Dutch phone tower study

In early October a new Dutch study was released, creating a media furore when it reported adverse effects from third generation mobile phone antennas. The study, conducted by the Dutch Technical Research Institute (TNO), is the first to find an impact from 3G technology.

Led by Professor Dr A Zwamborn, the study aimed to determine whether electromagnetic radiation from communications antennas affected cognitive function and subjective assessments of personal wellbeing.


Subjects were two groups of healthy volunteers, with 36 subjects in each group. Group A was composed of volunteers who had previously reported symptoms from communications (GSM) antennas to a national network responsible for monitoring environmental health. Group B was composed of volunteers who had not previously reported effects.

All 72 subjects took part in a series of four test sessions. In every case, the first test was a training session in which no exposure was given. In the remaining sessions, subjects were randomly subjected to no exposure, exposure to 900 MHz (GSM), 1800 MHz (GSM) or 2100 MHz (UMTS). Testing was double-blind, which means that neither the experimenter nor the subject knew the exposure during each session.

Strength of the signal at 1.5m above the ground was 1V/m, a level considered to be the maximum strength likely to be encountered in a public area.

Test procedures

During each test, subjects were confined in a room that was completely shielded to ensure that results were not influenced by other forms of electromagnetic exposure.

Subjects were asked to complete two questionnaires. The first provided psychological data and the second provided information on general well-being. Subjects also completed tests which assessed reaction times, memory, visual attention, dual tasking and the ability to filter irrelevant information.

Questions were presented on a LCD touch screen (selected to minimise its impact on the electromagnetic environment).


The study found that exposure to the UMTS signal produced significant effects on subjects’ perceptions of well-being, particularly in relation to feelings of nausea, tingling and headaches.

In discussing their observations, the authors state, “We have found a statistically significant relation between UMTS-like fields with a field strength of 1 V/m and the Well Being. Both group A and B show similar effects in the well-being results. It is noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of health reads as a ‘state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Within this WHO definition the perceived Well Being is part of health.

“Also a statistically significant difference is observed between the generally experienced Well Being within group A and group B.”

For cognitive effects, the research showed no significant difference for any of the exposures, though there was a slight difference between groups A and B.

The effects were unlikely to be due to heating, as there was “negligible” evidence of thermal effects.


Ironically news of the study became public just days before the launch of the new 3G mobile phones in Denmark, a coincidence that has sparked considerable media discussion in that country.

Australia already has 1600 3G antennas erected throughout metropolitan centres, with 500 in Sydney alone. 3G phones are now owned by more than 50 000 Australians.

Professor Irena Cosic, head of the new Australian Centre for Radio Frequency Bioeffects, has indicated that the Centre will be following up the Dutch results.

The study can be found at www.tno.nl/en/news/article_6265.html.

EMR News Dec 2003, Vol 2 No 4