Possible Effects Of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) On Human Health

Project and Seminar Material for Physics

Project and Seminar Material for Physics


Abstract


The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has updated the previous opinion on “Possible effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), Radio Frequency Fields (RF) and Microwave Radiation on human health” by the Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment (CSTEE) from 2001, with respect to whether or not exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) is a cause of disease or other health effects.

The opinion is primarily based on scientific articles, published in English language peer-reviewed scientific journals. Only studies that are considered relevant for the task are cited and commented upon in the opinion. The opinion is divided into frequency (f) bands, namely: radio frequency (RF) (100 kHz < f ≤ 300 GHz), intermediate frequency (IF) (300 Hz < f ≤ 100 kHz), extremely low frequency (ELF) (0< f ≤ 300 Hz), and static (0 Hz) (only static magnetic fields are considered in this opinion).

There is a separate section for environmental effects.

Radio Frequency Fields (RF fields)

Since the adoption of the 2001 opinion extensive research has been conducted regarding possible health effects of exposure to low intensity RF fields, including epidemiologic, in vivo, and in vitro research. In conclusion, no health effect has been consistently demonstrated at exposure levels below the limits of ICNIRP (International Committee on Non Ionising Radiation Protection) established in 1998. However, the data base for evaluation remains limited especially for long-term low-level exposure.

Intermediate Frequency Fields (IF fields)

Experimental and epidemiological data from the IF range are very sparse. Therefore, assessment of acute health risks in the IF range is currently based on known hazards at lower frequencies and higher frequencies. Proper evaluation and assessment of possible health effects from long-term exposure to IF fields are important because human exposure to such fields is increasing due to new and emerging technologies.

Extremely low frequency fields (ELF fields)

The previous conclusion that ELF magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic, chiefly based on occurrence of childhood leukaemia, is still valid. For breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, recent research has indicated that an association is unlikely. For neurodegenerative diseases and brain tumours, the link to ELF fields remains uncertain. No consistent relationship between ELF fields and self-reported symptoms (sometimes referred to as electrical hypersensitivity) has been demonstrated.

Static Fields

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

Environmental Effects

There are insufficient data to identify 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.


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background Of The Study

For the general public, Council Recommendation of 12 July 1999 (2) on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields (0 Hz to 300 GHz) fixes basic restrictions and reference levels to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These restrictions and reference levels are based on the guidelines published by the International Commission on Non Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)3(3). The ICNIRP guidelines had been endorsed by the Scientific Steering Committee (SSC)(4) in its opinion on health effects of EMFs of 25–26 June 1998(5).

The motivation for this work is derived from the increasing exposure to EMF consequent to the further growth in the use of electricity, from the continuous development of the telecommunications industry, and to a rapid increase in the installation of transmitter masts used as radiotelephone base stations. In addition to domestic, industrial and medical electrical appliances and devices, the high voltage overhead transmission lines (and to a lesser extent underground cables) are major sources of exposure to Extremely Low Frequencies (ELF) in the environment. The CSTEE opinion “on Possible effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), Radio Frequency Fields (RF) and Microwave Radiation on human health”(8), of30 October 2001, concluded that the information that had become available since the SSC opinion of June 1999 did not justify revision of the exposure limits recommended by the Council(9).

A substantial number of scientific publications and reviews on the possible health effects of EMF (focusing mostly on mobile telephones) have become available since the CSTEEopinion of 2001, for example the 2002 Dutch report(10) the 2003 AGNIR report(11) and the 2004 British National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) report on “Mobile phones and health”(12) which is the most recent of them. The NRPB provided a detailed review of the recent literature and useful contribution to the discussions on whether there are health effects related to the use of mobile phones. The report concluded that there is no hard evidence at present that the health of the public is being adversely affected by mobile phone technologies but uncertainties remain and a continued precautionary approach is recommended until the situation is clarified.

Additional results are expected shortly from Community funded research and development (R&D) activities, from national programmes, and from work within the International EMF Project of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As part of its mission to protect public health and in response to public concern over health effects of EMF exposure, WHO established the International EMF Project(16) in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence of possible health effects of EMF in the frequency range from 0 to 300 GHz. The EMF Project encourages focused research to fill important gaps in knowledge and to facilitate the development of internationally acceptable standards limiting EMF exposure.


1.2 Statement Of The Problem

It is well recognized that there are established biophysical mechanisms that can lead to health effects as a consequence of exposure to sufficiently strong fields. For frequencies up to, say, 100 kHz the mechanism is stimulation of nerve and muscle cells due to induced currents and, for higher frequencies, tissue heating is the main mechanism. These mechanisms lead to acute effects. Existing exposure guidelines, such as those issued by ICNIRP, protect against these effects. The current issue is the possibility that health effects occur at exposure levels below those where the established mechanisms play a role and in particular as effects of long term exposure at low level. No further consideration is given to thermal effects.


1.3 Aims And Objectives Of The Study

The objective of this project is to:

  1. To have an overview of the scientific literature concerning the health effects of EMF;
  2. To draw attention to significant new scientific findings;
  3. To provide a review of the literature in the light of significant new evidence;
  4. To determine Possible effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), Radio Frequency Fields (RF) and Microwave Radiation on human health

1.4 Research Questions

In reviewing and evaluating the studies on the potential health effects of EMF, the study seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. What is the nature of EMF studies, i.e., epidemiology, laboratory biology (in vivo vs. in vitro), clinical examinations (heart function, sleep electrophysiology, immune system, blood chemistry, hormones including melatonin, etc.), and theory;
  2. What is the characterization of risks, in particular, nature and magnitude of damage, likelihood of occurrence (expressed preferably in terms of natural frequencies rather than probabilities), uncertainty, geographical distribution, persistence over time, reversibility, delay, possible violation of equity, potential for public mobilization etc.; and
  3. How is the identification and physical characterization of existing and foreseeable sources of exposure to EMF, e.g., electromagnetic vs. magnetic including magnetic resonance imagery (MRI), from AC vs. DC current, new frequency ranges, higher transmission power, etc.

1.5 Significance Of The Study

The purpose of this study is in respect to whether or not exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) is a cause of disease or other health effects. Recommendations regarding exposure guidelines or other risk management tools, including application of the precautionary principle are beyond the scope of the opinion. The methods that were used for the preparation of the opinion are explained below.


1.6 Scope And Limitations Of The Study

Following the CSTEE general principles, only studies published in peer reviewed journals have been considered. The section is divided into four sub-sections according to frequency (f) range: radio frequency (RF) (100 kHz < f ≤ 300 GHz), intermediate frequency (IF) (300 Hz < f ≤ 100 kHz), extremely low frequency (ELF) (< f ≤ 300 Hz), and static (0 Hz) (only static magnetic fields are considered in this opinion). These frequency ranges are discussed in order of decreasing frequency, RF, IF, ELF, and static. For each frequency range the review begins with a description of sources and exposure to the population. This is followed, for each frequency range, by a discussion that is organized according to outcome. For each outcome relevant human, in vivo, and in vitro data are covered.

Table 1 below illustrates some typical artificial sources of electromagnetic fields with frequency and intensity. Natural sources like the magnetic field of the earth are not included. Note, however, that big variations occur. For an explanation of some of the terminology used please be referred to the next chapter.

Typical sources of electromagnetic fields


Chapter Five


Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Summary

An overview of the Possible effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF), Radio Frequency Fields (RF) and Microwave Radiation on human health. Scientific data, published since the previous opinion, have been reviewed and their impact on the conclusions of the previous opinion has been assessed. The main focus of the opinion is whether health effects might occur at exposure levels below those of established biological mechanisms and, in particular, in relation to long term exposure at such low levels. The present opinion is divided according to frequency band. A separate section discusses environmental effects.

Radio Frequency Fields (RF fields)

Since the adoption of the 2001 opinion extensive research has been conducted regarding possible health effects of exposure to low intensity RF fields, including epidemiologic, in vivo, and in vitro research.

The balance of epidemiologic evidence indicates that mobile phone use of less than 10 years does not pose any increased risk of brain tumour or acoustic neuroma. For long- term use, data are sparse, and the following conclusions are therefore uncertain and tentative. However, from the available data it does appear that there is no increased risk for brain tumours in long-term users, with the exception of acoustic neuroma for which there is some evidence of an association. For diseases other than cancer, very little epidemiologic data are available.

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. Children of today will also experience a much higher cumulative exposure than previous generations. To date no epidemiologic studies on children are available.
RF field exposure has not convincingly been shown to have an effect on self-reported symptoms or well-being.
Studies on neurological effects and reproductive effects have not indicated any health risks at exposure levels below the ICNIRP-limits established in 1998.

Animal studies have not provided evidence that RF fields could induce cancer, enhance the effects of known carcinogens, or accelerate the development of transplanted tumours. The open questions include adequacy of the experimental models used and scarcity of data at high exposure levels.

There is no consistent indication from in vitro research that RF fields affect cells at the nonthermal exposure level.
The technical development is very fast and sources of RF field exposure become increasingly common. Yet, there is a lack of information on individual RF field exposure and the relative contribution of different sources to the overall exposure.

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

Intermediate Frequency Fields (IF fields)

Experimental and epidemiological data from the IF range are very sparse. Therefore, assessment of acute health risks in the IF range is currently based on known hazards atlower frequencies and higher frequencies. Proper evaluation and assessment of possible health effects from long term exposure to IF fields are important because human exposure to such fields is increasing due to new and emerging technologies.

Extremely low frequency fields (ELF fields)

The previous conclusion that ELF magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic, chiefly based on childhood leukaemia results, is still valid. There is no generally accepted mechanism to explain how ELF magnetic field exposure may cause leukaemia.

For breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, recent research has indicated that an association is unlikely. For neurodegenerative diseases and brain tumours, the link to ELF fields remains uncertain. A relation between ELF fields and symptoms (sometimes referred to as electromagnetic hypersensitivity) has not been demonstrated.

Static Fields

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

Environmental Effects

The continued lack of good quality data in relevant species means that there are insufficient data to identify 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


5.2 Conclusion and Research Recommendations

In view of the identified important gaps in knowledge the following research recommendations are being made.

RF fields
  • A long term prospective cohort study. Such a study would overcome problems that were discussed in relation to existing epidemiological studies, including the Interphone study. These problems include recall bias and other aspects of exposure assessment, selection bias due to high proportions of non-responders, too short induction period, and restriction to intracranial tumours.
  • Health effects of RF exposure in children. To date no study on children exists. This issue can also be addressed by studies on immature animals. This research has to take into consideration that dosimetry in children may differ from that in adults.
  • Exposure distribution in the population. The advent of personal dosimeters has made it possible to describe individual exposure in the population and to assess the relative contribution of different sources to the total exposure. Such a project would require that groups of people with different characteristics are selected and that they wear dosimeters for a defined period of time.There are several experimental studies that need to be replicated. Examples are studies on genotoxicity and cognition involving sleep quality parameters. For studies on biomarkers it is essential that the impact on human health is considered. Valid exposure assessment including all relevant sources of exposure is essential. A general comment is that all studies must use high quality dosimetry.
IF fields
  • Data on health effects from IF fields are sparse. This issue should be addressed both through epidemiologic and experimental studies.
ELF fields
  • Epidemiological results indicate an increased risk of leukaemia in children exposed to high levels of ELF magnetic fields, however, this is not supported by animal data. The mechanisms responsible for the childhood leukaemia and the reasons for the discrepancy are unknown and require a better understanding and clarification.
Static fields
  • A cohort study on personnel dealing with equipment that generates strong magnetic fields is required. The start of this would have to be a thorough feasibility study.
  • Relevant experimental studies such as studies on carcinogenicity, genotoxicity as well as developmental and neurobehavioural effects would have to be conducted as well.
Additional considerations
  • Studies including exposure to combinations of frequencies as well as combinations of electromagnetic fields and other agents need to be considered.

Possible Effects Of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) On Human Health


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