ICNIRP Guidelines

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines (devised in 1998) that we currently use in the UK, are obsolete. They are based on thermally induced (tissue heating) effects which have been undermined by thousands of papers demonstrating serious biological effects at non-thermal levels, orders of magnitude below current ICNIRP guidelines.  Whilst the guidelines were updated in 2020, these updates increased the maximum exposure times and increased the levels of exposure to allow for further thermal exposure but continue to ignore the biological effects.

The issue arose as tests measured only short term exposure and assessed only the Thermal Effects of non-ionising radiation (NIR).  The ICNIRP will not recognise any Biological effects from NIR, despite 80 years’ worth of overwhelming evidence that exposure causes biological stress within a wide window of frequency, power and duration.  This means that the RFR has to be so strong that it physically heats the organs of the body before it is restricted.

In 1998 the ICNIRP set a maximum SAR (Specific energy Absorption Rate) level at an energy density of 56 V/m (volts per metre) or 10 W/m² (watts per square meter) for exposure intervals of less than 6 to 30 minutes, as a function of time, to limit temperature rise to below the operational adverse health effect thresholds for both Type-1 and Type-2 tissues averaged on a surface area of the body of only 4cm².  This has recently been reviewed but remains unchanged.

In 2008, the ICNIRP Chairman at the time, Paolo Vecchia, gave a presentation at the Radiation Research Trust Conference which included the following points:

  • The guidelines are developed in such a way as to be general, and flexible. They can be adapted in principle to any realistic condition of exposure

And referring to the guidelines he states “What they are not”:

  • Mandatory prescriptions for safety
  • The “last word” on the issue
  • Defensive walls for Industry or others


Questioning the ICNIRP Guidelines

This episode of BBC’s Panorama from 2007 highlights the ineffectiveness of the ICNIRP guidelines

Jeremy Vine presents ‘WiFi Warning Signal’

The ICNIRP do not consider that the available scientific evidence regarding reported adverse health effects at lower exposure levels justifies a more precautionary attitude. This advice now differs from a number of other authorities who have chosen to issue more precautionary maximum advisable public exposure levels for chronic (i.e. long-term) involuntary exposure.

See our page on Safe Levels

Jrs Eco Wireless – Problems with official ICNIRP exposure limits for electromagnetic radiation

This is a recent paper by Prof Henshaw – Cell Phone radiowaves have insufficient energy to cause …. damage – an enduring fallacy.

Former ICNIRP member James Lin (2004 – 2016) now advocates that wireless must get a more stringent cancer risk class.  He justifies his position that there are now two large, well-executed and solid studies that point in the same direction: cancer from exposure to GSM and to CDMA – two key technologies in mobile communication. He also points out that the data in the large US NTP study, which found a clear correlation between exposure to mobile radiation and cancer rates in rats, shows even greater cancer risk than revealed in the final report.

The advisory bodies such as Public Health England, ICNIRP and the now disbanded group AGNIR – Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation provide inaccurate misleading advice offering guidelines that are invalid.

Neuroscientist Dr Sarah J. Starkey published the must read paper Inaccurate Official Assessment of Radiofrequency Safety by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation, which includes a critique of AGNIR’s 2012 report, which was intended to consider evidence that RF radiation might cause health effects at exposures below those mandated by ICNIRP.

She explains that studies were omitted, included in other sections but without any conclusions, or conclusions left out; evidence was dismissed and ignored in conclusions and there were incorrect statements. Terms such as “convincing” or “consistent” were used to imply that there was no evidence. She gives many examples to support these claims. She noted that 40 studies demonstrating DNA damage are missing, 40 studies showing that electromagnetic radiation produces free radicals in the body are missing, and 22 studies demonstrating effects on male fertility.

See also: How ICNIRP, AGNIR, PHE and a 30 year old political decision created and then covered up a global public health scandal

See also our page Critiques of Exposure Guidelines: Calls to Account.



Many scientific authorities now reject the UK government’s heating-only claim and argue for adopting biological limits; and have chosen to adopt more biologically calculated safety limits orders of magnitude below ours.  See chart below:

Radio frequency radiation safety limits

The USSR adopted biological limits in 1958 and an increasing number of countries have done so since, most recently India in 2013. Since 2008, the majority of involved scientists have accepted non-thermal effects.

In 2009, the EU parliament voted that current heating-only limits were “obsolete” and new biological limits were needed.

The international BioInitiative Report of 2012 by 29 experts proposed new biological limits, as did the Seletun panel in 2010. The UK government has not yet accepted this majority scientific viewpoint based on the weight of established evidence.

In 2011, The Council of Europe passed the draft Resolution 1815 where they voted unanimously to ban Wi-Fi and mobile phones in schools.  On 27th May 2011, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called on Member States to reduce exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, asking for particular attention to be given to children and young people, who are most at risk.  And called for restrictions on the use of wireless technologies (Wi-Fi) in schools with a clearly stated recommendation for fully-wired networks to be used.

Please read this article from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). They are an industry body who helped to set existing exposure limits decades ago, but who now acknowledge that these are not protective and are urgently calling for a revision of standards to recognise non-thermal biological effects and to radically reduce safe exposure levels.

Electromagnetic Radiation Due to Cellular, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Technologies: How Safe Are We?

“Due to the extremely high density of BSs, street light access points, separate indoor BSs, relays and Massive MIMO technology employed in 5G, a person will be exposed to very high levels of PFDs, whether he is indoors or outdoors, or whether or not he is using any wireless devices in close proximity. In other words, it may be suspected that even the ambient PFD which a person is exposed to in most situations throughout the day may fall under the category of ‘Severe Concern’ according to the Building Biology Standard, ‘Far above normal’ according to the AMA standards, and may be higher than the precautionary action level recommended by the BioInitiative Guidelines. If 5G networks are deployed without careful analysis of expected exposure levels, almost all people in the area of coverage may be exposed to dangerous levels of PFD, the outcomes of which, in the near future, may turn out to be calamitous.”

  • We urgently need a review of Safe Exposure Level guidelines. Over the last 20 years the evidence has become extremely strong that weaker EMF over the whole range for frequencies from static through millimeter waves can modify biological processes. There is solid experimental evidence and supporting theory showing that weak fields, especially but not exclusively at low frequencies, can modify reactive free radical concentrations and that changes in radical concentration and that of other signalling molecules, such as hydrogen peroxide and calcium, can modify biological processes.

See also Human Exposure to RF Fields in 5G Downlink which highlights the significance of human RF exposure issue in downlink of a cellular communications system.

Additional Resources:

Independent doctors and scientists have called for action to better protect the public, including:

The International EMF Scientist Appeal to the United Nations – www.emfscientist.org

Rejection of the current ICNIRP guidelines for not being protective of health – www.emfcall.org

Halting the 5G rollout until adequate safety studies have been done – www.5Gappeal.eu

The EMF Call for truly protective limits for exposure to electromagnetic fields (100 kHz to 300 GHz); Carpenter DO, Hardell L, Moskowitz JM, Oberfeld G

The authors, academic and public-health physicians, argue that ICNIRP’s limits are “unscientific, obsolete and do not represent an objective evaluation”; they “only protect against acute thermal effects from very short and intense exposure”, not against “harmful effects from low-intensity and long-term exposure, such as cancer, reproductive harm, or effects on the nervous system.” 

ICNIRP Guidelines: Unscientific and Not Protective; Michael Bevington 2019

Response to ICNIRP guidelines; Dr Martin Pall 2018

World Health Organization, radio frequency radiation and health – a hard nut to crack (Review); L.Hardell 2017  International Journal of Oncology 51: 405-413, 2017 (DOI: 10.3892/ijo.2017.4046).



Dr Starkey also describes an overlap of personnel between regulatory bodies, constituting a conflict of interest in the context of academic criticism: “How can it be appropriate for AGNIR to review ICNIRP’s guidelines when some of AGNIR’s members are also members of ICNIRP? Similarly, how can it be appropriate for HPA to review AGNIR when HPA members are members of AGNIR? At the time of writing the AGNIR report, 43% of those in AGNIR were from PHE [i.e. the HPA] or the Department of Health.”

PHE (the former Health Protection Agency) responded to the report with “The Health Protection Agency welcomes this comprehensive and critical review of scientific studies prepared by the independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation.” However, nothing changed.