Background: The aim of this study was to examine the feasibility of performing a cohort study on health risks from occupational exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) in Germany.
Methods: A set of criteria was developed to evaluate the feasibility of such a cohort study. The criteria aimed at conditions of exposure and exposure assessment (level, duration, preferably on an individual basis), the possibility to assemble a cohort and the feasibility of ascertaining various disease endpoints.
Results: Twenty occupational settings with workers potentially exposed to RF-EMF and, in addition, a cohort of amateur radio operators were considered. Based on expert ratings, literature reviews and our set of predefined criteria, three of the cohorts were identified as promising for further evaluation: the personnel (technicians) of medium/short wave broadcasting stations, amateur radio operators, and workers on dielectric heat sealers. After further analyses, the cohort of workers on dielectric heat sealers seems not to be feasible due to the small number of exposed workers available and to the difficulty of assessing exposure (exposure depends heavily on the respective working process and mixture of exposures, e.g. plastic vapours), although exposure was highest in this occupational setting. The advantage of the cohort of amateur radio operators was the large number of persons it includes, while the advantage of the cohort of personnel working at broadcasting stations was the quality of retrospective exposure assessment. However, in the cohort of amateur radio operators the exposure assessment was limited, and the cohort of technicians was hampered by the small number of persons working in this profession.
Conclusion: The majority of occupational groups exposed to RF-EMF are not practicable for setting up an occupational cohort study due to the small numbers of exposed subjects or due to exposure levels being only marginally higher than those of the general public.