RF Safety

Amateur Radio is basically a safe activity. In recent years, however, there has beenconsiderable discussion and concern about the possible hazards of electromagnetic fields (EMF), including both RF energy and power frequency (50-60 Hz) EMF. FCC regulations set limits on the maximum permissible exposure(MPE) allowed from the operation of radio transmitters. Following these regulations,along with the use of good RF practices, will make your station as safe as possible.

How EMF Affects Mammalian Tissue

All life on Earth has adapted to live in an environment of weak, natural, low frequency electromagnetic fields, in addition to the Earth’s static geomagnetic field. Natural lowfrequency EM fields come from two main sources: the sun and thunderstorm activity. During the past 100 years, man-made fields at much higher intensities and with different spectral distributions have altered our EM background. Researchers continue to look at the effects of RF exposure over a wide range of frequencies and levels.

Both RF and power frequency fields are classified as nonionizing radiation because the frequency is too low for there to be enough photon energy to ionize atoms. Ionizing radiation, such as X-rays, gamma rays and some ultraviolet radiation, has enough energy to knock electrons loose from atoms. When this happens, positive and negative ions are formed. Still, at sufficiently high power densities, nonionizing EMF poses certain health hazards.

It has been known since the early days of radio that RF energy can cause injuries by heating body tissue. Anyone who has ever touched an improperly grounded radio chassis or energized antenna and received an RF burn will agree that this type of injury can be quite painful. Excessive RF heating of the male reproductive organs can cause sterility by damaging sperm. Other health problems also can result from RF heating. These heat related health hazards are called thermal effects. A microwave oven is an application that puts thermal effects to practical use.

There also have been observations of changes in physiological function in the presence of RF energy levels that are too low to cause heating. These functions generally return to normal when the field is removed. Although research is ongoing, no harmful health consequences have been linked to these changes.

In addition to the ongoing research, much else has been done to address this issue. For example, FCC regulations set limits on exposure from radio transmitters. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American National Standards Institute and the National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurement, among others, have recommended voluntary guidelines to limit human exposure to RF energy. The ARRL maintains an RF Safety Committee, consisting of concerned scientists and medical doctors, who volunteer to serve the radio amateur community to monitor scientific research and to recommend safe practices.