Electromagnetic Fields 2015 Update
1. Introduction to electromagnetic fields
- 1.1 What are electromagnetic fields?
- 1.2 How have the health risks of electromagnetic fields been reassessed?
- 1.3 What was the aim and outcome of the public consultation organised on the 2014 preliminary draft of Opinion on EMF?
1.1 What are electromagnetic fields?
In this summary, the term
is used as a generic term comprising static
low frequency alternating electric and
magnetic fields and
radio frequency (RF)
While up to the RF range electric and magnetic fields can be
considered independently from each other, in the RF range, like
the links of a chain they are tightly coupled together. They may
be of natural origin such as the earth’s magnetostatic field or
friction-generated electric fields (which may be experienced as
micro shocks when touching objects), or broad-band
electromagnetic fields caused by lightning strokes or solar
activity. The technical use of electricity mainly causes
sinusoidally alternating fields which may be generated in the
low frequency range (e.g. household appliances, power lines),
intermediate frequency range (e.g. energy saving lamps,
electronic article surveillance systems) as well as in the radio
frequency range (e.g. broadcasting antennas, mobile
telecommunication, microwave ovens).
Static magnetic fields of
technical origin are generated by
permanent magnets such
as used in magnetic clasps
or closures (e.g. in necklets, underwear, handbags or holders)
or by direct currents such as in battery appliances while
extremely high magnetostatic fields are applied at some
workplaces and in medical imaging.
1.2 How have the health risks of electromagnetic fields been reassessed?
As part of its mandate, the SCENIHR is asked to continuously
monitor new scientific evidence that may influence the
assessment of risks to human health in the area of
fields (EMF) and to provide regular updates to the
Commission. The purpose of this Opinion was to update the
SCENIHR Opinion of 2009 in light of newly available information
and to give special consideration to areas where important
knowledge gaps were identified in the previous Opinions. In
addition, biophysical interaction mechanisms and the potential
role of co-exposures to
stressors have been addressed.
The review of relevant scientific publications was undertaken.
Studies used in SCENIHR opinions are obtained primarily from
original research papers published in international
peer-reviewed scientific journals and weighted according to
criteria established by the SCENIHR Memorandum 'Use of the
scientific literature for risk
assessment purposes – a weight of evidence approach.
The Committee has reviewed more than 700 studies published
mainly after 2009 (when the previous Opinion was published) up
to June 2014. Areas where the literature is particularly scarce
are pointed out, and an explanation is given when studies are
not included because their results do not add useful information
to the database. This assessment evaluates both potential
effects on groups of people who have been exposed to
fields in their daily lives
evidence) and potential effects observed in laboratory
experiments carried out on human volunteers, animals, and
Based on this combined evidence, the assessment estimates
whether a causal link exists between exposure to
fields and reported adverse health effects. The answer to
this question is not necessarily a definitive yes or no, but
reflects the weight of the evidence for or against a causal link
between EMF exposure and effect. If such a link is found, the
estimates how strong the health effect is and how great the
health risk would be for different exposure levels and exposure
patterns (dose-response relationship). The nature and the extent
of uncertainties are highlighted and the way in which
electromagnetic fields might cause effects (plausible mechanism)
1.3 What was the aim and outcome of the public consultation organised on the 2014 preliminary draft of Opinion on EMF?
In the process of preparing their Opinions, the Scientific
Committee conducts open public consultations by presenting the
preliminary Opinion and gathering specific comments and
contributions. In the case of the Opinion on EMF, a public
consultation was open on the website of the Scientific
Committees from 4 February to 16 April 2014. In addition, a
public hearing was held in Athens, on 27 March 2014. Fifty-seven
organisations and individuals participated in the public
consultation providing 186 comments to different chapters and
sections of the Opinion. Each submission was carefully
considered by the SCENIHR and the scientific Opinion has been
revised to take account of relevant comments.