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Radiation from mobile phone masts
The Brussels-Capital Region has a very strict standard for non-ionising radiation with a frequency between 0.1 MHz and 300 GHz. Thanks to the many control systems that apply in this regard, Environment Brussels can guarantee healthy public places in terms of radiation, at all times. Paradoxically, this very strict standard led to an increased number of masts. The fact is that in order to comply with the standard, the operators had to reduce the emission power of their masts, which caused a coverage loss that had to be compensated by installing new masts. As a result there are more masts than before, but they are less powerful and the most exposed individuals are better protected.
Brussels Environment checks the masts before their installation…
The ordinance on protection against radio waves, in force since 14 March 2009, introduces an immission standard for electromagnetic radiation in Brussels which replaces the old federal Belgian standard. An implementing decree for this ordinance classifies transmitting masts as Class 2 public installations (section 162 in the list of classified installations). This means that – apart from a few exceptional cases – all operators must have an environmental permit (EP) before they can install a mast and in some cases a planning permission is also required.
The purpose of the EP is to ensure that the immission standard is applied. During the processing of the permit application, the operator and Brussels Environment use a software package to simulate the radiation produced by the mast. The Urbis database is integrated into this software package, it contains the public roads and buildings in Brussels in 3D. Based on the mast’s exact position and technical parameters, the simulation software calculates the electromagnetic exposure of the buildings (interior and exterior façades) located within a radius of 200 m around the mast. In this way it is possible to check whether the radiation within the public places will comply with the immission standard. The simulation offers the advantage of giving a more complete picture than field measurements, which are only representative of the actual measurement location.
A Brussels Environment employee always carries out a site visit to ensure that the actual situation on the ground (in terms of position, gradient and azimuth of the mast, configuration of the surrounding buildings, etc.) corresponds to the elements that were used by the operator in its simulation.
In this way, the operator and Brussels Environment can predict compliance with the standard in all publicly accessible places, before the mast is installed. If the simulation plans show that the electromagnetic field is too strong, no permit will be issued and the operator may not use the mast as intended.
The chart shows that almost all mast sites that were in operation at the time of entry into force of the Ordinance of 1 March 2007 have now been made compliant. This means that they have been issued with an environmental permit. In addition, almost 200 environmental permits have been issued for new mast sites.
The register of outdoor and indoor masts that is available on the Brussels Environment website is updated monthly. Using the search function of the map (introduce the name of the street) all masts in a given area can be displayed. The ‘Information’ function allows copies of the permits granted and technical downloads. These files contain the technical characteristics of the masts to which the environmental permit application relates and also show the diagrams and simulation plans of the radiation emitted by the masts, as well as photos of the adjacent buildings.
The application of the immission standard led to a reduction in the strength of the masts in Brussels. As each mast now radiates over a shorter distance than before, holes appeared in the network. In order to maintain good coverage and adapt to future technologies, the operators had thus to install additional masts.
And double checks in situ after their installation
The measurement method and conditions for carrying out the checks are set out in the BCR Decree of 8 October 2009. Accordingly, officials from the Department of Inspection and Contaminated Soils who are in charge of the surveillance perform measurements of the electromagnetic fields, further to complaints submitted to Brussels Environment or in the context of planned checks.
In the case of a complaint they take into consideration the measurement result for the location with the strongest electromagnetic field. The measurement is taken in the complainant’s home or at the location to which the complaint relates (e.g. the school attended by the complainant’s children). In the case of a scheduled check, the official tries to carry out the measurements either in particularly ‘sensitive’ locations such as nurseries, schools and hospitals, or at the spot where, according to the simulation, exposure to the electromagnetic field is greatest. In built-up areas, this spot often coincides with a property, in this case the owner’s permission is required to enter the house. It is therefore impossible to control in a comprehensive way the compliance with the law at every location in the territory. The simulation software helps to remedy this problem and limits the number of on-site checks required.
By the end of November 2013, checks had been carried out at 282 sites by the officials in charge of surveillance (graph below). This number does however not correspond to 282 unique addresses: the same site may occur multiple times in the graph if several checks were needed there in order to verify the site’s conformity or monitor any variations in the electromagnetic field.
During these inspections, the officials check:
- whether the standard set out in Article 3 of the Ordinance of 1 March 2007 (3 V/m at a reference frequency of 900 MHz) is being complied with;
- whether the quota allocated to the operator in the environmental permit issued for each mast site (maximum 1.5 V/m per operator) is being complied with;
- whether the masts are covered by an environmental permit and whether this permit and the data that were supplied at the time of application are valid.
For 27 sites of the sites that were checked, points of non-compliance were identified. The table below gives more details about the type of violation and the consequences.
If a site fails to comply, the penalties and restraining procedures are decided upon in line with the findings and in accordance with the ordinance of 25 March 1999 on the detection, identification, prosecution and punishment of offences relating to the environment.
The permit remains valid for 15 years. However, at the request of Brussels Environment, mobile phone operators must submit information about their network configuration and the power output of their masts at least four times a year. In this way, Brussels Environment can control whether the masts’ output still corresponds to the permit.