Are Electric and Magnetic Fields a Cause for Concern?

By Kloepfer, Robert J. | Journal of Environmental Health, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Are Electric and Magnetic Fields a Cause for Concern?


Kloepfer, Robert J., Journal of Environmental Health


Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) have received increased media and public focus over the last several years because of the possible link between exposure to these fields and adverse health effects. While direct relationships between EMF exposure and human diseases have not been established, a growing body of scientific literature coupled with the public perception of danger has serious implications for electric utilities as well as for many industrial, commercial and even residential uses of electricity.

What are EMFs?

Electric and magnetic fields are invisible lines of force which are present with all types of electrical equipment and appliances. Electric transmission and distribution lines, electric motors, televisions, video display terminals, electric blankets, even portable electric hair dryers and razors are all examples of electrical equipment and appliances which produce EMFs.

Electric fields are always present whenever electrical equipment is energized. In the case of an appliance, electric fields are present when it is plugged in, regardless of whether or not it is in use. A magnetic field is not present until the equipment is turned on and electric current is flowing.

Electric fields can be shielded by virtually any structure (e.g., walls, trees, fences, etc.), while magnetic fields readily penetrate most objects. Both electric and magnetic fields typically drop off in intensity as distance from their source is increased.

What's the concern?

Electric and magnetic fields have been studied in depth since the 1960s. The large majority of these past studies, conducted by government, private and academic researchers, found no health effects associated with these fields. In recent years, however, a growing body of epidemiological studies seems to indicate a relationship between prolonged exposure to magnetic fields and human diseases, particularly some types of cancer. While no direct cause and effect relationship has been established, a recent U.S. EPA report concluded that without current understanding, we can identify (60 Hz) magnetic fields from power lines and perhaps other sources in the home as a possible, but not proven, cause of cancer in humans. The study called for further research on EMF and cancer development, as well as further examination of probable exposure characteristics. …

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