Common myths about EME – Busted!

Bust eight common myths about Electromagnetic Energy (EME) in Australia.

There is a lot of misinformation about EME circulating at the moment.

To help you separate fact from fiction, we’ve busted eight of the most common EME myths.

Myth 1 - EME from telecommunications can cause you harm

The EME emitted from telecommunications services is often referred to as radiofrequency EME (RF EME) due to the spectrum bands that are used. RF EME from telecommunications sits at the lower end of the electromagnetic spectrum. This type of RM EME is used in many different radio communication and telecommunication services, including broadcasting and mobile phone networks. In Australia, Non-ionising radio waves found in telecommunications devices do not cause harm because they are regulated to operate within the safety limits as defined by the ARPANSA standard..

There are other forms of EME that require more caution such as Xrays and Gamma Rays. These are different to those used in telecommunications devices. They sit at the higher end of the electromagnetic spectrum and unlike RF EME they need to be used with caution.

Myth 2 - EME is only emitted by telecommunications devices

Many products, devices and systems in your home emit the same type of EME that’s used in telecommunications. Basically, anything that’s wireless like your TV, radio or laptop emits EME. It’s also emitted by natural sources like the sun and the earth’s atmosphere.

Myth 3 - We’ll be exposed to more EME once the 5G network is fully rolled out

While the rollout of 5G can mean a greater density of telecommunications infrastructure will be deployed in our communities (often referred to as small cells), this does not mean we will be exposed to more EME from this equipment.

The levels of EME emissions from telecommunications devices and infrastructure must be below the levels applied in the standard for Maximum Exposure Levels of RF EME from 100 kHz to 300 GHz set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

The standard is based on up-to-date, credible scientific research and the frequency range it covers provides protection for all current and anticipated frequencies for telecommunications, including 5G.

Small cells are also subject to the same regulations as other mobile phone base stations, devices and other telecommunications equipment. A recent study by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) measuring EME exposure at small cell sites found average emissions at all sites were less than 1.5 per cent of the limit in the ARPANSA Standard. The majority of sites were under 1%.

Myth 4 - 5G is a new technology we don’t fully understand

The basic principle of wireless communication is simple and hasn’t changed in 100 years. 5G refers to the ‘fifth generation’ of mobile technology. It’s not a matter of reinventing the wheel. It uses the same principles and the same type of EME as previous generations – 4G, 3G, 2G and 1G.

5G currently runs on frequencies that are very similar to the 4G network. It will eventually move to higher frequencies, however, the intensity of the exposure is still well within what is considered safe.

Myth 5 - EME should be considered dangerous

Not all EME is dangerous. EME comes from a variety of sources in the natural environment. It’s emitted by the sun, the earth’s atmosphere - and even the human body.

EME is also produced artificially and subject to strict regulations and safety standards. There are two types of artificial EME.

  • Ionising - The type of EME produced by X-Rays and Gamma Rays. Ionising EME has very high frequencies and very short wavelengths. Ionising EME has enough energy to strip electrons from an atom. This can cause damage to living tissue, which is why you have to be cautious around this type of EME.
  • Non-ionising - The type of EME produced by radio waves, microwaves, infrared and visible light. Non-ionising EME from these devices has a longer wavelength and a lower frequency. This means it’s not powerful enough to cause harm to humans or the environment.

Australia’s standard for EME for telecommunications is based on up-to-date science and research that is peer-reviewed by Australian and international scientists.

By understanding and trusting in the science, you can be assured that EME from telecommunications that you come across every day are safe.

Myth 6 - We don’t have any control over the amount of EME we’re exposed to

While you can’t control the amount of EME you’re exposed to in the environment, including from natural sources like the sun, it is important to note that Australia has strict regulations in place to make sure the levels of EME emissions from artificial sources such as all wireless communications devices and infrastructure are well below the levels in the standard set by ARPANSA.

The ARPANSA RF Standard (RPS S-1) has been developed to protect the public from exposure to RF EME by setting exposure limits. The Standard is based on scientific research and considers the levels at which harmful effects may occur and it sets the exposure limits, based on international best practice, well below these harmful levels.

The Standard is designed to protect people of all ages and health status against any potential adverse health effects from exposure to RF EME.

The ACMA regulates communications devices and infrastructure to make sure telecommunications companies and other companies who supply equipment to consumers comply with the levels in the standard.

Myth 7 - We don’t understand the long-term effects of EME exposure

EME has been a part of everyday life for a long time and scientists have been studying the type of EME used in telecommunications for more than 100 years.

To date, no verifiable long-term adverse effects have been found when EME levels for telecommunications are kept to the limits identified by international research bodies and the World Health Organization (WHO). This includes the low-level exposure to RF EME for telecommunications set out by ARPANSA’s standard.

Myth 8 - EME from 5G has been linked to COVID-19

There is no credible scientific evidence linking EME to the spread of COVID-19.

EME and viruses do not interact. EME exists on the electromagnetic spectrum, whereas viruses are a biological phenomenon.