Italy’s 6 V/m RF exposure standard, one of the strictest in the world, may soon fall victim to 5G.

The Italian limit, adopted more than 20 years ago, is widely perceived as standing in the way of the build-out of 5G infrastructure, which will require the installation of many more RF antennas. The proposed solution is to make the standard ten times weaker and bring it in line with ICNIRP’s 61 V/m guideline.*

The standard is a target of Italy’s post-pandemic national recovery plan (known as the Next Generation Italia or PNRR). The plan allocates over €40 billion (~US$48 billion) to advance the digitization of the country, including promoting 5G technology and increasing broadband speeds nationwide, currently among the slowest in Europe.

All the major political parties, except one, favor loosening the 6 V/m limit, according to La Repubblica, the second most widely read (non-sport) newspaper in Italy. The one holdout is the Fratelli d’Italia party (Brothers of Italy), a far-right, neo-fascist group —and even it is on record as wanting to make the siting of antennas easier for telecom operators.

The proposal has galvanized a coalition of Italian environmental researchers and activists, as well as members of the international RF research community. They have appealed to the government to save the 6 V/m limit. (See Tweets below.)

One appeal, sent to Mario Draghi, the recently installed prime minister, on April 26, had been signed by more than 8,700 supporters within a couple of days, according to Fiorella Belpoggi, the scientific director of the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, who is helping coordinate the campaign.

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Italy has long been a hotbed of anti-5G activism. A petition calling for a moratorium on 5G, launched two years ago, has garnered more than 63,000 signatures. The Italian Stop 5G Alliance has been a major force in promoting this petition.

The protests —including a hunger strike by over 150 people— appears to have softened the government’s approach. When the lower house of the Parliament approved the recovery plan at the end of April, the proposal to eliminate the 6 V/m limit had been dropped and replaced by a call to review the standard. But, Belpoggi told Microwave News, “the door for a change remains open.”

All Eyes on Vittorio Colao

Much of the public furor at the potential weakening of the exposure limit has been directed at Vittorio Colao, the Harvard-educated minister for innovation, technology and digitization in the new Draghi government.

Colao was the chief executive of Vodafone, the largest telecommunications company in Europe, for ten years, ending in late 2018. The following year he became a director of Verizon, the second biggest telecom in the world (after AT&T) and, like Colao himself, a major promoter of 5G technology. Colao has now stepped down from the Verizon board. He has been praised as a “strategic visionary.”

Colao played a major role in designing the PNRR. He was commissioned by the previous Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, to devise a post-COVID recovery strategy, which became known as the Colao plan. It included investments in infrastructure.

That plan, delivered to Conte last July, proposed raising Italy’s exposure limits to those recommended by the EC (that is, the ICNIRP limits), according to Livio Giuliani, the former director of research at Italy’s National Institute for Prevention and Occupational Safety (ISPESL, now INAIL). The plan also favored giving national authorities the right to stop local ordinances that block the siting of antennas.(This would be similar to the federal preemption of local ordinances in the U.S.)

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The new digitization initiative, which Colao would most likely implement, accounts for about 20% of the total outlays under the €200 billion PNRR.

In a meeting with legislators in April, Colao acknowledged that a weakening of the 6 V/m limit is “unpopular.” He committed to striking a balance between the number of antennas and the health and welfare of the citizenry, pledging that, “the scientific evidence would be evaluated,” according to La Repubblica.

When the 6 V/m standard took effect in 1999, Italy had the most restrictive standard in Europe. A year later, Switzerland adopted a 4 V/m limit for cell tower radiation and a 3 V/m limit for radio and TV transmitters (details here).

The 6 V/m limit is approximately the same as the Soviet/Russian exposure standard of 10 μW/cm2.

It is not clear what impact the Italian standard may have had on the build-out of the mobile phone network or would have on 5G antennas.

The April 26 appeal to Draghi concludes:

“Italy has led the world for the last 20 years in demonstrating that their lower and more health protective exposure limits for RFR can be reached by the Italian Telecommunications industry without significant economic or technical barriers to their expansion into 4 and 5G systems.”

MORE INFO HERE  “Exposure of Insects to RF EMFs from 2 to 120 GHz,” Scientific Reports, posted March 2, 2018.

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Here’s a thread of Microwave News Tweets, posted last week as some of this story played out:

Microwave News Tweet on Italy 6 V/m Limit, Pt1Link to press release

Microwave News Tweet on Italy 6 V/m Limit, Pt2
Link
to letter

Microwave News Tweet on Italy 6 V/m Limit, Pt3
Link to letter

Microwave News Tweet on Italy 6 V/m Limit, Pt4

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* How much weaker is the ICNIRP standard than Italy’s 6 V/m limit? It depends on whether you are looking at the electric field or power density. The 6 V/m electric field standard is approximately ten times stricter than ICNIRP’s 61 V/m. In terms of power density, the Italian limit is about a hundred times stricter than ICNIRP (10 μW/cm2 v. 1 mW/cm2). The reason: Power density is proportional to the square of the electric field strength.

† In 1999, the EC recommended that member states follow the ICNIRP guidelines.

‡ See item #27 on p.22 of the 2020 Colao plan. Some 500 municipalities have policies to block antennas, La Repubblica reported last year.

https://microwavenews.com/short-takes-archive/italys-6vm-risk