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Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) and health

Digital technologies and electronic communication services are a critical enabler for attaining the sustainability goals of the European Green Deal in many different sectors. The use of the new generation radio-communication networks, e.g. 5G (the fifth generation of mobile phone technology), promise higher data transfer rates and increased network capacity compared with previous generations. While digitalisation presents new opportunities, e.g. distance monitoring of air and water pollution and health outcomes, it also presents potential health risks. Europe needs a digital sector that puts sustainability at its heart: when deploying new technologies, the potential risks related to human health should also be assessed, in addition to the significant benefits.

There has been an exponential increase in the use of wireless personal communication devices (mobile phones, WiFi or Bluetooth-enabled devices etc.) by almost all citizens in private and professional settings and in the supporting infrastructures. The number of other applications using EMF has also increased such as security scanners, smart meters and medical equipment. This has resulted in an increase in man-made electromagnetic radiation in our surroundings.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) issues guidelines for limiting exposure to electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields. EU member states are subject to Council Recommendation 1999/519/EC and the Directive 2013/35/EU, which follow basic rules on EMF exposure evaluation provided by ICNIRP guidelines. Nevertheless, there is some concern over the possible impact on health and safety from potentially higher exposure to EMF, e.g. arising from the deployment of 5G technology. Increased exposure may result from, for instance, the additional use of higher frequencies, and from the potential aggregation of different signals, especially in cities.

Research actions under this topic should provide forward-looking information on potential hazards and risks of existing and emerging EMF exposures through innovative monitoring techniques, experimental evidence and modelling and should include all of the following activities:

  • Monitoring of exposures of the general population and specific groups at risk such as children and workers using innovative technologies;
  • Establishment of potentially new exposure patterns and comparison with existing patterns, e.g. those generated by the use of previous generations of mobile phone technologies. It should be documented how exposures to EMF changes over time due to the introduction of new technologies, including 5G, supporting infrastructure, radiofrequency bands, modulation techniques and applications;
  • Investigating evidence of local and systemic biological effects and health impacts across the lifecycle using in vitro and in vivo approaches, respecting the 3Rs[[Replacement, reduction and refinement]] principle, and taking into account combined exposures and changing patterns of device use;
  • Delivering FAIR[[FAIR data are data, which meet principles of findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability.]] data on the causal links between level and duration of exposures and potential health (biological) effects, including potential mechanisms, in living and working environments, considering also vulnerable groups, particularly children;
  • Proposing new quality criteria and standards (CEN/ISO[[https://www.cencenelec.eu/news/brief_news/Pages/TN-2017-057.aspx]]) for the analytical methodologies used for the assessment of exposure to EMF and their impact on human health and on the environment;
  • Undertaking case studies on solutions for exposure reduction based on acquired evidence and deliver practical guidelines for exposure prevention along the stakeholder chain;
  • Proposing and testing efficient communication methods and tools for engaging citizens in preventive actions and addressing their concerns.

Aspects such as gender, age, regional variations, socio-economics and culture should be considered, where appropriate.

All projects funded under this topic are strongly encouraged to participate in networking and joint activities, as appropriate. These networking and joint activities could, for example, involve the participation in joint workshops, the exchange of knowledge, the development and adoption of best practices, or joint communication activities. This could also involve networking and joint activities with projects funded under other clusters and pillars of Horizon Europe, or other EU programmes, as appropriate. Therefore, proposals are expected to include a budget for the attendance to regular joint meetings and may consider to cover the costs of any other potential joint activities without the prerequisite to detail concrete joint activities at this stage. The details of these joint activities will be defined during the grant agreement preparation phase. In this regard, the Commission may take on the role of facilitator for networking and exchanges, including with relevant stakeholders, if appropriate.