The Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR) was set up by the Director of the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) in 1990. The terms of reference are:
to review work on the biological effects of non-ionising radiation relevant to human health and to advise on research priorities.
The AGNIR was reconstituted in 1999 as an independent advisory group and now reports to a sub-committee of the Board of the HPA. In addition to the work of the AGNIR, subgroups are convened to address specific issues.
The AGNIR has issued ten major reports in the Documents of the NRPB, a number of statements, and four reports in the Documents of the Health Protection Agency: Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards. These publications, listed in the bibliography, have mainly covered reviews of experimental and epidemiological studies, together with exposure data relevant to assessing possible health effects from exposures to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and ultraviolet radiation (UVR). They have been a valuable input to HPA, and previously NRPB, advice and have been used in the development of exposure guidelines as well as being widely circulated and used by Government and the devolved administrations.
A report on the health effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields is the most recent, published in April 2012.
The on-going programme of work of the AGNIR is summarised below.
If there are published papers on the topics under consideration that readers think should be reviewed by the AGNIR as an input to its work, references should be submitted through the AGNIR secretariat.
Relevant references can be sent by post to the AGNIR Secretary, HPA Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards, Chilton, Didcot, Oxon, OX11 0RQ, UK, or by e-mail to AGNIR.Secretariat@hpa.org.uk.
The HPA has a responsibility to provide advice on exposures to both ultrasound and infrasound. There are no specific regulations in the UK for controlling such exposure. However, medical products are required to comply with the Medical Devices Regulations 2002 (SI 618/2002) which are based on limits specified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) although these do not appear to have a solid scientific basis. Guidance is also issued by the following professional and membership bodies: the British Medical Ultrasound Society, the European Committee for Medical Ultrasound Safety, and the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology. Concern has been expressed about 'souvenir' exposures (scanning for the provision of images not required for clinical reasons).
In September 2004 the AGNIR was asked to undertake a review of ultrasound (frequencies greater than 20 kHz) and infrasound (frequencies less than 20 Hz) relevant to any possible health effects. A scoping group met in December 2004 in order to consider the possible content and shape of the required report and an AGNIR subgroup was set up in 2005. In addition, a workshop on ultrasound and infrasound safety was held at Chilton from 24 to 26 October 2005. The workshop proceedings formed a valuable input to the AGNIR report, which was published in February 2010.
The AGNIR report covers physical principles, sources and applications, cellular, human and animal studies, and existing guidelines. It concludes that high levels of ultrasound and infrasound exposure have well-recognised acute adverse effects. At lower levels of exposure, notably for diagnostic ultrasound, there is no established evidence of specific hazards, but there are too few research data to draw firm conclusions about their absence, especially in the long term. The AGNIR drew attention to some unconfirmed indications from the biological and epidemiological literature of possible neurological effects of in utero ultrasound exposures and recommended there should be further research on whether there are any long-term adverse effects of diagnostic ultrasound exposure. The HPA subsequently responded to the AGNIR report and provided advice on practical measures that should be taken.
The Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (IEGMP) drew attention to concerns on this topic in its 2000 report and called for more research. Similar calls were raised in other countries around the same time, and also within Europe and the World Health Organization (WHO). The result has been a substantial programme of research supported by governments, industry and the European Union (EU). In the UK, research was coordinated under the UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme (www.mthr.org.uk) [external link].
In recognising that research would proceed apace, the IEGMP recommended that a further review of the science should be carried out within three years of its own report and the AGNIR prepared such a review in 2003. At that time, many studies were in progress and, in particular, epidemiological research of mobile phone users was at an early stage. Hence, it was agreed in 2003 that the AGNIR should produce a further review of studies relevant to concerns about health for publication in a few years' time.
The AGNIR published its most recent report on radiofrequency (RF) fields in April 2012. The report concluded that the quantity, and in general quality, of research published has increased substantially since the 2003 report. There are still limitations to the published research that preclude a definitive judgement, but the evidence considered overall has not demonstrated any adverse health effects of RF field exposure below internationally-accepted guideline levels.
In summary, although a substantial amount of research has been conducted in this area, there is no convincing evidence that RF field exposure below guideline levels causes health effects in adults or children.
It is also clear from enquiries to the HPA CRCE and media coverage that there is continuing public interest in this issue and in topics such as mobile and cordless phones, base stations, and wireless computer networking. It is therefore appropriate for the AGNIR to keep new publications under review and to issue comments/statements on specific papers where appropriate. In this regard, the AGNIR issued a statement on the results of the INTERPHONE study, which was published in 2010.
Static magnetic fields are used in certain industries, high-energy physics research facilities, and particularly in medicine where magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides exceptionally clear images of tissue that can lead to more precise diagnosis of disease or injury. There have been rapid advances in the applications of static fields; in addition, there have been progressive increases in the strength of the fields used. In particular, in MRI, it is expected that exposures of several tesla (T) may become more common, while partial body exposure can be even higher.
The AGNIR published its report on static magnetic fields in May 2008. Among the research recommendations was that there is a pressing need for a well-conducted cohort study of mortality and cancer incidence in workers with high occupational exposures to static magnetic fields from MRI. The HPA responded by setting up a working group to undertake a detailed review of the research possibilities and advise on the practicalities of taking this recommendation forward.
Static magnetic fields continue to be an area where much research is being carried out, especially as future EU legislative actions regarding occupational exposure may have an impact on scanning in MRI facilities. The AGNIR continue to recieve and monitor key papers on the topic.
In 2001 the AGNIR published a report on ELF electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer. In the report it was concluded that laboratory experiments had provided no good evidence that extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are capable of producing cancer, nor do human epidemiological studies suggest that they cause cancer in general. There is, however, some epidemiological evidence that prolonged exposure to higher levels of power frequency magnetic fields (50 hertz (Hz) in the UK) is associated with a raised risk of leukaemia in children (relative risk of approximately two).
The AGNIR continues to keep under review published research related to health concerns arising from exposure to power frequency electromagnetic fields. At present there is insufficient new information that would justify the development of an update to the 2001 report, although it will be needed at some point in the future.
In 2002 the AGNIR published a review of experimental and epidemiological studies relevant to an assessment of the health effects of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) that had been published since its 1995 report. An executive summary was published separately and the key elements of the advice by the AGNIR were included in a poster, Sunsense - protecting yourself from UVR; this is available as a dynamic version.
The report was also a key input to the formal advice from the NRPB to Government on exposure guidelines for UVR, as published in 2002.
The AGNIR has maintained a watching brief on publications relevant to UVR-related health concerns. At present insufficient new findings have been published to need a new full review document in the near future, but there have been considerable new findings with regard to vitamin D-related aspects, and hence the AGNIR is considering whether a new review of this area is needed. The AGNIR is also considering whether a review of visible light research is needed at this stage. Views will be sought from amongst the AGNIR members as well as from the HPA and the Department of Health (DH) with the anticipation that one of these areas may be the subject of the next AGNIR review starting in 2012.
AGNIR (1992). Electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer. Report of an Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB, 3 (1), 1-138.
AGNIR (1993a). Electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer. Summary of the views of the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation on epidemiological studies published since its 1992 report (23 March 1993). Doc NRPB, 4 (5), 65-69.
AGNIR (1993b). Electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer. Supplementary report by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Radiol Prot Bull, No. 142.
AGNIR (1994a). Electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer. Supplementary report by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (12 April 1994). Doc NRPB, 5 (2), 77-81.
AGNIR (1994b). Health effects related to the use of visual display units. Report of an Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB, 5 (2), 1-75.
AGNIR (1995). Health effects from ultraviolet radiation. Report of an Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB, 6 (2), 7-190.
AGNIR (1999a). The solar eclipse. Statement by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. NRPB press release P8/99.
AGNIR (1999b). Use of sunbeds and cosmetic tanning. Statement by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Radiol Prot Bull, No. 218, 11-5 .
AGNIR (2001a). ELF electromagnetic fields and neurodegenerative disease. Report of an Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB, 12 (4), 5-24 (2001).
AGNIR (2001b). ELF electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer. Report of an Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB, 12 (1), 1-179.
AGNIR (2001c). Possible health effects from terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA). Report of an Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB, 12 (2), 1-80.
AGNIR (2002a). Effects of ultraviolet radiation on human health. Executive summary of a report of an Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation.
AGNIR (2002b). Health effects from ultraviolet radiation. Report of an Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB, 13 (1), 5-282.
AGNIR (2003). Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. Report of an independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB, 14 (2), 5-177.
AGNIR (2004). Particle deposition in the vicinity of power lines and possible effects on health. Report of the independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc NRPB 15(1), 5-55.
AGNIR (2008). Static Magnetic Fields. Report of an independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc HPA, RCE-6.
AGNIR (2010). Health effects of exposure to ultrasound and infrasound. Report of the independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation. Doc HPA, RCE-14.
AGNIR (2011). Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use:results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study. Statement from the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation.
AGNIR (2012) . Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. Report of the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation.. Doc HPA, RCE-20.
Dr S M Mann, HPA
Mr S Conney, Department of Health
Dr M P Maslanyj
Dr J R Meara
Dr Z J Sienkiewicz
Dr A Peyman
Last reviewed: 31 August 2012