Radiation exposure in Australia - what you need to know

The long-foreshadowed Senate Inquiry into EMR begins on March 31. This is an opportunity for the community to provide input about issues of concern, which can be forwarded by mail.

Here are some facts about the situation in Australia.

$4.5 million research funding

This money was allocated in late 1996 for a 5-year research/public education program. Only a fraction has been spent on 4 preliminary research studies.

Some of the money was spent on an expensive exercise - the DOCA roadshow, 1997 - in which the reputations of some eminent scientists (who had found evidence of health problems from EMR) were attacked.

There are questions about how the money was allocated.


There is a need for funding of independent studies into the health effects of EMR.

Industry must be required to contribute to a central fund for research with moneys distributed by an independent committee comprised of community and public health representatives.

There is a need to monitor the health of exposed communities.

Health problems being experienced in the community must be addressed and not swept under the carpet.

Problems with the existing standard

The existing standard is a thermal standard, based on the presumption that adverse health effects occur only when a the body is heated by 1 degree C. It ignores the very large body of evidence that has found adverse health effects at an athermal (non-heating) levels. Effects that have been found at athermal levels include:

  • cell proliferation
  • altered electrical activity of brain
  • changes to protein kinase activity
  • increase in ornithine decarboxylase
  • changes to cell cycles
  • calcium ion efflux
  • changes to T-lymphocyte cytotoxicity
  • breaches of blood brain barrier

The existing standard was constructed by a committee dominated by vested interests - government and industry.

In the standard, exposures are averaged over 6 minutes, which effectively ‘dilutes’ the impact.

The standard does not contain precautionary principles.

Problems with the standards-setting process

There is strong pressure on Australia to adopt the more lenient exposure levels recommended by the ICNIRP guidelines. This document has been criticised by Dr. Neil Cherry for falsely interpreting the data of some studies and omitting other studies, with the result that it presents a rather misleading assurance that exposure presents no risk.

The Australian Communications Authority promised that, along with the numerical standard, there would be a comprehensive precautionary Code of Practice to address the community’s concerns. This Code has not eventuated.

Instead of the promised comprehensive Code of Practice, a very narrow Code of Practice on the Siting of Telecommunications Infrastructure is being constructed. This Code cannot apply to the 10,000 or so mobile phone towers that are already in existence, nor to broadcast facilities which have much higher emissions than mobile phone towers. This Code is being developed by ACIF - Australian Communications Industry Forum - with industry and consumer participation. Concerns have been raised about whether an industry body is the most appropriate to devise a Code intended to regulate industry.

Standards Australia showed a strong industry bias during the attempt to agree to a new standard on the now-defunct TE7 Committee. When community representatives refused to agree to the more lenient standard supported by industry, Standards Australia made repeated attempts to “resolve the negative vote” (i.e. change the community vote). There was no visible attempt to “resolve” the industry vote.

Similarly, committee members who objected to the lenient draft standard were asked to explain their reasons. “A negative vote MUST be supported by DETAILED TECHNICAL REASONS. These reasons MUST be returned as an ATTACHED FILE to this ballot paper. Editorial matters are not considered relevant grounds for a negative vote.” (E-mail from Rod Corrigan to TE/7 committee members, 4.3.99). However, industry members supporting the draft were not required to submit an explanation.

During the Standards TE7 Committee’s attempt to achieve a new standard, a draft was issued for public comment. There was a huge response from scientists and community groups both in Australia and New Zealand. All these submissions were ignored.

Meetings of the standards committees - both TE7 and the new ARPANSA group - have been scheduled at times when some community representatives have not been able to attend and only limited financial compensation to community representatives has been provided in some cases.

Community representative, John Lincoln, was unable to attend the first day of the first meeting of the new ARPANSA standards group. ARPANSA refused to allow an alternative community representative to attend in his place.

The standards-setting process has been dominated by the belief that lenient standards are necessary for technological “progress”. In effect, lenient standards prevent innovations of technology that could achieve its objectives while reducing exposure to the population.


It is unsatisfactory that legislation allows industry to completely ignore state and local planning considerations in erecting infrastructure.The government’s policy of allowing industry to duplicate infrastructure systems - powerline or telecommunications - often many times over, allows the public to be exposed to multiple sources of EMR unnecessarily.

Individuals and communities affected by a proposal for new infrastructure must be fully informed well in advance of the project and must be given opportunities for input into the project.


The Federal Government must admit the possibility of health effects from EMR.

The government and industry must provide communities with information about the health risks and property devaluation risks of EMR from every proposal.

Government and industry must have comprehensive insurance in place against the possibility of litigation in the event that EMR is proven to cause health problems.

An adequate standard must protect the health of vulnerable/sensitive members of the community. Children absorb more radiation than adults and cancer tissues absorb approximately three times more radiation than normal tissue.

The Inquiry aims to consider:

(a) an examination of the allocation of funding from the Commonwealth’s $4.5 million fund for electro-magnetic radiation research and public information;

(b) a review of current Australian and International research into electro-magnetic radiation and its effects as it applies to telecommunications equipment, including but not limited to, mobile telephones;

(c) an examination of the current Australian Interim Standard [AS/NZS 2772.1 (Int): 1998], as it applies to telecommunications;

(d) an examination of efforts to set an Australian Standard dealing with electro-magnetic emissions;

(e) an examination of the merits of the transfer of the responsibility for setting a new Australian standard for electro-magnetic emissions to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

EMRAA News Mar 2000, Vol 5 No 1