BBEMG - Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group

Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group

EMF & Health: Current outcomes

EMF & Health: Current outcomes

Many studies have investigated the potential link between ELF-EMF and health over the last 40 years.

In case of exposure to very high intensities of 50 Hz magnetic and/or electric fields, acute direct effects can occur. These effects are well studied in human volunteers and animals. All these effects have thresholds below which they do not occur and can be avoided by meeting appropriate basic restrictions on electric fields induced in the body.

Numerous questions are now arising involving health effects of exposure to 50 Hz electric and magnetic fields, especially long term exposure with low levels of intensities often met in our everyday life.

These effects related to long term-low intensity exposure were first studied in the late 1970s with a comprehensive analysis of parameters of the environment of residences of children with leukaemia. 50 Hz electric and magnetic fields were one of the multiple variables studied. Afterwards, researchers continued their studies on various parameters and among them, exposure to residential 50 Hz magnetic fields showed a consistent risk with childhood leukaemia above level of 0.3 -0.4 μT, but this observed association alone is not sufficient to imply a causal relationship.

Research on low EMF level was also made in relation with different types of cancer, as well as neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases, depression, suicide, neurobehavior, fertility disorders, hypersensitivity, sleep disturbance... but without showing causal relationships.

It is important to note that at this time, no mechanism of action has been demonstrated neither in cells nor in animals that could explain health risks.

Here are the conclusions of the European Health Risk Assessment Network (EFHRAN):

OutcomeStrenght of evidence
Cancer outcomes  
Leukaemia in children Limited
Brain tumours in children Inadequate
Brain tumours in adults Inadequate
Breast cancer in adults Lack of effects
Other cancer (children or adults) Inadequate
Neurodegenerative diseases  
Alzheimer's disease Inadequate
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Inadequate
Other neurodegenerative diseases Inadequate
Reproductive outcomes  
all outcomes Inadequate
Cardiovascular diseases  
all diseases Lack of effect
Electrical hypersensitivity (EHS) Lack of effect
Symptoms Inadequate

Source: EFHRAN (2012)
See Necessary inclusion criteria of the EFHRAN classification
(Table 1, page 5)

In its Opinion on Potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields in 2015, the SCENHIR concluded:

Health effects from Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) EF and MF

Overall, existing studies do not provide convincing evidence for a causal relationship
between ELF MF exposure and self-reported symptoms.

The new epidemiological studies are consistent with earlier findings of an increased risk of childhood leukaemia with estimated daily average exposures above 0.3 to 0.4 μT. As stated in the previous Opinions, no mechanisms have been identified and no support is existing from experimental studies that could explain these findings, which, together with shortcomings of the epidemiological studies prevent a causal interpretation.

Studies investigating possible effects of ELF exposure on the power spectra of the waking EEG are too heterogeneous with regard to applied fields, duration of exposure, and number of considered leads, and statistical methods to draw a sound conclusion. The same is true for behavioural outcomes and cortical excitability.

Epidemiological studies do not provide convincing evidence of an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia, related to power frequency MF exposure. Furthermore, they show no evidence for adverse pregnancy outcomes in relation to ELF MF. The studies concerning childhood health outcomes in relation to maternal residential ELF MF exposure during pregnancy involve some methodological issues that need to be addressed. They suggest implausible effects and need to be replicated independently before they can be used for risk assessment.

Recent results do not show an effect of the ELF fields on the reproductive function in humans.

(Source: SCENIHR, 2015)

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Latest update on 11/06/2015

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