Are electromagnetic fields harmful to health?

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Recent scientific findings reviewed by EU scientific committee
Brussels, 3 June 2008. From mobile phones and computer screens to vacuum cleaners and power lines, electromagnetic fields are an inescapable part of daily life. But there is concern that everyday exposure to some of these fields of force might be harmful to health, especially to children.

There is some indication of a link between long-term mobile phone use and a benign tumour of the auditory nerve, but more study is needed.

However, no link has been found between the use of such phones and self-reported symptoms like headaches, fatigue, or concentration difficulties. These are some of the conclusions of a recent opinion by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR).

At the request of the European Commission DG Health and Consumers, GreenFacts faithfully summarised this new scientific opinion on “œPossible effects of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) on Human Health”. The plain-language summary is now available from the EU Directorate General of Health and Consumers (http://ec.europa.eu/health/opinions2/en/electromagnetic-fields/) in four languages: English, French, Spanish and German. It is also available from GreenFacts (www.greenfacts.org), a leading publisher of scientific information that was commissioned by the Directorate General to produce this and other summaries of scientific opinions.
Highlights of the SCENIHR Opinion

For many of the possible health effects of electromagnetic fields, the data available are still very limited, especially for long-term low-level exposure.
The opinion looks at electromagnetic fields in different frequency ranges: radio frequencies such as those used in mobile telephony, intermediate frequencies like those from computer screens and anti-theft devices, and extremely low frequencies like those from power lines and household appliances. Moreover it addresses static magnetic fields like those used in medical imaging.
– New scientific evidence does not call for a revision of the exposure limits to radio frequency fields such as those used in mobile telephony.

– Possible health effects from long-term exposure to intermediate frequency should be properly assessed because exposure to such fields is increasing due to new technologies.

– The past conclusion that extremely low frequency magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic is still valid. Indeed epidemiological studies indicated that children exposed to relatively strong magnetic fields from power lines were more likely to develop leukaemia, but this has not been confirmed or explained by experiments on animals and cell cultures.

-New applications of strong static magnetic fields – such as MRI scanners used in medical imaging – will require risk assessments for people who use the new technology at work.

How electromagnetic fields may affect animals and plants is insufficiently known to determine whether a single exposure standard would be appropriate for all plants and animals and whether such a standard should differ from those established for humans. Some animal species, such as migratory birds that rely on magnetic fields for orientation, might be particularly sensitive to electromagnetic fields.

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