Do you wonder if the use of the wireless phone or WiFi brings you in contact with a strong electromagnetic radiation and implies a risk for that reason? Not every type of device transmits an equal amount of 'radiation' and the exposure to it depends on multiple factors, such as its transmitting power and distance.

Regulation for wireless telecommunication equipment

Just like mobile phones, wireless devices use radio waves to send information (data, sound, images). That is why they have to fulfil the European R&TTE directive 1999/5/EC of 9 March 1999 regarding radio equipment and telecommunications terminal equipment and the mutual recognition of their conformity (R&TTE stands for ‘Radio and Telecommunications Terminal equipment’). This directive lays down essential requirements to prevent interference and protect the health and safety of the user and other persons
The manufacturer needs to test his products to make sure that they meet all criteria. The limit values and the measurement procedures are described in the European standards that are harmonised under the R&TTE directive.

Limit values for wireless devices

Depending on their purpose of use, wireless devices operate on certain radio frequencies and have different maximum permissible transmitting powers. These frequencies and maximum transmitting powers were assigned at European level with the goal of preventing harmful interferences and to use the radio spectrum efficiently. The European regulation determines for instance how large the transmitting power of WiFi devices may be and which radio frequencies can be used by these devices.

Furthermore, limit values are determined for every type of device which the manufacturer must comply with to protect the health of the consumer against the thermal effect of radio waves. The scientific basis for determining the limit values is the recommendations of the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection).

According to the ICNIRP the specific absorption rate value (SAR) may not exceed the following limit values:
• 2 W/kg for exposure of the head and trunk (average over 10 g body tissue);
• 4 W/kg for exposure of the limbs (average over 10 g body tissue);
• 0.08 W/kg for exposure of the whole body (a whole-body average is used).
The first two limit values are applicable for the wireless devices; the last one for the exposure to the radiation that originates from transmission towers of mobile telephony.

What is SAR?

Radio waves are known to be absorbed by the body. This means that the electromagnetic energy of radio waves is converted into heat in the body. This is called the thermal effect. Our body initiates its internal cooling mechanism as a reaction to this warming up so that the body temperature remains constant. This thermal effect only results in damage to our health when the intensity is too high.
The quantity that is used to assess the heat absorption is the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) which is expressed in watt per kilogram (W/kg). In fact, the SAR value describes the speed at which the energy of radio waves is absorbed in the body.

The compliance of this regulation is checked by the FPS Economy, SMEs, Self-employed and Energy.

Health risks

The existing limit values are established to protect against known short-term effects (thermal load). Most wireless devices have minor transmitting power and do not pose a risk of thermal damage.
There is less certainty about the fact whether other long-term effects are possible. That is why we are giving here some tips about how you can avoid unnecessary exposure.
Some people experience health problems in the use of wireless device or near high-voltage lines and electrical devices. This phenomenon is described in the section “Electromagnetic hypersensitivity”.
The following sections discuss in-depth the effect of wireless home telephones, baby monitors, WiFi and Bluetooth. We refer to the applicable legislation and discuss the applicable limit values. Subsequently, their SAR values are compared. You can download all information of this section in its entirety as a PDF document (information sheet “Wireless devices”).