There has been growing concern and controversy about the potential effects of electromagnetic radiation exposure (EME) on humans due to the proliferation of wireless systems in populated areas. The expectation of 5G deployments and the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) applications has brought the issue closer to the forefront as a public concern.
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is the main international advisory organization which studies these issues and recommends maximum EME limits and guidelines. Exposure effects are generally classified into two main types. One is the thermal response of human tissue to electromagnetic radiation, so in other words, the potential damage to human tissues caused by the radiation-induced overheating. The second type is the sensory or nerve related effects on the human body due to EME. The thermal effects generally correspond to higher exposure levels, those levels which have been confirmed to cause overheating of tissues. The limits and guidelines issued by ICNIRP include safety margins to ensure protection against those levels of exposure.
Sensory or nerve related effects, and the effects of lower exposure levels on humans are less clearly established, and ICNIRP is largely inconclusive on that issue. Controversy and concerns remain on this issue, however, particularly in the light of the accelerated growth of our signal-dense electromagnetic environments.
Health Canada has set its own standards which specify the EME levels that are considered safe and permissible under various circumstances. The standards document is called Safety Code 6 (SC6), and closely parallels the ICNIRP recommendations, with some enhancements and adaptations. All owners and operators of installations which produce electromagnetic radiation are required to verify and document that they are operating within those specified EME limits for their installations.
The role of electrical engineers is to survey and characterize electromagnetic environments to assess compliance with established EME limits and guidelines, as well as to further characterize these environments in order to produce the research data needed to better understand their effects on humans. Various groups have been working to improve our environmental assessment tools (EMC Society), and to assist EME related research efforts (IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society). Characterizations can be based either on direct measurement surveys conducted at the sites, or on software simulations of the electromagnetic environments (Biomedical Engineering Software). In either case, the resulting EME distribution profiles will help evaluate compliances, as well as provide medical researchers with bodies of technically sound and verifiable data on which to model their studies.
Ground Reflections provides consultation and site survey services, both for SC6 compliance verification and research purposes.