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  Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation Part 2


Radiofrequency Radiation, Radiofrequency Radiation Protection

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Broadcast Antennas
Radio and television broadcast stations transmit their signals via RF electromagnetic waves. Broadcast stations transmit at various RF frequencies, depending on the channel, ranging from about 550 kHz for AM radio up to about 800 MHz for some UHF television stations. Frequencies for FM radio and VHF television lie in between these two extremes. Operating powers can be as little as a few hundred watts for some radio stations or up to millions of watts for certain television stations. Some of these signals can be a significant source of RF energy in the local environment, and the FCC requires that broadcast stations submit evidence of compliance with FCC RF guidelines.
The amount of RF energy to which the public or workers might be exposed as a result of broadcast antennas depends on several factors, including the type of station, design characteristics of the antenna being used, power transmitted to the antenna, height of the antenna and distance from the antenna. Since energy at some frequencies is absorbed by the human body more readily than energy at other frequencies, the frequency of the transmitted signal as well as its intensity is important.

Public access to broadcasting antennas is normally restricted so individuals cannot be exposed to high-level fields that might exist near antennas. Measurements made by the FCC, EPA, and others have shown that ambient RF radiation levels in inhabited areas near broadcasting facilities are typically well below the exposure levels recommended by current standards and guidelines. Antenna maintenance workers are occasionally required to climb antenna structures for such purposes as painting, repairs, or beacon replacement. Both the EPA and OSHA have reported that in these cases it is possible for a worker to be exposed to high levels of RF energy if work is performed on an active tower or in areas immediately surrounding a radiating antenna. Therefore, precautions must be taken to ensure that maintenance personnel are not exposed to unsafe RF fields.

Portable Radio Systems

"Land-mobile" communications include a variety of communications systems that require the use of portable and mobile RF transmitting sources. These systems operate in narrow frequency bands between about 30 and 1,000 MHz. Radio systems used by the police and fire departments, radio paging services, and business radio are a few examples of these communications systems. There are essentially three types of RF transmitters associated with land-mobile systems: base-station transmitters, vehicle-mounted transmitters, and handheld transmitters. The antennas used for these various transmitters are adapted for their specific purpose. For example, a base-station antenna must radiate its signal to a relatively large area, and, therefore, its transmitter generally has to use higher power levels than a vehicle-mounted or handheld radio transmitter.

Although these base-station antennas usually operate with higher power levels than other types of land-mobile antennas, they are normally inaccessible to the public since they must be mounted at significant heights above ground to provide for adequate signal coverage. Also, many of these antennas transmit only intermittently. For these reasons, such base-station antennas have generally not been of concern with regard to possible hazardous exposure of the public to RF radiation. Studies at rooftop locations have indicated that high-powered paging antennas may increase the potential for exposure to workers or others with access to such sites, for example, maintenance personnel. Transmitting power levels for vehicle-mounted land-mobile antennas are generally less than those used by base-station antennas but higher than those used for handheld units.

Handheld portable radios such as walkie-talkies are low-powered devices used to transmit and receive messages over relatively short distances. Because of the low power levels used, the intermittence of these transmissions, and the fact that these radios are held away from the head, they should not expose users to RF energy in excess of safe limits. Therefore, the FCC does not require routine documentation of compliance with safety limits for push-to-talk two-way radios.

Microwave Antennas

Point-to-point microwave antennas transmit and receive microwave signals across relatively short distances (from a few tenths of a mile to 30 miles or more). These antennas are usually rectangular or circular in shape and are normally found mounted on a supporting tower, on rooftops, on sides of buildings, or on similar structures that provide clear and unobstructed line-of-sight paths between both ends of a transmission path or link. These antennas have a variety of uses, such as transmitting voice and data messages and serving as links between broadcast or cable TV studios and transmitting antennas. The RF signals from these antennas travel in a directed beam from a transmitting antenna to a receiving antenna, and dispersion of microwave energy outside of the relatively narrow beam is minimal or insignificant. In addition, these antennas transmit using very low power levels, usually on the order of a few watts or less. Measurements have shown that ground-level power densities due to microwave directional antennas are normally a thousand times or more below recommended safety limits. Moreover, as an added margin of safety, microwave tower sites are normally inaccessible to the general public. Significant exposures from these antennas could only occur in the unlikely event that an individual was to stand directly in front of and very close to an antenna for a period of time.

Satellite Systems

Ground-based antennas used for satellite-earth communications typically are parabolic "dish" antennas, some as large as 10 to 30 meters in diameter, that are used to transmit (uplinks) or receive (downlinks) microwave signals to or from satellites in orbit around the earth. The satellites receive the signals beamed up to them and, in turn, retransmit the signals back down to an earthbound receiving station. These signals allow delivery of a variety of communications services, including long-distance telephone service. Some satellite-earth station antennas are used only to receive RF signals (that is, just like a rooftop television antenna used at a residence) and, since they do not transmit, RF exposure is not an issue. Because of the longer distances involved, power levels used to transmit these signals are relatively large when compared, for example, to those used by the microwave point-to-point antennas discussed above. However, as with microwave antennas, the beams used for transmitting earth-to-satellite signals are concentrated and highly directional, similar to the beam from a flashlight. In addition, public access would normally be restricted at station sites where exposure levels could approach or exceed safe limits.

Radar Systems

Radar systems detect the presence, direction, or range of aircraft, ships, or other moving objects. This is achieved by sending pulses of high-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF). Radar systems usually operate at radiofrequencies between 300 megahertz (MHz) and 15 gigahertz (GHz). Invented some 60 years ago, radar systems have been widely used for navigation, aviation, national defense, and weather forecasting. People who live or routinely work around radar have expressed concerns about long-term adverse effects of these systems on health, including cancer, reproductive malfunction, cataracts, and adverse effects for children. It is important to distinguish between perceived and real dangers that radar poses and to understand the rationale behind existing international standards and protective measures used today.
The power that radar systems emit varies from a few milliwatts (police traffic-control radar) to many kilowatts (large space tracking radars).

However, a number of factors significantly reduce human exposure to RF generated by radar systems, often by a factor of at least 100:

• Radar systems send electromagnetic waves in pulses and not continuously. This makes the average power emitted much lower than the peak pulse power.
• Radars are directional and the RF energy they generate is contained in beams that are very narrow and resemble the beam of a spotlight. RF levels away from the main beam fall off rapidly. In most cases, these levels are thousands of times lower than in the main beam.
• Many radars have antennas which are continuously rotating or varying their elevation by a nodding motion, thus constantly changing the direction of the beam.
• Areas where dangerous human exposure may occur are normally inaccessible to unauthorized personnel.

In addition to the information provided in this document, there are other sources of information regarding RF energy and health effects. Some states maintain nonionizing radiation programs or, at least, some expertise in this field, usually in a department of public health or environmental control. The following table lists some representative Internet Web sites that provide information on this topic. The Health Physics Society neither endorses nor verifies the accuracy of any information provided at these sites.

Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation Part 1

Arlington, Texas, USA
Zimbabwe, Harare
Holy See, Vatican City
Ethiopia, Addis Ababa
Penrith, Australia
Djibouti, Djibouti
San Marino, San Marino
Hungary, Budapest
Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo


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