I received a question from EMFSA [ www.emfsa.co.za ] on a post by Joel M. Moskowitz commenting on The World Health Organization’s Global Health Observatory data repository publishes radio frequency radiation (RFR) exposure limits for the general public and for workers.

The question from EMFSA was “since when does South Africa have formal RF-EMF exposure limits?” In the WHO information data repository document dated 31 May, 2017 (take note of the date), it indicates that South Africa is enforcing the ICNIRP reference guidelines as exposure limits. However, this is either a data capture error, or a purposeful mis-feeding of information to the United Nations (UN) WHO, by the South Africa representative who supplied the information.

Fact: In South Africa there are no nationally legislated RF, ELF, or static EMF exposure protection standards, statutory monitoring or regulations. This was thoroughly researched, reviewed and published in the latest SA Govt. funded nnEMF study. The final confirming evidence was a report published by the Dept. of Health (DoH) dated 15 June 2017 (note the date, after the WHO data repository).   

The findings of the SA Govt. funded nnEMF study were sent to the DoH for review. It was confirmed by the DoH for the findings to be published in their National Report. We are still awaiting the publication but stay subscribed to receive it when we do.

Review process of the SA Govt. funded nnEMF study. The study underwent development and review by:

  • Two supervisors,
  • Head of Department,
  • Dean of Science,
  • Deputy Vice-Chancellor for R&D
  • Examined by two internationally recognized specialist Professors in the domain.

Rhodes University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Development) expressed:

their role was to review and provide constructive input before the study is to provide information to the public space, in as ethical and unbiased a manner as possible, which may be taken up in the public interest.”

The study was then further reviewed by different Organs of State. One of the interesting feedbacks was from Parliament’s legislative drafting unit:

“…it seems to me that the Hazardous Substances Act and the regulations thereto address some, if not all, of the issues you raised during our various discussions around this matter.”

Note, nnEMF exposure involves multiple SA Acts but for the simplicity in answering this question I have only referenced the one.

At SA’s current standing the Hazardous Substances Act (HSA) serves as a framework. A framework is an abstraction in which Bills and Laws providing generic functionality which can be selectively changed by additional user-written amendments, thus providing scenario-specific application. … In other words, users can extend the framework, but should not modify its code.

Confusion does arise between the statements made by the DoH, the statutes contained within the HSA and its accompanying Regulations dealing with Group III substances. Yes, the HSA states the declarative definition and processes of which need to be followed in order to create user-written amendments to regulate nnEMF exposure to the population. However, there is no applicable user-written amendments specific to nnEMF application, regulation, monitoring and or enforcement in SA. The findings from the referenced study, including reviews thereby, support there to be no nnEMF exposure standards in SA.

For example (note the key underlined words), a guideline recommends cars to avoid driving over the reference level of 60 km/h, when in a residential area. If there is no traffic officers or installed cameras to monitor the cars in the area, how do we know the speed reference level is adhered to? Secondly, if a traffic officer were to record you going over the reference level, is he allowed to stop you and issue you a ticket for driving over the reference level? No!

Still confused? Discussed in detail within the study, is the explanation in difference between a guideline versus a standard as defined by the UN / WHO. The WHO explains how the use of the words “guidelines” and “standards” has substantially different implications for public health and nnEMF radiation protection enforcement.

  1. Guidelines are voluntary instruments of instructions and recommendations that are NOT legally mandated and therefore have NO legal standing.
  2. Standards are the MANDATORY, compulsory and legally binding instruments, i.e., laws, acts, regulations, ordinances and decrees. They require procedures and systems to exist in order to ensure compliance of mandatory standards, i.e., an agency is mandated to CHECK compliance through calculations and measurements in the workplace, residence and other vulnerable areas.

Having a greater understanding of the above, and after reviewing the extracts from different DoH reports below, does SA have nnEMF exposure limits according to the WHO data repository posed in the question?

  1. “In view of the absence of compulsory regulatory requirements for human exposure to electromagnetic fields”….
  1. “The Department of Health is currently not prescribing or enforcing any exposure limits for electromagnetic fields or measures to limit exposure”….
  1. “Unfortunately, the current lack of comprehensive national regulations is problematic for local authorities that have to deal with queries about their respective policies”….

Therefore, when your local municipality quotes its Telecommunications Infrastructure Policy by stating that nnEMF limits are based on  guidance from the SA DoH (Radiation Control) as the “Custodians of our Health” they are misguided simply by the fact that no mandatory limits actually exist.

P.S. the SA Govt. funded nnEMF study spells out a roadmap, framework and model a municipality can use to develop their own regulations, monitoring and planning that strikes a balance for the municipality, community and industry.