LCQ8: Radiation levels of mobile base stations
Following is a question by the Hon Lau Kwok-fan and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, in the Legislative Council today (March 22):
It has been reported recently by the media that telecommunications service operators have installed a large number of radio base stations for mobile communications (base stations) on the rooftops of quite a number of residential buildings in Hong Kong, which has aroused concerns among quite a number of members of the public that the radiation emitted from base stations affects human health and even causes cancer. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that the experimental environment of a number of large-scale studies conducted overseas on whether or not the radiation emitted from base stations affects human health is different from the actual environment of Hong Kong, whether the authorities have reviewed if the conclusions of these studies are entirely applicable to Hong Kong;
(2) whether the authorities or local academic institutions conducted large-scale tracking studies in the past five years on the subject mentioned in (1); if so, of the details; if not, whether the authorities will conduct the relevant studies;
(3) whether the authorities will consider selecting certain housing courts, in which the rooftops of buildings are installed with a large number of base stations, as the pilot sites with the Department of Health arranging for residents on the top floors of such buildings to receive physical check-ups, with a view to understanding, through the collection of local data, whether the radiation from base stations affects human health;
(4) as it has been reported that the radiation safety standards for base stations adopted on the Mainland are more stringent than those adopted in Hong Kong, whether the authorities will consider adopting the relevant standards; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(5) whether it has plans to make public the data on the radioactivity levels in the vicinity of all the base stations in Hong Kong; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(6) of the number of complaints about radiation safety of base stations received by the Office of the Communications Authority between January 2012 and February 2017, and the follow-up actions taken?
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 "Guidelines for Limiting Exposure to Time-varying Electric, Magnetic, and Electromagnetic Fields" (the Guidelines) as the NIR safety standards. The Guidelines are developed by the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) based on scientific literature and related health risk assessments, and recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).
A consolidated reply of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and the Food and Health Bureau to the six parts of question is as follows:
(1) & (2) Regarding the issue of whether RF EMF generated by base stations could affect human health, the DH has been monitoring the information provided by international authorities.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer under the WHO assessed the studies relating to environmental exposures of RF EMF (including RF EMF emitted from base stations) and pointed out that the evidence of causing cancer from environmental exposures of RF EMF was inconclusive.
As for human exposure of NIR, the ICNIRP has formulated the Guidelines, which has been endorsed by the WHO, based on scientific literature and associated health risk assessments. The WHO considered that at present, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that exposure to EMF (including RF EMF) below the exposure limits recommended in the Guidelines would cause any adverse health effects.
The DH has been closely monitoring the information provided by WHO regarding the effects of RF EMF posed to human health. The Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) will also seek DH's professional medical advice on health effects of base stations from time to time.
(3) The WHO considers that at present, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that exposure to EMF (including RF EMF) below the exposure limits recommended in the Guidelines would cause any adverse health effects. The CA has also, according to the professional advice from DH, adopted the ICNIRP's limits as the safety standards for NIR. As such, the Government considers that there is no basis to arrange health checks for residents living in estates installed with base stations.
(4) The ICNIRP limits adopted by the CA are recognised by WHO as the safety standard. The ICNIRP limits or similar requirements are widely adopted by other advanced countries such as the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand, and economies with dense population such as Singapore, Japan and Korea. The CA has no plan to change its established practice of following the international standards.
(5) In vetting the applications, apart from examining the radiation level of individual base stations, OFCA will also conduct technical assessments of the total radiation level at the location of the base stations to ensure that the total radiation level complies with the radiation safety standards before granting approval for the applications. Operators are required to provide OFCA with measurement reports within one month from the commencement of operation of their base stations to demonstrate that the radiation levels comply with the safety standards.
Currently, there are a total of 47 000 base stations in Hong Kong. OFCA has not kept the measurement reports of individual base stations during the vetting process. If members of the public are concerned about the radiation safety near the base stations, they may contact OFCA to arrange on-site measurement of radiation level.
Over the past three years, in response to requests of Legislative Council Members, District Council Members and members of the public, OFCA has conducted over 800 measurements of radiation level in residential premises throughout the territory, and has initiated random checks on more than 3 500 approved base stations. No case has been found to exceed the radiation safety standards. OFCA will continue to conduct on-site measurements of radiation level upon requests as well as random checks to ensure that the base stations comply with the safety standards.
(6) From January 2012 to February 2017, OFCA received about 600 enquiries and complaints in relation to radiation safety of base stations, with most of them involving concern about NIR safety at residential premises. When handling these cases, OFCA would explain to the enquirer or complainant concerned the CA's requirements on radiation safety of base stations. On-site measurement would be arranged if necessary to allay their concerns about the NIR levels. The NIR levels measured in all of the above cases were below the ICNIRP limits.
Ends/Wednesday, March 22, 2017