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and the Transport and Housing Bureau to the question raised by the Hon Ho Kai-ming is as follows:
(1) As at end of May 2017, there are a total of 48 575 base stations installed by mobile network operators (MNOs). The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) does not have statistical breakdown on the number of base stations installed in residential buildings (including private housing and subsidised housing), and buildings with the highest number of base stations installed.
As to the number of base stations installed at the domestic blocks of public rental housing (PRH) estates under the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA), according to the information provided by the Housing Department, there are a total of 834 base stations installed at 161 PRH estates as at May 2017. The relevant details are at Annex.
(2) and (3) HA provides spaces in its PRH estates for the installation of base stations by MNOs, with a view to enabling PRH tenants and the community nearby to use the relevant telecommunications services. Upon receiving an installation request from a MNO, HA will require it to submit the carrier licence issued by the CA. The MNO shall seek approval from and submit technical information to OFCA before the base station concerned could commence operation. In the past five years, the amount of licence fee received by HA for providing spaces for setting up telecommunications facilities (mainly base station facilities) is about $156 million per year on average.
We understand the public's concerns over the safety of base stations. Given that the root of these concerns is the total radiation level emitted by base stations, OFCA, in vetting applications by MNOs for installing base stations, will examine the radiation level of the proposed new base stations as well as the total radiation level of all the base stations at the location concerned if other base stations have already been installed in the vicinity so as to ensure that the total radiation level at the location does not exceed the ICNIRP's limits before granting approval for the applications. MNOs are required to provide OFCA with measurement reports within one month from the commencement of operation of their base stations to demonstrate that the total radiation level of the base stations complies with the safety requirements.
This standard, which is based on the compliance of total radiation level with the ICNIRP's limits, is more objective and scientific than other methods, and is widely accepted by the international community. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand, and countries with dense population such as Singapore, Japan and Korea have all adopted this standard.
In addition, to ensure that the base stations constantly comply with the relevant standard, OFCA has been conducting on-site measurements of radiation level of base stations in response to requests of members of the public (including PRH tenants) and initiating random checks on base stations. OFCA has also explained the relevant measurement results to the enquirers. Over the past three years, OFCA has conducted over 800 measurements of radiation level in response to requests of members of the public, and has initiated random checks on more than 3 500 base stations. All of the measurement results meet the safety requirements. We will continue our efforts in this regard to ensure that the base stations comply with our standards.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, July 5, 2017