A federal government committee report recommends greater precaution and tougher exposure guidelines to protect Canadians against radiation from wireless devices.
Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Radiation and the Health of Canadians, a report of the all-party House of Commons Standing Committee on Health, was released in June following public hearings into Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 guideline on human exposure to electromagnetic energy.
The Committee heard from witnesses who raised concerns about possible links between radiofrequency radiation exposure and cancer, reproductive issues, autism and electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
Radiofrequency (RF) energy, a type of non-ionizing radiation, consists of electric and magnetic fields with frequencies from 3khz to 300GHz. Sources of RF radiation include communication devices such as cell phones, wireless internet (WiFi) and broadcast towers, MRI machines, radar guns, and heating equipment such as induction heaters and microwave ovens.
Exposure levels can vary based upon the power and number of the source(s), the direction and frequency, the use of protective barriers and the distance from the source. For example, the Standing Committee heard from educational workers who said it was common to have almost 20 WiFi routers in a school to support wireless technology. Some experts believe this level of exposure can contribute to electromagnetic hypersensitivity characterized by a range of symptoms, from headaches and chronic pain to anxiety and nausea.
In 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer evaluated and classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans. This was based upon evidence of increased risk for glioma, a type of brain cancer, linked to wireless phone use.
Health Canada’s Safety Code 6
Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 (Limits of Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy in the Frequency Range from 3 kHz to 300 GHz) sets out exposure limits to RF radiation. The guideline applies to anyone working at or visiting a federally regulated site but others, including the Ontario Ministry of Labour, have adopted and use the guideline.
Health Canada completed its own review of Safety Code 6 this spring based upon a report by the Royal Society of Canada. They concluded that no new credible biological evidence had emerged since 2009 to warrant lowering exposure limits. That conclusion was the subject of an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal which questions the research rationale used by Health Canada and suggests current exposure levels aren’t protective enough.
Many are calling for greater precaution while the science continues to emerge on the adverse health impacts of RF radiation. Meantime, the Standing Committee made 12 recommendations, including: ensuring greater transparency in Health Canada’s reviews of Safety Code 6; updating physician knowledge in the diagnosis and treatment of electromagnetic hypersensitivity and reasonable workplace accommodation for those affected; funding new research into the links between RF exposure and health impacts; and examining more protective exposure guidelines in other jurisdictions for possible adoption in Canada.
The Standing Committee presented its findings to the House of Commons on June 17 and has requested the government table a comprehensive response to their Report.
Many other countries have exposure limits that are more protective including in China, Russia, Italy and Switzerland. Just this spring, France banned the use WiFi in day cares and nurseries for children under the age of three benefitting both children and their care providers.
Other related resources:
Radiofrequency and Microwave Radiation in the Workplace | Ontario Ministry of Labour
CAREX Canada–Radiofrequency Radiation profile
Canadian Teachers’ Federation-The Use of WiFi in Schools
Canadians for Safe Technology
WHSC offers a wide range of training programs, including one on EMF’s and Dirty Electricity, as well as resources to help workplace parties understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to workplace hazards. Many of these resources also offer essential insight into the information and tools needed to eliminate or reduce harmful workplace and environmental exposures.