Electromagnetic Radiation Dangers: EMF Risks to Human Health
Electromagnetic radiation dangers are the subject of a great deal of controversy. Also referred to as electromagnetic field radiation (EMF), this type of radiation is non-ionizing, and not the same as the ionizing radioactivity from radioactive isotopes and X-rays that can break chemical bonds and destroy tissue. It is a safer form of radiation that emanates from power lines, substations, transformers, home wiring and even cell phones.
However, ‘safer’ does not mean ‘safe’, and while experts agree that there is a hazard, the potential for this hazard to cause harm, or the risk to human health, is subject to discussion. So what is actually agreed and not agree, and are electromagnetic radiation dangers something to worry about or not?
Symptoms of EMF Exposure
Among the symptoms reported after exposure to EMF radiation are nausea, vomiting, confusion, headache and a general feeling of unwellness. Some report mild tinnitus while others report tiredness. However, among the more serious conditions reported and studied are damage to the retina and nervous system , muscle spasms, brain tumors, leukemia  and miscarriage .
According to Dr. D. Carpenter of the School of Public Health, State University of New York, probably up to 30% of all childhood cancers arise from exposure to electromagnetic fields. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it would be prudent to avoid electromagnetic fields. It is believed that this could be partially due to the EMF weakening the barrier between the brain and the blood, thus enabling toxins to enter the brain.
The World Health Organization published a factsheet in 2001 stating EMFs to possibly be carcinogenic in terms of childhood leukemia, but that there was not enough evidence to come to a conclusion on other forms of cancer . In the UK, the Department of Health was more cautious, although the link with childhood leukemia was sufficient for them to make a recommendation that new power lines be laid underground.
- Of 35 international research studies on the link between electromagnetic radiation dangers and cancers, 33 found a definite link, including one Swedish study .
- There is a 3-4 times chance of workers exposed to electromagnetic radiation contracting degenerative brain disease, including Alzheimer’s, than the average population.
- One report indicates a link between cell phone radiation and brain cell changes .
Sources of EMF: Electromagnetic Field Radiation
There is sufficient controversy and evidence to suggest that it might be wise to avoid electromagnetic radiation dangers, so where would you expect to find EMFs? Here are the more common sources of this type of radiation:
Overhead Power Lines
Power lines are those high cables that you see all over the countryside, carrying electricity through uninsulated cables slung between massive pylons. All power lines generate electromagnetic fields, even your domestic electric cables, although their strength increases with the charge in the line and decreasing distance from you. So the closer you are to the power line the greater its effect on you. Also important is the configuration of the power line.
Many people living close to power lines have reported adverse health effects, and a large number of studies have been carried out on these. Naturally, there are many political implications and not surprisingly, conflicting results have been reported.
Electrical Substations and Transformers
Substations involve transformers with high and low voltages, each emitting an electromagnetic field. Such installations have been targeted as being responsible for causing cancers among the immediate population. The New Yorker Magazine reported on this on July 9th, 1990 (Paul Brodeur), so it is not a recent issue.
Transformers are a particular issue since they are more commonly found amongst population centers than substations. They are used to step high a voltage of, say, 13,800 volts, down to lower domestic voltages (e.g. 120V or 240V) according to your country. While the electromagnetic fields can be high adjacent to the transformer, the field strength drops with distance. The EMF risks associated with transformers should strictly be relevant only inside the installation, but you should seek reassurance regarding any transformers or substations close to your home.
Domestic Wiring and Appliances
Domestic wiring is generally safe, because otherwise the rates of cancers would be significantly greater than they are now. Most domestic appliances emit low levels of electromagnetic radiation, most coming from electric razors and hair dryers. Some recommend that hair dryers are not use on young children for this reason.
Microwave ovens emit microwaves and ELF (extremely low frequency) waves, so are not relevant to this discussion. Regarding television sets, it would be wise to sit no closer than 6 ft from the screen, and do not sleep with an electric blanket switched on. There has not been a great deal of published research carried out on domestic appliances, although it is feasible that electromagnetic radiation dangers from these could account for general unexplained health issues.
In general then, there is still controversy regarding electromagnetic radiation dangers. While some EMF risks to human health appear to be accepted by the authorities, it is likely that the political implications are responsible for much reluctance to come clean and admit the full extent of the risk they present.
1. Feychting M, Jonsson F, Pedersen NL, Ahlbom A (July 2003). “Occupational magnetic field exposure and neurodegenerative disease“. Epidemiology 14 (4): 413–9;
2. Tynes T, Klaeboe L, Haldorsen T (May 2003). “Residential and occupational exposure to 50 Hz magnetic fields and malignant melanoma: a population based study” Occup Environ Med. 2003 May; 60(5): 343–347.
3. Li DK, Odouli R, Wi S, et al. (January 2002). “A population-based prospective cohort study of personal exposure to magnetic fields during pregnancy and the risk of miscarriage“. Epidemiology 13 (1): 9–20.
4. “Electromagnetic fields and public health: extremely low frequency fields and cancer“. Fact sheet No. 263. World Health Organization. October 2001. Retrieved 29th May, 2012
5. Nate Anderson reporting in Ars Technica, Mar 31 2006
6. Natural News.com Saturday, December 29, 2007 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Misc: loderus B, Stenlund C, Persson T. Occupational magnetic field exposure and site-specific cancer incidence: a Swedish cohort study. Cancer Causes Control. 1999 Oct;10(5):323–332