BBEMG - Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group

Belgian BioElectroMagnetics Group

Health in general

Health in general

1. I'd like to purchase a home, but close to it, there is a 70kV high voltage powerline. At 10 meters from the house, measurements we took gave us the following data, 128 V/m and 0.08 microTesla. Would you mind giving me your opinion on risks at short and long terms of such an exposure?

Generally, as to risks linked to residential exposure to power frequency (50Hz) electric and magnetic fields, epidemiological studies highlighted a small risk of leukaemia for children exposed to average magnetic fields in excess of 0.4 µT. However, this risk has not been demonstrated by lab studies using animals exposed all their life. Until now, no action mechanism has been highlighted.

If you want to stay outside a powerline corridor where average field levels are higher than the 0.4 microTesla epidemiological threshold, you need to take into consideration the load of the line that is variable from one line to another and over time. On average, the half width of the corridor (distance from the axis of the line) is around 90m for 380kV, 40m for 150 kV and 15m for 70kV.

According to values that you measured, you don't need to worry about field effects. To reassure you, we advise you to record magnetic field values on a longer period of time in order to check if the mean value is below 0.4µT.

Concerning electric fields, relatively few data are available, because electric fields are easily reduced by dwellings or vegetation. Internation Agency for Reasearch on Cancer concludes: "There is inadequate evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of static electric or magnetic fields and extremely low-frequency electric fields." Electric fields were placed in Class 3 as unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans (see Effect on health?).

2. Given the current location of the bed of my 3-year-old daughter, her head is close to an electrical plug. Could this be harmful? In addition, the electric panel of the apartment is located in the hallway next to our children's bedroom door. Could you advise me as to the position of their beds with respect to safety distances?

You may have read on our website that our research focuses on the health effects of electric fields, magnetic fields and contact currents.

According to the characteristics of fields and currents (see the technical pages of our website for more information), we can estimate that in your daughter's room, only the magnetic field could play a role in health issues. Therefore, I will speak here only of magnetic field values.

It is important to understand that magnetic field intensity measured near an electrical appliance varies according to its energy demands. It is the same around an electrical panel or plug. Moreover, as magnetic field intensity decreases with distance, measured values next to a device or appliance quickly decrease when we go away from it. For example, recent measurements near clock radios showed that when the probe was next to the clock, magnetic fields can exceed 15 microT. At 30 cm, we were already under 0.4μT (*1), a value that is often used in epidemiological studies.

(*1) This is a threshold value that has been selected by the researchers based on statistical analysis to separate groups in more and less exposed. We need to bear in mind that this value does not mean presence or absence of danger. It was simply useful in epidemiological studies to establish a boundary between an exposed group and another less exposed group. In the current state of the research, based on the results of more than 30 years of studies on 50 Hz magnetic fields, the risk should be weighted according to our own risk perceptions.

Measured values around an electric panel may be variable as it depends on the power consumption in your home during the night on the one hand and on the distance from the panel on the other hand. In situ measurements in an office showed values of 0.7 microT next to the panel and 0.047 microT at a distance of one meter. This can already give you a good idea of the situation.

For the plug, values will depend on the device connected to it. Is it a big energy consumer? Is it running at night? How far is it located? Measurements around clock radios allow realizing the importance of this distance, as 30 cm is enough to reach low values.

3. Our office is located under a high voltage power line. We are worried that we are also under the influence of this line. What are the effects of 50 Hz MF on the human brain?

Concerning the human brain, you need to know that tens of studies based on human exposure to ELF have been made in the laboratory on volunteers, but, of course, only during short periods of time. No conclusion can be drawn at this time since the results are divergent: sometimes they show an improvement of performance, sometimes deterioration, and often no effect at all. Analyses for longer time periods in humans are made by means of epidemiological studies. They do not provide any evidence for a causal relationship, but suggest a possible statistical association between two phenomena, for example the frequency of a pathology in relation to one pathological agent or another. Epidemiological studies alone cannot establish a causal relationship in a convincing manner. If an association between an agent and an illness is made, it does not mean that this agent is responsible for the illness. Establishing a causal relationship requires the examination of several criteria.

It is not possible here to detail every individual study. However, reports exist that list and analyse these studies. Moreover, research is still in progress that will complete this topic. You will also find numerous bibliographical references concerning epidemiology in Literature review or in FEMU's database (EMF portal).

4. My 16-year-old daughter has been suffering from back pain for over one year. We have undergone every possible medical examination, but nothing seems to explain the pain. We live at approximately 50 meters from a high voltage powerline. Could this line provoke such symtoms ?

Over these 25 last years, a great deal of research has been udertaken to analyse potential effects of magntic fields in the vicinity of high voltage powerlines. To date, none of the completed st3dies allows to state, with an absolute certainty, the appearance of illnesses or undesirable effects.

As for muscular pains and sore joints, results of studies have highlighted nothing.Thus, we can tell you that your daughter's pain can not to be connected to the high voltage powerline.

5. Some months ago, we moved into a house and have found that a high voltage line (20 000 V) passes through our garden, as well as a 220/380 V line. From blueprints we have gathered, lines should be at a depth of 1,5 m and around 1,5 m adjacent to the house. These lines join a transformer located at around 25 m from our house. Are EMF high? I am very worried for my children in light of what I have read on the internet.

The first thing to do is to define your exposure level. Before going further, you should know which field intensity you are exposed to. We advise you to contact an accredited organism in order to take 50 Hz field measurements.

Magnetic fields pass through walls while building and other obstacles shield electric fields which are definitely lower in your home.

We invite you to visit, if you haven't already done so, our EMF and Health presentation which can help you to better understand this uncertain situation.

We also would like to add that, if a causal relationship is demonstrated one day (which is not the case), recent estimates fix from 1 to 4 % the percentage of childhood leukaemia cases attributable to power frequency magnetic fields [Kheifets et al., 2006]... this means that from 96 to 99% of leukeamia cases could be attributable to other causes. This risk for leukaemia is to consider as 1/10 000 (instead of 1/20 000) whenever we are exposed to 50 Hz magnetic fields higher than 0.4 µT a day on average, with the hypothesis of a causal relationship.

We advise you to wait for an evaluation of your exposure before being carried away by fright and reassess the situation in light of these measurements and your own risk perception.

6. For 50 years, my parents have been living below high voltage lines and close to a transformer (EDF, France). For a very long time, my mother have been suffering from cardiac and neurological ailments. I'd like to know if these pathologies could be linked to electric and magnetic fields. Do you know any doctors specialized in this field?

In your search for specialized doctors in France, we advise you to contact René de Sèze who works on the health impact of electromagnetic fields at INERIS
(see http://toxi.ineris.fr/activites/neurotoxicologie/neurotoxicologie.php or contact rene.de-seze@ineris.fr)

You could also contact Martine Souques (martine.souques@edf.fr), doctor at EDF, who has published studies on cardiovascular effects of fields. She won't fail to give you her enlightened views.

7. I live near a transformer and I would like to know if there is a risk of negative health effects, in particular for children.

Measurements around transformer cabins (installed power up to 400 kVA) show that the residual field from the transformer falls rapidly down to the initial ambient value (fields less than 0.4 microtesla as of 5 metres for the maximum transit current).

In general, with regard to the risks linked to residential exposure to electric and magnetic fields at mains frequency (50 Hz), epidemiological studies accept the possibility of a low risk of leukaemia in children exposed to magnetic fields greater than 0.4 microtesla on average. It is an average over 24 hours. However, this risk has not been demonstrated in laboratory studies on animals exposed for their entire life. At the current point in time, no working mechanism has been revealed.

For more information on the health aspects of exposure to magnetic fields at mains frequency, we suggest you visit our EMF and health pages.

8. For some years, I've owned a waterbed. I'd like to know if it is harmful to my health?

There is uncertainty with regard to the health effects of this kind of equipment. Concerning risks in relation to a residential exposure to EMF at power frequency (50 Hz), conclusions of epidemiological studies indicate a low but increased risk of leukaemia among children exposed to magnetic fields over 0.4 microT. However, the risk has not been demonstrated in lab studies where animals are exposed throughout their entire lives. To date, no mechanism or action has been proposed.

There are studies centred on breast cancer and exposure to power frequency magnetic fields from heating covers. These studies do not indicate an excess of breast cancer among exposed women.

In your case, the question is "how much exposure do you receive from your waterbed?"

Gilbert Decat has done measurements on waterbeds. The exposure values are quite weak, under 0.15 microT. Feel free to contact him for more information concerning the measurements.

Magnetic field around a 400W waterbed

Magnetic field measurements on a 400 W waterbed over several days

9. I am not a specialist, and after spending several hours on the internet I still cannot find any answers to my questions. Living near a power line might be harmful to one's health. I read that risks are assumed up to 600 m. I would like to know if you are aware of risks beyond the 600 m limit?

Perhaps you read a summary of the potential effects of high voltage power lines on health. On this page, we present the most recent information. It is difficult to summarize research results in a few words and we invite you to read this page, if you have not already done so.

The distance of 600m you mention comes from a study conducted in England in 2005. The authors, Draper and his team have reported an increased rate of childhood leukemia up to 600 m of the power lines. At this distance, magnetic fields from the power line are always below 0.4 microT. This led scientists to consider alternative explanations, e.g. other physical factors such as ions produced by corona, the characteristics of the areas with high voltage power lines, contact currents, bias and chance ...

To answer your question, beyond 600m, no study, to our knowledge, takes into account the "power line" risk.

A recent epidemiological study in France analysed the potential relationship between leukemia and solid tumors in children and environmental factors, including magnetic fields from high voltage powerlines (*2).

Among other limits, the authors used the distance of 600 m in exposure assessment, referring to the study of Draper and his team. Nothing is left to chance! You'll find further information under the following link: http://iopscience.iop.org/0952-4746/33/2/349. Study results are published and available under the following link : http://www.nature.com/bjc/journal/vaop/ncurrent/pdf/bjc2013128a.pdf

(*2) Bessou J, Deschamps F, Figueroa L & Cougnaud D (2013). Methods used to estimate residential exposure to 50 Hz magnetic fields from overhead power lines in an epidemiological study in France. J. Radiol. Prot. 33 349.

In our daily life, exposures from our own electrical appliances also need to be taken into account. For example, recent measurements near clock radios showed that when the probe was next to the clock, magnetic fields can exceed 15 microT. For some clocks, a distance of more than 30 cm was needed to measure values below 0.4 microT

10. I’d like to buy a house along a railway line (at about 5 m) and I’d like to know the hazards and negatives outcomes on the health of my family and how I can protect us (building of a wall for example…) knowing that I have young children.

Most of Belgian power electric railways, apart from high speed trains, operate in direct current. Thus electric lines (catenaries) that supply trains generate direct electric and magnetic fields. It means that these lines are generating magnetic fields of the same kind as the magnetic field that surrounds our planet. In Belgium, the Earth's magnetic field is around 40 – 50 µT.

To estimate magnetic fields generated by the line, we need to know the intensity of the current flowing through it. According to our information, the current could reach around 4000 A, meaning that at 5m from the line, the magnetic field could reach 160 µT, which is far lower than the recommendations from international guidelines for a continuous exposure of the general public (40 mT, i.e. 40 000 µT).

Moreover, it should be known that magnetic field is only generated during the passing of a train.

Among the BBEMG, we are not specialized in potential health effects of direct fields. However, as the question is regularly asked, we wrote a document summarizing the main conclusions (See page Static fields in Thematic files). We also invite you to consult a document written by the World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/facts/fs299/en/.

11. We are about to buy a piece of land. A 400 - 230 V pylon is located at the back of the property, at the boundary. No cable passes over the house. Is there a health risk?

A 400 - 230 V line is intended to directly distribute electricity into our homes. This is the voltage that is directly useful to our electrical appliances. In your situation, the pylon is located at the boundary of your property, but in many situations, for example in cities, these cables are buried in the pavement or directly run along the facades.

We have already made measurements in this latter situation: the magnetic field measured at 30cm of the cable was of the order of 2-3 µT. At 1m, the field was below 0,4μT. With the height of the line, you can be assured that fields will be low, at levels usually encountered in houses.

12. I'm worried about the presence of a box where "Danger 12000V" is written next to a house I'd like to purchase. Can this box lead to health problems?

First of all, let's make it clear that the word « Danger » refers to electrocution risks and not the presence of electric and magnetic fields.

50 Hz magnetic field decreases depending on the distance. To give you an idea, directly next to such a box, values of 3.2 microTesla have been measured while respectively at 1 and 2 meters, values reach 0.1 and 0.07 microtesla.

All these values are below the 100 microtesla recommendation proposed by ICNIRP. At 1 meter from the box, a value 4 times weaker than the mean value of 0.4 µT from epidemiological studies is even measured. In the present state of the art of knowledge, we can say that at 1 meter from the box, there is no health risks. If you are willing to take more precautions, we advise you to place children's bedrooms for those under 15 years of age in a room not adjacent to this box.

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Latest update on 16/05/2015

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