Question NW2444 to the Minister of Health

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04 July 2023 - NW2444

Profile picture: Singh, Mr N

Singh, Mr N to ask the Minister of Health

Whether his department conducted any studies and/or live monitoring to assess the current extent of electromagnetic pollution in urban and rural areas caused by (a) Internet Wi-Fi [5G], (b) Low Earth Orbit satellites, (c) mobile phone towers and (d) Internet fibre cables; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details of any (i) potential negative impacts on human, animal and environmental health and (ii) legislative and/or regulatory measures (aa) currently being considered and (bb) already in place to manage and mitigate the pollution to acceptable levels?


  1. (b) (c) (d) No, the Department of Health has not commissioned any studies and or live monitoring to assess the current extent of electromagnetic pollution in urban and rural areas.
  1. -(ii) The South African Products and Regulatory Authority (SAPHRA), which is an entity of the National Department of Health is responsible, from the viewpoint of human health, for regulating electronic products producing non-ionising electromagnetic fields (EMF), i.e. where the frequency of such EMF is less than 300 GHz. In carrying out this responsibility, SAPHRA has been utilising the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International EMF Project ( as its primary source of information and guidance with respect to the health effects of EMF. The International EMF Project was established by the WHO in 1996 to (i) assess the scientific evidence for possible adverse health effects of non-ionising electromagnetic fields on an on-going basis, (ii) initiate and coordinate new research in this regard, and (iii) compile health risk assessments for different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. The Department of Health has been a member of the International Advisory Committee of the International EMF Project since 1998.

In June 2005 the International EMF Project hosted a workshop that was specifically aimed at considering the possible health consequences of the emissions from cellular base stations and wireless networks. The findings of this workshop were summarised in a 2-page Fact Sheet ( The following extract from this Fact Sheet is still considered by the WHO as a summary of the findings to date, i.e. “Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.”

Another WHO Fact Sheet was published in June 2011 and reviewed in October 2014, i.e. Electromagnetic fields and public health: mobile phones. This Fact Sheet can be found at and the conclusion is stated as follows: A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”

The WHO recommends utilising internationally recognised exposure guidelines such as those published in 1998 by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and reconfirmed in 2009 for the frequency range 100 kHz – 300 GHz (i.e. including all the frequencies employed by the cellular industry). The Department of Health likewise recommends the use of these ICNIRP guidelines to protect people against the known adverse health effects of EMF.

The numerous measurement surveys, which have been conducted around the world and in South Africa, have shown that the actual levels of public exposure as a result of base station emissions invariably are only a fraction of the ICNIRP guidelines, even in instances where members of the public have been really concerned about their exposure to these emissions. At present there is no confirmed scientific evidence that points to any health hazard associated with the very low levels of exposure that the general public would typically experience in the vicinity of a cellular base station. The Department is therefore satisfied that the health of the general public is not being compromised by their exposure to the microwave emissions of cellular base stations. This also means that local and other authorities, in considering the environmental impact of any particular base station, do not need to and should not attempt, from a public health point of view, to set any restrictions with respect to parameters such as distance to the mast, duration of exposure, height of the mast, etc.

The Department of Health is not able to make any pronouncements about the specific levels of EMF that a member of the public would experience at any particular base station site when it is in operation. However, generally-speaking unless a person would climb to the top of a mast (or other structure supporting an antenna) and position him/herself not more than a few meters away right in front of the active antenna, such a person would have no real possibility of being exposed to even anywhere near the afore-mentioned ICNIRP guideline limits. Since these base stations are typically cordoned off by means of barbed wire fencing and locked gates/doors in order to protect the sensitive and expensive technology, getting to a mast and actually climbing it despite the afore-mentioned security measures would certainly not be considered responsible behaviour. Even then the only real threat to the health of the person would be falling at any height from the structure in question. Based on the results of numerous global and local surveys, the experience has been that the exposure to base station EMF at ground level is typically in the range of between 0.001 – 1.0 % of the afore-mentioned ICNIRP guideline limits. Against this background of available data, there would be no scientific grounds to support any allegation that adverse health effects might be suffered by a responsible member of the public due to the EMF emitted by a base station.

Although the Department of Health currently neither prescribes nor enforces any compulsory exposure limits for electromagnetic fields, the Department does advise all concerned (whether they be a government department, the industry or the public) that voluntary compliance with the afore-mentioned ICNIRP exposure guidelines is the recommended and science-based way to deal with any situation involving human exposure to the non-ionising electromagnetic fields emitted by cellular base stations and handsets.

In addition, the National Environmental Management Regulations, 2014, as amended, published under the National Environmental Management Act 1998 (Act 107 of 1998), is the national legislation prescribing requirements for Environmental Impact Assessment to be conducted for various activities, prior to their commencement, depending on their scale and their potential to result in environmental and health impacts. The installation and use electromagnetic of Internet Wi-Fi [5G], Low Earth Orbit satellites, mobile phone towers and Internet fibre cables have not been identified as activities with a potential to result in significant pollution to the environment and therefore do not require an EIA to be conducted.