Last Thursday, France adopted a novel law regulating public exposure to radiofrequency radiation. Drafted by Laurence Abeille (Europe Ecologie-Greens), the law is the first in France to use a precautionary approach regarding health risks from wireless technologies and to address sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
Major provisions include a ban on all wireless devices in “spaces dedicated to the care, resting and activities of children under 3 years,” primarily nurseries and daycare centers. Use of wi-fi will still be allowed in primary schools, but only when no alternative is available and it must be disabled when not in use.
This morning I conducted a lengthy interview with Ms. Abeillle about the law. I’ll post far more of it soon, but wanted to quickly share her remarks about what it was like to meet people who suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
from Le Monde (French original, English below)
by Pierre Le Hir, Le Monde, Jan 29, 2015
Two years in the works, the law governing public exposure to electromagnetic fields generated by wireless technology (base stations, mobile phones, tablets …) was adopted by the Members of the National Assembly [MNAs], Thursday, January 29 in late morning, when time was set aside in favor of the Greens. It was voted by the whole majority, while the UDI Party abstained – except Bertrand Pancher (Meuse) who voted in favor – and the UMP voted against it, seeing it as a barrier to the development of digital industries.
This law – the first in France to establish a precautionary approach addressing the potential health risks of radio frequencies – is the result of a real obstacle course, during which its initial ambitions were seriously downgraded. The Bill, filed in January 2013 by the MNA for Val-de-Marne Laurence Abeille (Europe Ecologie-Greens) had been referred to committee by the Socialists, before returning to the National Assembly in January 2014, under a watered-down form, and then to be adopted in first reading by the Senate in June 2014, in an even planed release.
Despite these successive setbacks, the environmental group decided to submit the Bill to a vote as is to prevent his return to the Senate where it would have suffered new delays and probably additional knife strokes. Its adoption is thus final and welcomes Mrs Abeille, “the application decrees will be able to be taken without further delay “.
NOT LOWERING THE LIMITS
Finally, the “Law on sobriety, transparency, information and consultation for exposure to electromagnetic waves” appears as a compromise between the supporters of a stricter supervision of the sector and wireless phone operators, opposed to any regulatory obstacle. “This present text does not fully address all the issues, recognizes the Green MNA. However, it is an essential first step.
The major novelty is the introduction into French law of a principle of “sobriety” of public exposure to electromagnetic fields. As virtuous as it is, this principle, however, remains vague and non-binding. It is thus no longer question of lowering the exposure limits in force, which depending on the frequencies involved, are between 41 and 61 volts per meter (V/m), while the original Bill was aimed to scale them back to “as low as reasonably possible” or 0.6 V/m.
The National Frequency Agency (AFNR) will nevertheless make every year a national census of “atypical points” or “places where the level of public exposure substantially exceeds that generally observed at the national scale”. Operators will have to remedy them within six months, “subject to technical feasibility”.
The average exposure in France is now about 1 V/m, but a study of the Operations Committee on mobile waves (Copic), covering sixteen municipal representative of the French territory and published in 2013, reported some exposure peaks “up to 10 V/m at maximum transmitter power”, even if the levels remained below 0.7 V/m in 90% of cases. The AFNR considers up to now as atypical places where exposure exceeds 6 V/m.
In matters of transparency, the installation of antennas will now be subject to prior notice to mayors and presidents of inter-municipal bodies. And these may in turn – but are not required – to organize a consultation with residents. In addition, a campaign of “awareness and information on the responsible and rational use of mobile devices” will be conducted.
WI-FI PROHIBITED IN DAYCARE CENTERS
A section of the Act is devoted to the protection of babies. Wireless devices will be banned in “the spaces dedicated to the care, resting and activities of children under 3 years”, that is to say, nurseries and daycare centers. However, contrary to the initial desire of environmentalists, Wi-Fi will remain permitted in primary schools. It will however have to be disabled outside “digital educational activities”.
Finally, the often-dramatic situation of people suffering from electro-hypersensitivity receives the first consideration. The government will have to submit a report to Parliament on this issue within a year.
‘Anti-wave’ associations also prefer to consider the glass half full rather than half empty. “This act, which is the first dedicated to the issue of electromagnetic waves and their impact on the environment and health, marks a first step in the legal recognition of the need to regulate the development of mobile phone communications and all wireless applications, ” says the association for the regulation of mobile phone base stations (Priartem). In its view, “this first legislative effort must be an encouragement to go further in protecting people “.
CALLS FOR CAUTION
This act arrives in a context of accelerated development of sources of electromagnetic fields, in particular with the deployment of very high-speed 4G mobile communications. As of January 1st 2015, ANFR indicates the number of 4G base station sites authorized in France was, for all operators, 18,699 – compared to 12,525 a year earlier – and 15,424 are in service.
If there is no scientific consensus around the potential health risks from radiofrequencies, many studies and opinions have called for caution. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified them as “possibly carcinogenic”. And in 2013, the National Agency Health Safety of Food, Environment and Labor (ANSES) recommended to “limit exposure of the population to radio-frequencies – especially from mobile phones – especially for children and heavy users “. It also called for “controlling the overall exposure from base stations”.