Background: The erection of mobile telephone base stations in inhabited areas has raised concerns about possible health effects caused by emitted microwaves.
Methods: In a cross-sectional study of randomly selected inhabitants living in urban and rural areas for more than one year near to 10 selected base stations, 365 subjects were investigated. Several cognitive tests were performed, and wellbeing and sleep quality were assessed. Field strength of high-frequency electromagnetic fields (HF-EMF) was measured in the bedrooms of 336 households.
Results: Total HF-EMF and exposure related to mobile telecommunication were far below recommended levels (max. 4.1 mW/m2). Distance from antennae was 24-600 m in the rural area and 20-250 m in the urban area. Average power density was slightly higher in the rural area (0.05 mW/m2) than in the urban area (0.02 mW/m2). Despite the influence of confounding variables, including fear of adverse effects from exposure to HF-EMF from the base station, there was a significant relation of some symptoms to measured power density; this was highest for headaches. Perceptual speed increased, while accuracy decreased insignificantly with increasing exposure levels. There was no significant effect on sleep quality.
Conclusion: Despite very low exposure to HF-EMF, effects on wellbeing and performance cannot be ruled out, as shown by recently obtained experimental results; however, mechanisms of action at these low levels are unknown.