Health Effects of Cell Phones and Cell Phone Base Stations

September 2003


The Department of Health, through its Directorate: Radiation Control, has the legal responsibility for administering the Hazardous Substances Act, 1973 (Act 15 of 1973) relating to Group III hazardous substances. Various categories of generic electronic products, including radiofrequency-generating equipment, have been declared Group III hazardous substances through the promulgation of Regulation R.1302 on 14 June 1991. No product on this schedule may be sold, let, used, operated, applied, or installed unless a licence is in force in respect of that product. At this point in time, the Department of Health does not require a licence, in terms of the Hazardous Substances Act and its associated Regulations, for the sale of cellular phone handsets, but the use and operation of a cellular phone base station are subject to regulatory control if the total transmitting power of such a base station exceeds 200 watt EIRP in any direction.

The Department of Health, through its Directorate: Radiation Control, provides science-based information to interested parties about the effects of these technologies on human health. The primary source of information and guidance of the Department is the International Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) Project that was established by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1996 to conduct health risk assessment of human exposure to electromagnetic fields, and to coordinate the harmonisation of national and international standards in this regard. The South African Department of Health is one of more than 50 national authorities who are members of the International Advisory Committee of this Project, along with 8 international research organisations and 8 WHO agencies. The International EMF Project will run until 2007 by which time it is expected that a health risk assessment will have been conducted for radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. In the mean time the Project will periodically be updating reviews of all relevant research and issuing authoritative statements based on confirmed scientific evidence. In this regard, Fact Sheets on various aspects of the health effects of electromagnetic fields, including cell phones and their base stations, have been published on the website of the International EMF Project ( ).

The Fact Sheet “Mobile Telephones and their Base Stations” contains the following statement:

“International guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) are based on a careful analysis of all scientific literature (both thermal and non-thermal effects) and offer protection against all identified hazards of RF energy with large safety margins.”

The Department of Health endorses the 1998 ICNIRP Guidelines, which were developed to limit human exposure to time-varying electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields in the frequency range up to 300 GHz, in order to protect against the known adverse health effects of such exposure. Since their publication in 1998, the ICNIRP guidelines have become the de facto world standard for human exposure to electromagnetic fields.

Findings of recent reviews

Public concern in many countries regarding both cell phones and base stations has resulted in a number of independent expert groups being requested by governments to carry out detailed reviews of the research literature. Brief quotes from some recent reviews are presented below:

For further information please contact Leon du Toit at:

Directorate: Radiation Control
Private Bag X62

Tel: (021) 957 7483
Fax: (021) 946 1589