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Source document:
SCENIHR (2007)

Summary & Details:
GreenFacts (2008)

Electromagnetic Fields

11. Conclusions on electromagnetic fields

For many of the possible health effects assessed by this opinion, the data available are very limited, especially for long-term low-level exposure. Some of these issues will be addressed in the future as more data become available.

Standards in the EU and many countries are based on the 1998 guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The guidelines set by the ICNIRP vary for different frequency ranges. They provide protection against known adverse health effects.


11.1 Conclusions on Radio Frequency (RF) fields

Radio frequency fields (100 kHz - 300 GHz) are for instance generated by mobile telephony and wireless networks.

New scientific evidence does not call for a revision of the exposure limits to radio frequency fields. In particular, there is no epidemiological evidence in support of a link between exposure to radio frequency fields and cancer neither in children nor in adults. There is some indication of a link between long term mobile phone use with acoustic neuroma, a benign tumour of the auditory nerve, but more work is needed to clarify this. For other symptoms, very little epidemiological data are available, and the current knowledge is insufficient.

Self-reported symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, dizziness or concentration difficulties affecting some individuals possibly exist. Present knowledge suggests that symptoms are not linked to exposure to radio frequency fields and is insufficient for the implementation of measures aimed at the identification and protection of a highly sensitive sub-group of the population.

A particular consideration is mobile phone use by children. While no specific evidence exists, children or adolescents may be more sensitive to RF field exposure than adults in view of their continuing development. Children of today may also experience a much higher cumulative exposure than previous generations. To date, no epidemiological studies on children are available.

In conclusion, no health effect has been consistently demonstrated at exposure levels below the safety limits established in 1998. However, the database for this evaluation is limited especially for long-term low-level exposure. More...


11.2 Conclusions on Intermediate Frequency (IF) fields

Intermediate frequency fields (300 Hz – 100 kHz) are generated by sources like computer screens and anti-theft devices.

Because experimental and epidemiological data for the this frequency range are very sparse, the assessment of health risks of short-term exposure to high levels of intermediate frequency fields is currently based on known biological effects at lower frequencies and at higher frequencies.

Well-known immediate biological effects of exposure to relatively strong fields in the intermediate frequency (IF) range are nerve stimulation at the lower end of the range and heating at the upper end of the range.

Proper evaluation and assessment of possible health effects from long term exposure to intermediate frequency fields are important because human exposure to such fields is increasing due to new and emerging technologies. More...


11.3 Conclusions on Extremely low frequency (ELF) fields

Extremely low frequency fields (below 300 kHz) are generated by sources like power lines, and electric appliances.

Combined analyses of epidemiological studies provides limited evidence of a link between exposure to relatively strong ELF magnetic fields from power lines and childhood leukaemia . There is no generally accepted mechanism to explain how ELF magnetic field exposure may cause leukaemia.

Animal studies have not provided adequate evidence for a causal link.

The possible effect seems to be limited to exposures above 0.4 µT. In European countries, the proportion of children exposed to such levels is less than 1%. Assuming that children exposed to ELF magnetic fields above 0.4 µT are twice as likely to develop leukaemia than those exposed to weaker fields, this would roughly lead to an excess number of new cases of childhood leukaemia of less than 1%. To put this in context, in European countries, the number of new cases (incidence) of leukaemia is around 45 per million children (age 0-14) per year.

Whether changes of recommended exposure limits to 50/60 Hz magnetic fields ought to be recommended on the basis of limited evidence regarding childhood leukemia is a risk management decision.

There is no convincing suggestion of any other carcinogenic effect of ELF on either children or adults. Current information on this respect does not provide clues for reconsidering exposure limits.

No consistent relationship between extremely low frequency fields and self-reported symptoms (sometimes referred to as electrical hypersensitivity) has been demonstrated. In addition, for breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, recent research has indicated that a link is unlikely. For neurodegenerative diseases and brain tumours, a link to ELF fields remains uncertain. More...


11.4 Conclusions on static magnetic fields

Static magnetic fields are generated by sources such as MRI scanners and appliances using direct current.

Adequate data for proper risk assessment of static magnetic fields are very sparse. Developments of technologies involving static magnetic fields, e.g. with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) equipment require risk assessments to be made in relation to the exposure of personnel. More...


11.5 Conclusions on environmental effects

Good quality data is lacking for species that would be expected to be among the most sensitive to electromagnetic fields (EMF). As a result it is not possible to determine whether a single exposure standard is appropriate to protect all environmental species from EMF. Similarly the data are inadequate to judge whether the environmental standards should be the same or significantly different from those appropriate to protect human health. More...


11.6 Research Recommendations

To fill the important gaps in knowledge the following research efforts are recommended.

Radio frequency (RF) fields (100 kHz – 300 GHz)

Intermediate frequency (IF) fields (300 Hz – 100 kHz)

Data on health effects from IF fields are sparse. This issue should be addressed both through epidemiological and experimental studies.

Extremely low frequency (ELF) fields (less than 300 Hz)

More data are needed to understand the mechanisms responsible for childhood leukaemia and to clarify the reasons for the disagreement between epidemiological and experimental data.

Static fields (0 Hz)

Moreover, studies including exposure to combinations of frequencies as well as combinations of electromagnetic fields and other agents are needed. More...

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