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Electromagnetic Fields 2015 Update

10. Conclusions on health effects of electromagnetic fields

  • 10.1 Conclusions on Radio Frequency (RF) fields
  • 10.2 Conclusions on Intermediate Frequency (IF) fields
  • 10.3 Conclusions on Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields
  • 10.4 Conclusions on static magnetic fields
  • 10.5 Conclusions on combined exposure of EMFs and co-exposure to environmental stressor
  • 10.6 Research recommendations

10.1 Conclusions on Radio Frequency (RF) fields

Radio frequency fields (100 kHz - 300 GHz) are generated from a large variety of sources such as by broadcasting, mobile telephony and wireless networks.

Overall, the epidemiological studies on RF EMF exposure do not show an increased risk of brain tumours. Furthermore, they do not indicate an increased risk for other cancers of the head and neck region. Some studies raised questions regarding an increased risk of glioma and acoustic neuroma in heavy users of mobile phones. The results of cohort and incidence time trend studies do not support an increased risk for glioma. The possibility of an association with acoustic neuroma remains open. Epidemiological studies do not indicate increased risk for other cancers including childhood cancer.

A large number of in vitro studies have been published since the last Opinion. In most of the studies, no effects, genotoxic as well as non-genotoxic, were recorded at levels of exposure below exposure limits. Previous studies suggesting that RF exposure may affect brain activities as reflected by changes in the EEG during wake and sleep are confirmed by results of more recent studies. However, given the variety of applied fields, duration of exposure, number of considered leads, and statistical methods it is difficult to derive firm conclusions. Studies on cognitive functions in humans lack consistency. The biological relevance of reported small physiological EEG changes remains unclear and a mechanistic explanation is still lacking.

A reasonable body of experimental evidence now suggests that exposure to RF does not trigger the self-reported symptoms that are known as “Electromagnetic hypersensitivity”, at least in the short-term. While additional observational studies are required to assess whether longer-term exposure could be associated with symptoms, the evidence to date weighs against a causal effect.

Human studies on neurological diseases and symptoms show no or no consistent effects.

10.2 Conclusions on Intermediate Frequency (IF) fields

Intermediate frequency (IF) fields (300 Hz – 100 kHz) are generated by sources like computers, induction hotplates, compact fluorescent lamps and anti-theft devices. Exposure to IF fields at the work place is in some cases considerably higher than exposure to the general public. However, very little research on IF fields and health risks in occupational settings or for the general public has been published and the data are still too limited for an appropriate risk assessment.

In view of the increasing exposure to IF fields at the work place, for instance in shops and certain industries, it is important that research in this area is given priority.

10.3 Conclusions on Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields

Extremely low frequency fields (ELF) (below 300 kHz) are generated by sources like power lines, and electric appliances. Studies investigating possible effects of ELF magnetic fields (ELF MF) exposure on the brain activity of volunteers are too heterogeneous with regard to applied fields, duration of exposure, number of considered leads, and statistical methods to draw any sound conclusion. The same applies for the results concerning behavioural outcomes and cortical excitability.

The new epidemiological studies are consistent with earlier findings of an increased risk of childhood leukaemia with estimated daily average exposures above 0.3 to 0.4 µT. As stated in the previous Opinions, no mechanisms have been identified in the meanwhile and no support exists from experimental studies that could explain these findings, which, together with shortcomings of the epidemiological studies prevent a causal interpretation.

Only a few new epidemiological studies on neurodegenerative diseases have been published since the previous Opinion was adopted. They do not provide support for the previous conclusion that ELF magnetic field exposure could increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease or any other neurodegenerative diseases or dementia.

10.4 Conclusions on static magnetic fields

Static magnetic fields are generated by sources such as permanent magnets and those using direct electric currents.

Taken together, the new findings reported do not challenge previous risk assessment of static MF exposure which was made in the previous Opinion. Globally, there is no consistent evidence for lasting adverse health effects from short term exposure up to several Teslas.

10.5 Conclusions on combined exposure of EMFs and co-exposure to environmental stressor

The few available studies on combined exposure to different EMFs do not provide sufficient evidence for risk assessment.

The Opinion of 2009 concluded that there was some evidence from in vivo studies to suggest that co-exposure with ELF fields may act as a co-carcinogen, while there was no evidence that RF fields could act in a similar way. The results reported since then indicate that co-exposure to ELF or RF with several chemical or physical agents can indeed result in either an increase or a decrease in their effect, but due to the small number of available investigations and the large variety of protocols adopted, it is not possible to assess these risks at present.

10.6 Research recommendations

A set of prioritised research recommendations and methodological guidance on the experimental design and minimum requirements to ensure data quality and usability for risk assessment are provided in chapters 3.14 and 3.15 of the Opinion.


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