Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones

Report of the Group (The Stewart Report)

Clarification of Issues Discussed in the Report


Clarification of Issues Discussed in the Report

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Clarification requested by Professor Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer, on issues discussed in the Expert Group report on Mobile Phones and Health.

Mobile phones

Would the Expert Group give specific advice or guidance for the adult regular mobile phone user?

The Expert Group believes that, on the basis of the evidence currently available, there is no need for the general population to be worried about the use of mobile phones.

In line with the precautionary approach highlighted in the report, the Expert Group notes that individuals may choose to:

  • use phones for as short a time as possible.
  • use phones with low specific energy absorption rate (SAR) values.
  • use hands-free kits and other devices provided they have been proved to reduce SAR.

The Expert Group discourages the use of mobile phones whilst driving.

Would the Expert Group be clearer about to what age should children be discouraged from using mobiles for anything other than essential calls?

As a general rule the Expert Group considers that children less than 16 years of age should be discouraged from using mobile phones.

Children are likely to be more vulnerable to any unrecognised health risks from mobile phone use than are adults. The rationale is as follows:

  • the developing nervous system is likely to be more vulnerable than the mature nervous system to potentially hazardous agents.
  • because of their smaller heads, thinner skulls and higher tissue conductivity, children may absorb more energy from a given phone than do adults.
  • if there are detrimental health effects caused by mobile phone signals, those using phones for a longer period of their lives will tend to accumulate a greater risk.

The justification for suggesting persons aged less than 16 years is as follows:

  • development of the head and nervous system is generally complete by age 16 years. For example, the density of synapses reaches adult level around puberty and skull thickness and brain size reach adult levels around ages 14 to 15.
  • 16 is usually recognised as the age at which individuals are sufficiently mature to make informed choices about other 'adult' activities.

Base stations

Why did the Expert Group pay particular attention to schools in their recommendations on planning and auditing and not consider other areas which children occupy (and where the beam may fall)?

The Expert Group was specifically asked by government to address the issue of siting of base stations on or near schools. It is known that children are in school for a large proportion of the day, whereas their whereabouts outside school are much less clearly defined.

Why was the Expert Group only concerned with 'beams of greatest intensity' falling on any part of school grounds rather than other areas which children occupy? Furthermore, could the Expert Group clarify what they define as a 'beam of greatest intensity' and how in practical terms it might be measured in every affected locality?

Exposure to members of the public from macrocell base stations is very much less than current guidelines. In giving special attention to schools, the Expert Group was responding very largely to public concern rather than any proven health hazard.

In defining the 'beam of greatest intensity', the aim of the recommendation by the Expert Group was to ensure that the accessible location where the greatest exposure to the radiofrequency radiation signal occurs is not within school grounds. It would be up to the operator to demonstrate this by measurement or other means.

Since there are no scientific grounds for setting guidelines below the levels set by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) for the public, the Expert Group avoided setting exposure limits for school buildings and grounds below these limits.

For the same reason it did not wish to recommend that there should be a particular minimum distance between the base station and the school.


First issued 16 June 2000