Good Science in Plain Language

Information on EMF

Though the term EMF stands for Electromagnetic Field, it is typically used colloquially to refer to low energy electromagnetic fields, more specifically Radio Frequencies. We are continuously surrounded by EMF through power lines and cell phones, which has led many to wonder if these fields may cause adverse health effects to humans, and particularly to children.

We have compiled information for you on this topic from the World Health Organization, Health Canada, and the Health Physics Society. As you will see, these experts all agree that if there are adverse health effects to be expected from EMF, they are very small.

Quotes from the World Health Organization

  • Conclusions from scientific research In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. Despite the feeling of some people that more research needs to be done, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals. Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. However, some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research.
  • Effects on general health Some members of the public have attributed a diffuse collection of symptoms to low levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields at home. Reported symptoms include headaches, anxiety, suicide and depression, nausea, fatigue and loss of libido. To date, scientific evidence does not support a link between these symptoms and exposure to electromagnetic fields. At least some of these health problems may be caused by noise or other factors in the environment, or by anxiety related to the presence of new technologies.
  • Electromagnetic fields and cancer Despite many studies, the evidence for any effect remains highly controversial. However, it is clear that if electromagnetic fields do have an effect on cancer, then any increase in risk will be extremely small. The results to date contain many inconsistencies, but no large increases in risk have been found for any cancer in children or adults. A number of epidemiological studies suggest small increases in risk of childhood leukemia with exposure to low frequency magnetic fields in the home. However, scientists have not generally concluded that these results indicate a cause-effect relation between exposure to the fields and disease (as opposed to artifacts in the study or effects unrelated to field exposure). In part, this conclusion has been reached because animal and laboratory studies fail to demonstrate any reproducible effects that are consistent with the hypothesis that fields cause or promote cancer. Large-scale studies are currently underway in several countries and may help resolve these issues.

    While an increased risk of brain tumors is not established from INTERPHONE data, the increasing use of mobile phones and the lack of data for mobile phone use over time periods longer than 15 years warrant further research of mobile phone use and brain cancer risk. In particular, with the recent popularity of mobile phone use among younger people, and therefore a potentially longer lifetime of exposure, WHO has promoted further research on this group. Several studies investigating potential health effects in children and adolescents are underway.

Quotes from Health Canada

  • Exposures in Canadian Homes, Schools and Offices Present No Known Health Risks Research has shown that EMFs from electrical devices and power lines can cause weak electric currents to flow through the human body. However, these currents are much smaller than those produced naturally by your brain, nerves and heart, and are not associated with any known health risks. There have been many studies about the effects of exposure to electric and magnetic fields at extremely low frequencies. Scientists at Health Canada are aware that some studies have suggested a possible link between exposure to ELF fields and certain types of childhood cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has evaluated the scientific data and has classified ELF magnetic fields as being “possibly carcinogenic” to humans. IARC based this classification on the following:
    • human health population studies showing weak evidence of an association with childhood leukemia; and
    • a large database of laboratory study results showing inadequate evidence of an association with cancer in animals.

    To put this into context, it is important to understand that the “possibly carcinogenic” classification is also applied to coffee, gasoline engine exhaust and pickled vegetables, and is often used for agents that require further study. In summary, when all of the studies are evaluated together, the evidence suggesting that EMFs may contribute to an increased risk of cancer is very weak.

Quotes from the Health Physics Society

  • Potential health concerns about power lines were first raised in a 1979 study which associated increased risk of childhood leukemia with residential proximity to power lines. Since that initial study, numerous other investigations have attempted but failed to clarify whether observed associations between electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and various health effects were causal or coincidental. Some scientists have argued the physical impossibility of any health effect due to weak ambient levels of EMFs, while others maintain that the potential health risks should not be dismissed even though the evidence remains equivocal and contradictory. There are no known health risks that have been conclusively demonstrated in relation to living near high-voltage power lines. But science is unable to conclusively prove that anything, including low-level EMFs, is completely risk free. Most scientists believe that exposure to the low-level EMFs near power lines is safe, but some scientists continue research to look for possible health risks associated with these fields. If there are any risks such as cancer associated with living near power lines, then it is clear that those risks are small.


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