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Can exposure to a terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA)-like signal cause symptoms? A randomised double-blind provocation study
  1. Rosa Nieto-Hernandez1,
  2. Jonathan Williams2,
  3. Anthony J Cleare1,
  4. Sabine Landau3,
  5. Simon Wessely1,
  6. G James Rubin1
  1. 1King's College London, Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK
  2. 2OPTIMA and Biomedical Research Centre, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  3. 3King's College London, Department of Biostatistics, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to G James Rubin, Department of Psychological Medicine, Weston Education Centre, Cutcombe Road, London SE5 9RJ, UK; gideon.rubin{at}


Objectives Concerns have been raised about possible health effects from radiofrequency fields pulsing at around 16 Hz. A radio system used by UK police (TETRA) employs signals which pulse at 17.6 Hz. We tested whether exposure to a continuous wave signal at 385.25 MHz or a TETRA-like signal resulted in symptoms among users reporting sensitivity to TETRA compared to users not reporting sensitivity to TETRA.

Methods 60 sensitive and 60 non-sensitive users were exposed to three 50 min conditions: a signal with a 16 Hz component, a continuous wave condition and a sham condition. The mean radiated power for the 16 Hz and continuous wave conditions was 250 mW. The order of conditions was randomised and testing was conducted double-blind. Participants reported the severity of eight symptoms during and after each exposure, their mood state at the end of each exposure, and whether they could tell which sessions involved active signals. The study was registered in advance with the ISRCTN register.

Results Exposure to the continuous wave signal increased ratings of headache in all participants, fatigue in non-sensitive participants and difficulty concentrating in sensitive participants. Paradoxically, it reduced sensations of itching in sensitive participants. These effects were not observed in the condition with 16 Hz pulsing, except for those relating to concentration. Adjusting for multiple comparisons removed most significant effects, but not those relating to itch.

Conclusions The results suggested that exposure to TETRA signals is not responsible for symptoms reported by some users, although exposure to a continuous wave signal may affect symptoms.

Clinical trial number ISRCTN 73321766.

  • Electromagnetic fields
  • environmental illness
  • environmental exposure
  • somatoform disorders
  • symptoms
  • health and safety
  • physics
  • neurobehavioural effects
  • electromagnetic fields
  • non-ionizing radiation

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  • Funding This study was funded under the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research programme (

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.