Official views about 50/60Hz magnetic fields


California studies

Two California Department of Health Services electromagnetic field (EMF) research reports, written by 13 scientists - released in an uncensored version in July 2001 - were originally ordered in 1993 and cost $7 million. One is a compilation of all available scientific evidence, while the other examines public policy implications of the data. 

The reports state that there might be a problem from EMFs from power lines, wiring in buildings, certain jobs, and appliances. The studies did not include radio frequency EMFs from cell phones and radio towers. 

risks identified 

They note a risk of miscarriage, childhood leukemia, brain cancer and greater incidence of suicide as some of the health risks associated with exposure to electric and magnetic fields.

It is "more than 50 percent possible" the scientists reported, that EMFs at home or at work could cause a "very small increased lifetime risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease." "It is more than 50 percent possible that EMFs at home or at work could cause a 5 to 10 percent added risk of miscarriage." "It is 10-50 percent possible that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for a small increased lifetime risk of male breast cancer, childhood brain cancer, suicide, Alzheimer's disease, or sudden cardiac death," the scientists wrote. 

"It is very unlikely - 2% to 10% possible - but not impossible, that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for even a small fraction of birth defects, low birth weight, neonatal deaths, or cancer generally." 

All of the 3 reviewers give a degree of certainty of at least 10 - 50% percent possible that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for a 1500% increased lifetime risk of adult leukemia or female breast cancer, and one gave a degree of certainty that was higher. 

Two epidemiological studies that were analyzed by the California researchers in humans suggest that a substantial proportion of miscarriages might be caused by EMFs. Since miscarriages occur in about 10 to 15% in California, the theoretical added risk for an EMF exposed pregnant woman may be an additional 5 to 10% according to these two studies may become of concern to individuals and regulators. 

even short exposures a problem during pregnancy

The type of EMF exposures implicated by these 2 epidemiological studies: short, very high exposures probably come from being within a few inches of appliances and indoor wiring. Seventy-five percent of the women in the studies had at least one of these brief but high exposures during a day. Even one such exposure a day, if experienced during pregnancy, seemed to increase the risk of miscarriage. Nonetheless, the majority of pregnant women with such exposures did not miscarry. 

The public policy report notes that different grounding procedures - to correct high exposures within homes might cost US$200 per home and save lives. 

The reports are available on the California Department of Health Services website at:

World Health Organization conclusion

An expert scientific panel convened by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has concluded that residential power frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are possible human carcinogens. In doing so, the panel has agreed with previous evaluations by committees assembled by the U.S. and the U.K. governments. 

In 1998, a working group of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) also classified EMFs as possible carcinogens, a decision reaffirmed the following year in NIEHS' report to the U.S. Congress. In 2001, an advisory group to U.K. government, chaired by Sir Richard Doll, also pointed to a possible leukemia risk among children. Over 10 years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a similar conclusion -- that report was never officially completed and published, however, due to intense political pressure from electrical utilities and the military. 

The June 2001 press release states, "IARC has now concluded that ELF magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on consistent statistical associations of high level residential magnetic fields with a doubling of risk of childhood leukaemia. Children who are exposed to residential ELF magnetic fields less than 0.4 microTesla (4 milliGauss) have no increased risk for leukaemia." The conclusion is based on the "pooled analyses of data from a number of well-conducted studies". 

risk applies in many Canadian homes

In the Canadian perspective, this finding is pertinent as a 1995 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation electromagnetic survey of Canadian homes found that bedroom corners have the highest fields in Canadian homes: 6mG in the master bedroom, and 7.5mG in childrens' bedrooms. The survey finding suggests that many Canadian children are at serious official risk due to home wiring conditions - most of which can be easily corrected at low cost.