ICNIRP exposure limits and SBM-2015 guidelines

In  most Western countries, the exposure limits for citizens to electromagnetic radiation are based on the ICNIRP guidelines.

Problems with official ICNIRP exposure limits for electromagnetic radiation

A study by Starkey in 2016 shows that there are a number of important points in these ICNIRP guidelines that are not right. Forty studies demonstrating DNA damage are missing, 40 studies showing that electromagnetic radiation produces free radicals in the body are missing, and 22 studies demonstrating effects on male fertility. It also emerges that the members of ICNIRP have various conflicts of interest.

The ICNIRP standards are mainly based on acute warming effects, with more than one degree of temperature increase. By now, in several thousand studies, biological effects such as DNA damage have been demonstrated to occur at exposure levels far below these standards.

Criticism of ICNIRP by the Council of Europe

Both the European Parliament (in its resolution 2008/2211(INI)) and the Council of Europe recommend lowering the exposure limits based on the ICNIRP opinions. The Council of Europe in its Opinion of 6 May 2011 on health risks associated with electromagnetic fields (12608):

29. The rapporteur underlines in this context that it is most curious, to say the least, that the applicable official threshold values for limiting the health impact of extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields and high frequency waves were drawn up and proposed to international political institutions (WHO, European Commission, governments) by the ICNIRP, an NGO whose origin and structure are none too clear and which is furthermore suspected of having rather close links with the industries whose expansion is shaped by recommendations for maximum threshold values for the different frequencies of electromagnetic fields.

30. If most governments and safety agencies have merely contented themselves with replicating and adopting the safety recommendations advocated by the ICNIRP, this has essentially been for two reasons:

  • in order not to impede the expansion of these new technologies with their promise of economic growth, technological progress and job creation;
  • and also because the political decision-makers unfortunately still have little involvement in matters of assessing technological risks for the environment and health.

High-voltage lines

The most striking action of the ICNIRP in 2010 was to increase the exposure limit for magnetic fields from 100,000 to 200,000 nanoTesla. This is remarkable in view of the fact that, as the Dutch RIVM writes in its report 610050007, there are already ten epidemiological studies that show a link with childhood leukaemia. For this reason, the RIVM published already in 2005 a strongly reduced advisory exposure limit for living under high-voltage lines of 400 nanoTesla. In 2017, the Dutch government bought out houses under high-voltage lines. See also Dutch State purchases 1300 households living under high voltage cable.

SBM 2015

The SBM-2015 is the Standard of Building Biology Measurement Technique version 2015. Since 1992, this standard has been drawn up by German experts, pioneers in the field of building biology, who focus on healthy building and living.

The SBM2015 is intended to be a directive, and should not be confused with the official exposure limits based on ICNIRP, which are thousands of times higher.

Download SBM-2015 guidelines

Download SBM-2015 description

Download extended SBM-2015 framework conditions

Supported by doctors

The above SBM Guidelines are recommended by the Austrian Medical Chamber (Ärtztekammer ÖÄK) ‘irrespective of the much higher official ICNIRP exposure limits for direct effects’. ÖÄK legally represents the professional, social and economic interests of all Austrian doctors. See the 2012 OÄK Directive for diagnosis and treatment of health problems and diseases related to electromagnetic radiation (page 9). The Austrian Medical Chamber, together with the telecom industry and one of the largest health insurers (AUVA), has also drawn up a directive for the installation of broadcasting installations (October 2014).


The table below shows the differences between government exposure limits and SBM guidelines.

The SBM guidelines are based on many thousands of home and workplace surveys that have allowed the establishment of relationships between physical complaints and the various types of electromagnetic radiation. For this reason, it is better to check measured values against the SBM standards that have proved to work well in practice.

The SBM-2015 directive has been drawn up for sleeping places. For workplaces, the second row (‘weak deviation’) is applied.

Low frequency alternating electric field [Volt per meter (V/m)] Low frequency alternating magnetic field [nanoTesla (nT)] High frequency electromagnetic radiation [microwatt per square metre (µW/m²)]
SBM Target <1 <20 <0,1
SBM Weak deviation 1-5 20-100 0,1-10
SBM Severe deviation 5-50 100-500 10-1000
SBM Extreme deviation >50 >500 >1000
IRPA / ICNIRP 5000 200.000 2-10 Million

Source: website of the German “Verband Baubiologie