Heinrich S, Thomas S, Heumann C, von Kries R, Radon K. The impact of exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields on chronic well-being in young people - A cross-sectional study based on personal dosimetry. Environ Int. Jul 8, 2010. Ahead of print.
Several studies have been conducted on possible association between exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF EMFs) and different health outcomes. Few studies have been focused on young people, and those few were based on self-reported exposure. Validation studies indicate that recall of the number of calls is of moderate accuracy, and recall of duration of calls is poor. In this study, the authors used personal dosimeters to assess all sources of exposure of young people to radiofrequency radiation, not only at home, but also at school, at work and at leisure time. This was the first study in children and adolescents using personal dosimeters.
The objective of this study was to investigate “if exposure to RF EMFs assessed using personal dosimetry is associated with chronic symptoms in a large population of Bavarian (Southern Germany) children and adolescents.”
Potential participants (8-12 year old children and 13-17 year old adolescents) were randomly selected from population registries of four Bavarian cities. Of 6,386 invited young people, 4,452 (76%) answered a short questionnaire (administered to all potential participants to assess a selection bias), and 3,052 (52%) agreed to participate. Computer Assisted Personal Interview was conducted to collect data on chronic symptoms over the last 6 months, socio-demographic characteristics and potential confounders (e.g. environmental worries, self-reported exposure to mobile and cordless phones, and self-reported distance from home to the nearest mobile phone base station). Some of the data for children were collected by interviewing their parents. Using the German dosimeter ESM-140, a 24-hour exposure profile was generated for each participant. At night, the dosimeter was fixed next to the participant’s bed on a bottle of water. Exposure during waking hours was expressed as mean percentage of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) reference level.
Exposure to RF EMF was very low, ranging from 0.13% to 0.92% of the ICNIRP reference level. The most reported chronic symptom both in children and in adolescents was fatigue. The prevalence of most symptoms was higher in adolescents than in children and comparable with prevalence reported in other studies. No association was observed between measured exposure and chronic symptoms either for adolescents or for children.
Interpretation and Limitations
Limitations of this study included a limited ability of the dosimeter to differentiate between the frequency bands, the influence of the participant’s body on the measured values (potential for underestimation of exposure), difficulties in measuring night-time exposures. Participation rate was not high, but “satisfying” given the required time and effort.
The results of this study do not indicate that subjective symptoms of children and adolescents are associated with exposure to RF EMFs. To confirm these results, prospective studies of potential long-term effects of RF EMFs are necessary.