Electric and Magnetic Fields: Extensive Research Determines no Health Risks

Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) from electrical devices and power lines can cause weak electric currents to flow through the human body.  But did you know that according to Health Canada, these currents are much smaller than those produced naturally by your own brain, nerves, and heart?

There has been great public interest in the risks associated with EMF.  That’s why the Canadian Electricity Association (CEA) recently launched a new webpage that provides a thorough description of the EMF issue.  This new site includes an overview of the extensive research that has been done to investigate a link between EMF exposure and health effects.

The verdict?  There have been no proven health consequences from exposure to low-level EMF.

Let’s take a step back — what are EMF?

Power Frequency EMF are present everywhere that electricity flows.  This includes outside power lines, the electrical wiring in your home, appliances such as the dishwasher and microwave oven in your kitchen, and other electrical devices, such as a hairdryer.

EMF fall on the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum, emitting extremely low frequencies. (Image courtesy of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Website, accessed July 2013).

EMF fall on the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum, emitting extremely low frequencies that fall well below frequencies emitted by microwaves, cell phones, and radio transmitters.  And unlike X-rays and gamma rays, which fall at the high end of the spectrum, EMFs have little energy and no ionizing or thermal effects on the body.

Scientists worldwide have been investigating possible human health effects of EMF since the 1970s.  While some epidemiological studies (which cannot prove cause-and-effect) have suggested a possible link between exposure to magnetic fields and some diseases like childhood leukemia, laboratory studies have not confirmed that magnetic fields are a cause of any disease.

So where does that leave us on the issue of EMF exposure and health effects?

A number of international research organizations have weighed in on the issue with scientific evidence:

    • Health Canada has found that the scientific evidence is not strong enough to conclude that EMF exposure can cause health problems, and has stated that you do not need to take action regarding daily exposures to electric and magnetic fields at extremely low frequencies.
    • Based on a 10-year review of the scientific research, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals and that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.
    • Following a seven-year EMF research programme, the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that because of the weak epidemiological associations and a lack of any laboratory support for an association between EMF and health effects, the health hazard posed by EMF is currently small.

Thus, the extensive EMF research that’s been done and reviewed by international health agencies and organizations has not proven a link between health risks and EMF.

However, research is always ongoing, and CEA and its member companies are committed to supporting this ongoing EMF research to resolve questions, in addition to providing educational materials and facilitating magnetic field measurement for the public and employees.  CEA’s new EMF webpage is part of this commitment.

So head over to Electric and Magnetic Fields and learn more about EMF, or contact your local electricity provider for more information.

Jovan Cheema is the Transmission and Distribution Task Groups Coordinator at the Canadian Electricity Association.