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Environmental Health

Radio Frequency Program

The goal of the Radio Frequency Program is to ensure radio frequency (RF) exposure limits in San Francisco are within a regulated standard and do not cause human health hazards.


Principal Activities and Services

  • Review radio frequency reports from wireless telecommunication carriers operating in San Francisco.
  • Respond to any public concern or complaints regarding a radio frequency transmitter in San Francisco.

Radio Frequency Energy

Radio waves are made up of electrical and magnetic energy and are commonly called electromagnetic waves. Radio frequency energy is an example of what is called non-ionizing radiation, which does not have enough energy to create ions.

Radio frequency energy can come from both natural and manmade sources; manmade sources include broadcast television, radio and communication devices like cordless and cellular phones.

Exposure in San Francisco

The department routinely measures radio frequency energy levels in publicly accessible areas in San Francisco. Levels found on public streets are typically less than 1% of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public exposure standard. Locations with radio frequency energy levels approaching the FCC standard are occasionally found on the roof top areas directly in front of antenna faces.

Cellular Base Stations

A cellular base station is a combination of the cellular antenna and its related electronic equipment. All of the major cell phone carriers operate base station antennas in San Francisco. There are currently close to 800 cellular base stations in San Francisco and they are typically located on the roof tops of buildings or towers. Most cellular antennas are mounted between 50 and 100 feet off the ground.


Federal Regulation of Radio Frequency Energy

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the agency with the regulatory authority to set the radio frequency energy standards. The FCC has created standards for both occupational exposure and public exposure. The public exposure standard is 1/5 the level allowed for occupational exposure. In general, these standards are based upon the protection of both workers and the public's health and safety.

Public Health Effects

The vast majority of the scholarly and scientific literature show that there is no health risk associated with exposure to RFR from properly installed and sited cell tower installations. Based on the current state of radiofrequency research there is very little evidence that living or working near a mobile phone base station (cell phone antenna) might increase the risk of cancer or other health problems.

Most of the research into cell phones (as distinct from cell phone towers) has also not shown a link to adverse health outcomes. It is important to notice that the WHO finding is not relevant to cell towers--exposure to RFR from properly sited and installed cell towers poses no public health risk.


SFDPH has compiled the following resources on Base Station Research:

Interpreting the Research -- a brief guide to interpreting the many studies about potential health effects from radiofrequency radiation

Ongoing Research Studies -- a summary of studies that are currently underway

Studies and Reviews -- descriptions of large studies and literature reviews that have been completed by governmental and non-governmental organizations

Agency Statements -- fact sheets and statements by governmental and non-governmental agencies


Making a Complaint

For complaints about a cellular base station or a radio frequency transmitter, call or visit 311, or visit our complaint page.


Related Agency Fact Sheets and Websites

Federal Communications Commission Fact Sheet on Biological Effects

Federal Communications Commission Fact Sheet on Evaluating Compliance

American Cancer Society

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

World Health Organization