Digital radio soon to be banned in Brussels?

The radiation emitted by digital audio broadcasting (DAB) will logically soon be required to comply with the strict 3V/m standard that must already be respected by mobile phone operators in Brussels. This is the conclusion reached by a study conducted at the request of Bruxelles Environnment, which puts this radiation in the so-called “pulsed” waves category, as covered by this regulation. Probably incapable of respecting such a strict standard, does this herald the end of digital radio stations in Brussels?

A random distinction

In response to a several questions put to her in the spring of 2011 at the Brussels Parliament ( ), Minister Huytebroeck commissioned a study within her department that set out to define criteria that make it possible to identify when electromagnetic waves should be described as pulsed or, to the contrary, as unpulsed. As a reminder, when it adopted the so-called “3V/m” decree in 2007, aimed at protecting the population against electromagnetic waves emitted in particular by the aerials of the mobile operators, of Clearwire, of the emergency services, of Belgian railways, this very same Parliament decided not to apply it to installations emitting unpulsed radiation. Radio and television waves were identified as belonging to this category at the time.

The study, conducted by the ISSeP (The Public Service Scientific Institute of the Walloon Region) for Bruxelles Environnement, is not concerned by the scientific justification of this kind of distinction between pulsed or unpulsed waves. According to Minister Huytebroeck, the legislator chose to exclude unpulsed waves “due to the fact that pulsed waves are presumed to have a greater impact on health” (p. 75). A faulty reasoning, validated blindly at the time by the Constitutional Court. In fact, below the thresholds recommended by the World Health Organisation (200 times less strict than the Brussels standard), today there is no scientific evidence that waves emitted by aerials have any effect on health, whether their waves are pulsed or not.

It appears as if the Brussels Parliament made rather a random choice at the time, influenced by the need to protect radio and television emitters that were incapable of respecting a standard as strict as the 3V/m in Brussels (given their high levels of exposure). The result is that today Brussels does not impose any maximum emission threshold on them, contrary to the legislations of the two other regions, to the former federal standard and most countries in the world that apply at least the WHO recommendations. Are we witness to a pick and choose health protection policy?

3G technology unfairly targeted by the regulation and digital radio unfairly excluded?

Over and above the matter of health, distinguishing between pulsed waves and unpulsed waves is also an issue when it comes to assigning the different sources of radiation to one category or the other.

While the ISSeP study confirms that the radiation of analogue radio emitters and that of digital television are unpulsed, as laid down by the Brussels decree, the study nevertheless reveals that the radiation of digital radio emitters, or DAB/DAB+ (Digital Audio Broadcasting) is without a doubt pulsed. These findings concur with those reached by the Flemish Environmental Administration (LNE) when it delved into the question when establishing a Flemish standard at the end of 2010 ( p. 76).

And that is not the only surprise to come out of this study.

In fact, the study also concludes that, while the radiation of the 2G aerials (GSM/DCS) and 4G aerials (LTE) of the mobile telephony operators must be considered as pulsed and therefore as effectively subject to the decree, the same does not apply to the aerials that support 3G technology (UMTS/HSDPA) which emit unpulsed waves. This analysis is in keeping in particular with that of other authorities, such as the AFSSE T (French Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) in France in 2003 ( p. 12) and a German study dating from 2006.

Uncomfortable conclusions…

The only logical conclusion that can be reached from the analysis above is that digital audio broadcasting should be subject to the 3V/m standard. The big question now is whether this is possible. There are two reasons why this is very doubtful. It is rather inconvenient, given that the DAB is THE solution for the future in view of the saturation of the analogue radio networks ….

And following the same line of thought, the 3G networks of the operators should logically be exonerated from any standard.

That is, unless the conclusions change following the critical rereading of the study, which has visibly already been ordered by Minister Huytebroeck…

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