Electromagnetic fields: a comprehensive expert appraisal system

Presentation of ANSES activities

Technologies which use radiofrequency waves – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, RFID, mobile telephones, etc. – have seen rapid growth over the last 20 years. Due to this, sources of radio frequency electromagnetic fields have become abundant in our environment and over recent years have become a subject of health concern as well as a concern for the environment in both France and abroad. The subject therefore has received constant coverage both in a scientific and a political context, and with regard to the media.

The Agency is involved in expertise activities in virtually all the areas involving the full spectrum of electromagnetic ionising radiation, from extremely low frequencies to millimetre waves and it has published several opinions and reports on the subject as well as a specific report on radiofrequency identification (RFID) systems:

  • radiofrequency waves, mobile telephones and wireless technologies in 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2013;
  • compact fluorescent lamps in 2009 and 2013;
  • extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields in 2010;
  • body scanners in 2010 and 2012;
  • radiofrequency identification (RFID) systems in 2009.

At the same time, new regulatory provisions that were adopted as part of the "Grenelle 2" law will increase efforts to study human exposure to electromagnetic fields, in low frequencies and radiofrequencies alike.

In order to pursue its scientific monitoring of these technologies and the assessment of possible health and environmental risks, ANSES created a permanent working group on radiofrequencies and health in 2011 whose expert assessment activities rely on its close ties with research partners (recommendations for the call for research projects on radiofrequencies), and with other stakeholders (reporting of results to the dialogue committee on radiofrequencies and health). This working group regularly updates its expert assessment of potential risks related to radiofrequency waves in collaboration with the Expert Committee (CES) on physical agents.

In parallel with this permanent working group, the dialogue committee on radiofrequencies and health, established in 2011, serves as an interface between the representatives of associations, industry and labour unions, while respecting the roles of all those involved. In this way, the questions raised by civil society can be integrated into expert appraisal activities and results can be communicated to the committee. The participation of the committee in setting up the specifications for certain studies is also an innovative approach to dialogue between scientific experts and the public.

With regard to research, since 2011 the Agency has dedicated funding to this topic within the framework of the National Research Programme for Environmental and Occupational Health (PNR EST) for which it is coordinator. The goal of the PNR EST is to bring research and expert assessment closer together as well as to expand the research community with regard to the "radiofrequency waves and health" topic. Of three successive calls for research projects (2011, 2012 and 2013), 15 dossiers were selected involving 42 research teams and receiving 2.8 M€ of funding. The scientific topics for which the research teams were solicited stemmed from the research recommendations in the 2009 expert assessment conclusions. For the 2014 call for proposals, new issues raised by the knowledge update published today will be taken into account. In addition, the "radiofrequency waves and health" topic is now the subject of a specific call for proposals to more effectively account for the particularities of the field. A call for proposals was therefore launched in late 2013 for subjects that were insufficiently examined in the projects under way, such as electromagnetic hypersensitivity.