Risk assessment

Risk assessment comprises identification, quantification and evaluation of risks with the aim to predict the probability of occurrence of a hazard and the associated harms. First, available research results and exposure data are collected. These data build the basis for evaluation of the hazard potential of a substance or a physical agent, of dose-response evaluation, and the exposure of specific population groups. During this process, knowledge gaps and topics that should be explored in future are identified.

The World Health Organization (WHO) established the “International EMF Project” in 1996 to assess potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields in the frequency range of 0 Hz – 300 GHz. Key objectives of this project are to evaluate the scientific literature, to identify knowledge gaps and to encourage further research programs, to support the development of international accepted standards for exposure to electromagnetic fields, to provide information on risk management for governmental authorities, and to advise national agencies on possible hazards caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) accomplishes risk assessment of non-ionizing fields on the international level. ICNIRP is a non-governmental organization formally recognized by the WHO with independent experts. Based on scientific literature, ICNIRP develops regularly updated guidelines establishing limits for occupational and public exposure (Limits). These ICNIRP guidelines are the basis for many international recommendations (e.g. EU-Empfehlung 1999/519/EC ) and national laws (e.g. 26. BImSchV in Germany).

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the WHO especially evaluates carcinogenic risks to humans. The following monographs on electromagnetic fields have been published:In both evaluations, the IARC classified the cancer risk of EMF into category 2B („possibly carcinogenic to humans”). The results of epidemiological studies on brain tumors in the radio frequency range and on childhood leukemia in the extremely low frequency range were critical for the categorization.

The German Commission on Radiological Protection, an independent advisory body of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, is in charge of risk assessment in Germany. It decides on statements and recommendations such as:The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) coordinated and implemented the “German Mobile Telecommunication Research Programme” in which research projects in the fields of biology, epidemiology, dosimetry, and risk communication were carried out in the years from 2002 to 2008. In a more recent research project of the BfS, a manual for decision-makers and contact persons was developed for the public to improve the competence for evaluating study results or media reports and to help to communicate with interested lay people.

Further research projects on the effects of electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields are implemented and funded in the “Environmental Research Plan” (Resortforschungsplan) by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.