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LCQ3: Radiation generated by rooftop radio base stations

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-hing and a reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, at the Legislative Council meeting today (June 20):


     It has been reported that a large number of telecommunications transmitters (transmitters) have been installed at the rooftops of some residential buildings by various telecommunications operators, and some flats in these buildings have even been converted into machine rooms which operate non-stop round the clock. The residents concerned are worried that the electromagnetic radiation generated by these transmitters may pose health risks, and such installations and machines may affect the structure and electricity load of their buildings. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the authorities compiles statistics on the number of transmitters installed at the top floors and the rooftops of residential buildings at present; of the number of residential buildings with more than one transmitter installed; of the procedure for the authorities to vet and approve applications for the installation of radio base stations in residential buildings at present; whether the authorities will consult the relevant government departments (including the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department, Home Affairs Department, Buildings Department and Architectural Services Department, etc.) and conduct on-site inspections, consult the affected residents and assess the impact of electromagnetic radiation on the residents, etc. before approving these applications; if they will not, of the reasons for that;

(b) whether the authorities at present impose any limit on the level of radiation generated by transmitters in residential buildings; if they do, of the limit on the level; if not, the reasons for that; of the number of complaints received by the authorities in the past three years about the electromagnetic radiation emitted from rooftop transmitters and installations in residential buildings; the follow-up actions taken by the authorities upon receipt of such complaints, whether they will take on-site measurement of the radiation level and request removal of the transmitters in question; if they will, of the total number of transmitters and installations so removed upon request in the past three years; and

(c) regarding the aforesaid case, why the authorities approved more than one telecommunications operator to install several transmitters at the same location and expose the residents to radiation over a prolonged period; whether the authorities took into account the impact of the installation of several transmitters on the residents and their buildings when they vetted and approved these applications; whether the authorities will review the current mechanism for vetting and approving these applications (e.g. various relevant government departments collaborating in handling these applications, assessing the health risk posed by electromagnetic radiation to the residents from a medical perspective, enhancing transparency in the vetting and approval of applications, as well as consulting residents); if they will not, of the reasons for that?



     To provide continuous and good communications services to the public, mobile network operators have to install radio base stations throughout the territory in accordance with their operational needs. Before installing radio base stations on rooftops, the operators must ensure that their proposed stations comply with the relevant requirements in respect of radio interference, radiation safety, planning and land use restrictions, structural safety, etc, in addition to seeking the agreement of the owners or managers of the buildings concerned. Also, they have to obtain approval from regulatory bodies such as the Communications Authority (CA), Town Planning Board (TPB), Buildings Department (BD) and Lands Department (LandsD) as appropriate.

     On the three-part question, we have consulted the bureaux and departments concerned, and my reply is as follows:

(a) Currently, there are over 26 000 radio base stations in Hong Kong, of which about 60% are installed on the rooftops or external walls of buildings. We, however, do not have the respective numbers of base stations installed on the rooftops of residential buildings and commercial buildings.

     Pursuant to the licence conditions of the unified carrier licence/mobile carrier licence issued under the Telecommunications Ordinance, before installing a base station for the provision of telecommunications services, an operator must seek the CA's approval by ensuring that the base station complies with the technical requirements on radio interference and radio-frequency radiation safety.

     Moreover, as I have mentioned at the beginning, the proposed base station must comply with the requirements of other regulatory bodies in respect of planning and land use restrictions, structural safety, etc., and approval must be obtained from regulatory bodies as appropriate. According to the one-stop application arrangement introduced in September 2009, when submitting an application for the installation of radio base stations to the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA), an operator is required to declare whether the proposed base station comply with the relevant requirements of the TPB, BD and LandsD, and submit a declaration made by an Authorized Person (AP) on the compliance of the proposed base station with the Buildings Ordinance. Otherwise, the OFCA may reject the application. If the operator or the AP is found to have made a false declaration on the compliance status, the OFCA may reject the application or revoke the approval granted. If the OFCA decides to approve the application after assessing the compliance of the proposed base station with the technical requirements on radio interference and radiation safety, it will also pass the relevant information to the Planning Department, BD and LandsD.

     Radio-frequency electromagnetic fields generated by radio base stations are a type of non-ionising radiation, which has lower energy. Regarding the safety requirements on radio-frequency radiation, the CA, in consultation with the Department of Health (DH), has adopted the radiation standards laid down by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection as the criteria for approving applications for the installation of radio base stations. Furthermore, the OFCA has set up a dedicated webpage and published leaflets on radio-frequency radiation safety for reference by the public.

(b) The OFCA has issued a Code of Practice for the Protection of Workers and Members of Public Against Non-Ionising Radiation Hazards from Radio Transmitting Equipment for mandatory compliance by the operators. The Code of Practice sets out the limits and safety standards on radiation generated by radio transmitting equipment. The operators must ensure that their base stations fully comply with the requirements stipulated in the Code of Practice.

     In the past three years, the OFCA received about 350 complaints in relation to radiation problems arising from base stations installed in residential buildings. Upon receipt of a complaint, the OFCA will usually conduct on-site inspection and take measurement on the radiation level. If problems are identified, the OFCA will require the operator concerned to take immediate actions to ensure that its equipment meets the safety standards. In the past three years, no base stations were relocated or removed at the request of the OFCA as a result of non-compliance with the radiation safety standards.

(c) In vetting and approving applications for the installation of radio base stations, the OFCA will take into account not only the radiation level of individual transmitting equipment, but also the total radiation level of all radio base stations at a single location. The Code of Practice above mentioned also stipulates the safety standards on the total radiation level at a single location to protect residents from excessive radiation exposure.

     The OFCA will seek professional advice from the DH from time to time on the health hazards of radio base stations to safeguard public health. The current one-stop application arrangement will also be reviewed and enhanced in the light of the future development of wireless communications services and the requirements of other regulatory bodies.

Ends/Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Issued at HKT 13:11


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