Background: Exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) has rapidly increased and little is known about exposure levels in children. This study describes personal RF-EMF environmental exposure levels from handheld devices and fixed site transmitters in European children, the determinants of this, and the day-to-day and year-to-year repeatability of these exposure levels.
Methods: Personal environmental RF-EMF exposure (μW/m2, power flux density) was measured in 529 children (ages 8-18 years) in Denmark, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Switzerland, and Spain using personal portable exposure meters for a period of up to three days between 2014 and 2016, and repeated in a subsample of 28 children one year later. The meters captured 16 frequency bands every 4 s and incorporated a GPS. Activity diaries and questionnaires were used to collect children's location, use of handheld devices, and presence of indoor RF-EMF sources. Six general frequency bands were defined: total, digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT), television and radio antennas (broadcast), mobile phones (uplink), mobile phone base stations (downlink), and Wireless Fidelity (WiFi). We used adjusted mixed effects models with region random effects to estimate associations of handheld device use habits and indoor RF-EMF sources with personal RF-EMF exposure. Day-to-day and year-to-year repeatability of personal RF-EMF exposure were calculated through intraclass correlations (ICC).
Results: Median total personal RF-EMF exposure was 75.5 μW/m2. Downlink was the largest contributor to total exposure (median: 27.2 μW/m2) followed by broadcast (9.9 μW/m2). Exposure from uplink (4.7 μW/m2) was lower. WiFi and DECT contributed very little to exposure levels. Exposure was higher during day (94.2 μW/m2) than night (23.0 μW/m2), and slightly higher during weekends than weekdays, although varying across regions. Median exposures were highest while children were outside (157.0 μW/m2) or traveling (171.3 μW/m2), and much lower at home (33.0 μW/m2) or in school (35.1 μW/m2). Children living in urban environments had higher exposure than children in rural environments. Older children and users of mobile phones had higher uplink exposure but not total exposure, compared to younger children and those that did not use mobile phones. Day-to-day repeatability was moderate to high for most of the general frequency bands (ICCs between 0.43 and 0.85), as well as for total, broadcast, and downlink for the year-to-year repeatability (ICCs between 0.49 and 0.80) in a small subsample.
Conclusion: The largest contributors to total personal environmental RF-EMF exposure were downlink and broadcast, and these exposures showed high repeatability. Urbanicity was the most important determinant of total exposure and mobile phone use was the most important determinant of uplink exposure. It is important to continue evaluating RF-EMF exposure in children as device use habits, exposure levels, and main contributing sources may change.
Keywords: Cell phones; Children's health; Electromagnetic fields; Radio waves; Smart phones; Wireless technology.
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