Article

Radiation from cell phone base stations

Are there any mandatory standards limiting public exposure to electromagnetic radiation from cell phone antennae in the United States?

There are no explicit federal legislative or regulatory requirements that limit public exposure to electromagnetic radiation from cell phone antennas. In June 2015, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) released Small Entity Compliance Guide, Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields.

Tower operators must obtain approval from the FCC in order to construct or operate cell phone stations or transmitters. FCC has established voluntary guidelines on public exposure to environmental sources of radiofrequency (RF) energy, and the FCC considers compliance with these guidelines to be a de facto threshold for obtaining their approval. Compliance with the RF exposure limits in section 1.1310 of the Commission's rules, 47 C.F.R. § 1.1310, is a requirement that applies to all entities holding an FCC authorization, including radio station licenses and equipment authorizations. This makes the FCC guidelines essentially mandatory requirements.

The guidelines are found in Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) part 1.1310(b). They specify a maximum permissible exposure (MPE) limit for general population/uncontrolled exposures to environmental RF radiation. The MPE is frequency-dependent. For cellular radio systems, which use frequencies between 800 and 900 MHz, the MPE is approximately 5.5-6.0 milliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm2). For personal communication services (PCS), which operate in the frequency of 1800-2000 MHz, the MPE is approximately 10 mW/cm2. The MPE is cumulative to all sources affecting a given area, meaning that the total RF emission from one area may not exceed the MPE, regardless of the number of RF sources present.

A new radiation source that exceeds the FCC recommendations may still be approved for licensing provided the tower operator performs a formalized environmental assessment (EA) on the location and the FCC makes an official determination that there is no significant environmental impact. The procedures for performing an EA are described in FCC's Office of Engineering Technology (OET) Bulletin 65, Evaluating Compliance with FCC-specified Guidelines for Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Radiation, latest edition.

For further information about the FCC requirements for RF radiation safety, see the FCC RF Safety webpage.


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LC OCT 2018 11-116
171-0964 (11/18)