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Berlin Environmental Atlas

08.05 Electromagnetic fields

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26th BImSchV

To protect the general population and local neighbourhoods from harmful environmental impacts, this basic precautionary value has been used in German legislation to derive maximum limits for electric and magnetic field strengths at a frequency of 50 Hz. These values are legally binding under the provisions of the 26th Ordinance (26. BImSchV 1996), in force since 1 January 1997, regulating the Federal Pollution Control Law. The limits for low-frequency installations - defined for the purposes of the Ordinance as "stationary plant for the transformation and transmission of electricity at a voltage of 1000 V or more" - are:

Tab. 2: Limit Values Established for Fixed Low-frequency Installations by the 26th BImSchV

[Table is also available as Excel-File (MS-Excel is required).]

To protect against harmful environmental impact, overhead and underground cables, overhead traction supply lines and electricity transformer stations must be constructed and operated in a manner to ensure that, within their zone of influence, at full capacity and taking account of exposure to other low-frequency installations, the limit values for electric field strength and magnetic flux density are not exceeded in buildings or on sites that are intended to be used by people on more than a purely intermittent basis.

Under certain circumstances, the limits for magnetic flux density may by exceeded by 100 % for a short duration, and electric field strength may be exceeded by 100 % within a small area. "For precautionary purposes, the construction of, or substantial modifications to, low-frequency installations close to dwellings, hospitals, schools, kindergartens, after-school care facilities, playgrounds or similar installations in these buildings or on these sites" must be carried out so that the maximum effective values reflect these limits.

The limit values only apply to construction or substantially modification of installations. Installations which were built before the 26th BImSchV entered force must meet these requirements within three years of that date. It should also be noted that the limits need only be observed in areas where people are intended to be present on a more than intermittent basis. This does not cover, for example, agricultural land or railway station platforms. Although platforms may be in constant use, individual passengers do not essentially stay very long.

Fig. 6: Legal Scope of Different Limit and Recommended Values
BG = sectoral employers' liability associations (Berufsgenossenschaften)
UVV = Accident Prevention Regulations (Unfallverhütungsmaßnahmen)

As the limit values in the 26th BImSchV only concern certain installations - notably those with an operating voltage of 1000 V or more - it is often necessary in practice to consider the recommended values of the IRPA/ICNIRP (Tab. 3), which cover a far more comprehensive spectrum than those in the 26th BImSchV (see Fig. 6).

The IRPA/ICNIRP guidelines (ICNIRP/IRPA 1990, 1994, 1998) include both areas of public use and places of work. There are no limitations with regard to voltage levels or date of construction. The IRPA/ICNIRP also addresses d.c. fields, which are an important feature in medicine and industry. However, the IRPA/ICNIRP values are not legally binding, having only the status of a recommendation. Yet they are important enough for the legislator to state explicitly that the limits in the 26th BImSchV are oriented to IRPA/ICNIRP guidelines.

At workplaces not covered by the 26th BImSchV - workplaces where the occurrence of electromagnetic fields can be expected - Accident Prevention Regulations apply which have been formulated by the Berufsgenossenschaften (sector-based employers' liability associations). These are currently being revised and will replace the previous recommendations of the Berufsgenossenschaften (the "Rules on Safety and Health Protection at Workplaces Exposed to Electric, Magnetic or Electromagnetic Fields", drawn up by the association responsible for the sector of precision mechanics and electrical engineering)(BGF 1995).

Tab. 3 summarises once more the limit and recommended values for public areas and workplaces. The scope of application is explicitly limited to 50 Hz. For historical reasons, recommended limits for occupational exposure were published in the early years by both the VDE (VDE 0848 1995) and the IRPA, founded on the generally recognised effects of strong electric and magnetic fields. The different field strength limits proposed by the two organisations are simply due to the different models they used for translating the same primary base values into secondary values for external fields. The IRPA also defined limit values for the general population which are still in place today, whereas the VDE did not attempt to remedy this lack until it introduced Amendments 1-3 to its Standard 0848, Part 4. Given that the VDE, which represents the interests of the electrical industry, is surely not free of a certain vested interest, the limits proposed by the VDE were never an unequivocal match for those of the IRPA and never progressed beyond the stage of a proto-standard. As a result, the legislator in Germany did not choose to be guided by the VDE, accepting instead the internationally undisputed values of the IRPA as the basis for the maximum limits in the 26th BImSchV. As part of the EU harmonisation effort, the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) has also proposed limit values. However, these are not likely to be adopted by the EC, and will probably be replaced by a recommendation from the Council of Ministers within the framework of guidelines on physical standards for workplaces.

Tab. 3: Limit and Recommended Values for Electric and Magnetic Fields
CENELEC - European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation
IRPA/INIRC - International Non-Ionising Radiation Committee/International Radiation Protection Association; its work is continued by the ICNIRP
DIN VDE - Deutsches Institut für Normung e.V. (German Standardisation Institute), Verband Deutscher Elektrotechniker e.V. (Association of German Electrical Engineers)
BImSchG - Federal Pollution Control Law

[Table is also available as Excel-File (MS-Excel is required).]

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