EMF & ELF : Get The Facts
Do Low Levels of EMF/ ELF Present a Health Hazard to Humans?
Numerous videos and articles on the Internet and Facebook have proclaimed the possible dangers of low-level EMF and ELF emitted by common household electrical products.
In my research, I have found that many of these videos and articles are misleading, inaccurate and lack valid empirical (medical or scientific) documentation.
To help bring some clarity to this topic, empirical evidence from two credible and impartial reference sources, The Food and Drug Administration and The World Health Organization, are herein provided.
** UPDATE FEBRUARY 2020 **
According to the World Health Organization, in the links posted below, low levels of ELF and EMF, have not been proven to be harmful to human health.
One of the main scare tactics that seem to be prevalent on the internet these days is that low-intensity levels of EMF, with a milliGauss reading of 100 milliGauss or less, is dangerous to human health.
But what does that mean? From my research, I've found that most people have no idea about what Gauss meter readings actually mean in relation to the strength of the EMF signal.
Here are a few facts to help put in perspective Gauss meter readings of EMF:
Every day, every human on the planet Earth is exposed to the magnetic field emitted by Earth’s interior. This magnetic field is very similar to the forces of EMF found in common electrical appliances but significantly more powerful.
Earth's magnetic field, also known as the geomagnetic field, is the magnetic field that extends from the Earth's interior out into space, where it meets the solar wind, a stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun.
Earth's magnetic field – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth%27s_magnetic_field
The magnitude of this magnetic field at the Earth's surface measures from 25 to 65 microteslas (0.25 to 0.65 gauss). Therefore the entire Earth’s surface measures from 250 to 650 milliGauss! By simply being alive, you are automatically exposed to at least that amount every moment of every day, just like every human on Earth who has ever lived!
If a magnetic field of this intensity were to be truly harmful to the human body, then everyone on the planet would already be experiencing health problems, due to the Earth’s magnetic field.
One (1) Gauss is equal to 1000 milliGauss.
A common refrigerator magnet can measure a magnetic field reading of 100 Gauss. That means that a refrigerator magnet has a magnetic field force of 100,000 milliGauss!
Is walking around with a refrigerator magnet in your pocket harmful to your health? I doubt it.
To put this example in perspective, a Gauss meter reading of 75 milliGauss is more than 1300 times WEAKER/Less Powerful than a refrigerator magnet.
75 milliGauss is a very weak magnetic force and certainly not strong enough to alter the mitochondrial configuration of the cell structure which makes up the human body.
Posted below is an article detailing the research on EMF done by the World Health Organization answering the question:
What Are Electromagnetic Fields?
Typical Exposure Levels At Home And In The Environment
Electromagnetic fields at home
Background electromagnetic field levels from electricity transmission and distribution facilities
Electricity is transmitted over long distances via high voltage power lines. Transformers reduce these high voltages for local distribution to homes and businesses. Electricity transmission and distribution facilities and residential wiring and appliances account for the background level of power frequency electric and magnetic fields in the home. In homes not located near power lines this background field may be up to about 0.2 µT. Directly beneath power lines the fields are much stronger. Magnetic flux densities at ground level can range up to several µT. Electric field levels underneath power lines can be as high as 10 kV/m. However, the fields (both electric and magnetic) drop off with distance from the lines. At 50 m to 100 m distance the fields are normally at levels that are found in areas away from high voltage power lines. In addition, house walls substantially reduce the electric field levels from those found at similar locations outside the house.
Electric appliances in the household
The strongest power frequency electric fields that are ordinarily encountered in the environment exist beneath high voltage transmission lines. In contrast, the strongest magnetic fields at power frequency are normally found very close to motors and other electrical appliances, as well as in specialized equipment such as magnetic resonance scanners used for medical imaging.
Typical electric field strengths measured near household appliances
(at a distance of 30 cm)
(From: Federal Office for Radiation Safety, Germany 1999)
|Electric field strength (V/m)
|Guideline limit value
Many people are surprised when they become aware of the variety of magnetic field levels found near various appliances. The field strength does not depend on how large, complex, powerful or noisy the device is. Furthermore, even between apparently similar devices, the strength of the magnetic field may vary a lot. For example, while some hair dryers are surrounded by a very strong field, others hardly produce any magnetic field at all. These differences in magnetic field strength are related to product design. The following table shows typical values for a number of electrical devices commonly found in homes and workplaces. The measurements were taken in Germany and all of the appliances operate on electricity at a frequency of 50 Hz. It should be noted that the actual exposure levels vary considerably depending on the model of appliance and distance from it.
Typical magnetic field strength of household appliances at various distances
3 cm distance (µT)
30 cm distance (µT)
1 m distance (µT)
6 – 2000
0.01 – 7
0.01 – 0.03
15 – 1500
0.08 – 9
0.01 – 0.03
200 – 800
2 – 20
0.13 – 2
40 – 400
0.5 – 2
0.02 – 0.25
73 – 200
4 – 8
0.25 – 0.6
16 – 56
1 – 50
0.15 – 0.5
0.01 – 0.04
0.8 – 50
0.15 – 3
0.01 – 0.15
8 – 30
0.12 – 0.3
0.01 – 0.03
3.5 – 20
0.6 – 3
0.07 – 0.3
0.5 – 30
0.5 – 1.7
0.01 – 0.25
2.5 - 50
0.04 – 2
0.01 – 0.15
With most household appliances the magnetic field strength at a distance of 30 cm is well below the guideline limit for the general public of 100 µT.
(Source: Federal Office for Radiation Safety, Germany 1999) Normal operating distance is given in bold
The table illustrates two main points: First, the magnetic field strength around all appliances rapidly decreases the further you get away from them. Secondly, most household appliances are not operated very close to the body. At a distance of 30 cm the magnetic fields surrounding most household appliances are more than 100 times lower than the given guideline limit of 100 µT at 50 Hz (83 µT at 60 Hz) for the general public.
Television sets and computer screens
Computer screens and television sets work on similar principles. Both produce static electric fields and alternating electric and magnetic fields at various frequencies. However, screens with liquid crystal displays used in some laptop computers and desktop units do not give rise to significant electric and magnetic fields. Modern computers have conductive screens which reduce the static field from the screen to a level similar to that of the normal background in the home or workplace. At the position of operators (30 to 50 cm from the screen), alternating magnetic fields are typically below 0.7 µT in flux density (at power frequencies). Alternating electric field strengths at operator positions range from below 1 V/m up to 10 V/m.
Domestic microwave ovens operate at very high power levels. However, effective shielding reduces leakage outside the ovens to almost non-detectable levels. Furthermore microwave leakage falls very rapidly with increasing distance from the oven. Many countries have manufacturing standards that specify maximum leakage levels for new ovens; an oven that meets the manufacturing standards will not present any hazard to the consumer.
Portable telephones operate at much lower intensities than mobile phones. This is because they are employed very close to their home base station, and so do not need strong fields to transmit over long distances. As a consequence, the radiofrequency fields that surround these devices are negligible.
Electromagnetic fields in the environment
Radars are used for navigation, weather forecasting, and military applications, as well as a variety of other functions. They emit pulsed microwave signals. The peak power in the pulse can be high even though the average power may be low. Many radars rotate or move up and down; this reduces the mean power density to which the public is exposed in the vicinity of radars. Even high power, non-rotating military radars limit exposures to below guideline levels at locations of public access.
Anti-theft systems in shops use tags that are detected by electrical coils at the exits. When a purchase is made the tags are removed or permanently deactivated. The electromagnetic fields from the coils do not generally exceed exposure guideline levels. Access control systems work in the same way with the tag incorporated into a key ring or identity card. Library security systems use tags that can be deactivated when a book is borrowed and reactivated when it is returned. Metal detectors and airport security systems set up a strong magnetic field of up to 100 µT that is disturbed by the presence of a metal object. Close to the frame of the detector, magnetic field strengths may approach and occasionally exceed guideline levels. However, this does not constitute a health hazard, as will be discussed in the section on guidelines. (see Are exposures above the guidelines harmful?)
Electric trains and trams
Long-distance trains have one or more engine cars that are separate from the passenger cars. Thus passenger exposure comes mainly from the electricity supply to the train. Magnetic fields in the passenger cars of long-distance trains can be several hundred µT near the floor, with lower values (tens of µT) elsewhere in the compartment. Electric field strengths may reach 300 V/m. People living in the vicinity of railway lines may encounter magnetic fields from the overhead supply which, depending on the country, may be comparable to the fields produced by high-voltage power lines.
Motors and traction equipment of trains and trams are normally located underneath the floors of passenger cars. At floor level, magnetic field intensities may amount to tens of µT in regions of the floor just above the motor. The fields fall off quickly with distance from the floor, and exposure of the upper bodies of passengers is much lower.
TV and radio
When choosing a radio station on your stereo at home, have you ever wondered what the familiar abbreviations AM and FM stand for? Radio signals are described as amplitude-modulated (AM) or frequency-modulated (FM) depending on the way in which they carry information. AM radio signals can be used for broadcasting over very long distances whereas FM waves cover more localized areas but can give a better sound quality.
AM radio signals are transmitted via large arrays of antennas, which can be tens of metres high, on sites which are off-limits to the public. Exposures very close to antennas and feed cables can be high, but these would affect maintenance workers rather than the general public.
TV and FM radio antennas are much smaller than AM radio antennas and are mounted in arrays at the top of high towers. The towers themselves serve only as supporting structures. As exposures near the foot of these towers are below guideline limits, public access to these areas may be possible. Small local TV and radio antennas are sometimes mounted on the top of buildings; if this is the case it may be necessary to control access to the roof.
Mobile phones and their base stations
Mobile phones allow people to be within reach at all times. These low-power radiowave devices transmit and receive signals from a network of fixed low power base stations. Each base station provides coverage to a given area. Depending on the number of calls being handled, base stations may be from only a few hundred metres apart in major cities to several kilometres apart in rural areas.
Mobile phone base stations are usually mounted on the tops of buildings or on towers at heights of between 15 and 50 metres. The levels of transmissions from any particular base station are variable and depend on the number of calls and the callers' distance from the base station. Antennas emit a very narrow beam of radiowaves which spreads out almost parallel to the ground. Therefore, radiofrequency fields at ground level and in regions normally accessible to the public are many times below hazard levels. Guidelines would only be exceeded if a person were to approach to within a metre or two directly in front of the antennas. Until mobile phones became widely used, members of the public were mainly exposed to radiofrequency emissions from radio and TV stations. Even today, the phone towers themselves add little to our total exposure, as signal strengths in places of public access are normally similar to or lower than those from distant radio and TV stations.
However, the user of a mobile phone is exposed to radiofrequency fields much higher than those found in the general environment. Mobile phones are operated very close to the head. Therefore, rather than looking at the heating effect across the whole body, the distribution of absorbed energy in the head of the user must be determined. From sophisticated computer modeling and measurements using models of heads, it appears that the energy absorbed from a mobile phone is not in excess of current guidelines.
Concerns about other so-called non-thermal effects arising from exposure to mobile phone frequencies have also been raised. These include suggestions of subtle effects on cells that could have an effect on cancer development. Effects on electrically excitable tissues that may influence the function of the brain and nervous tissue have also been hypothesized. However, the overall evidence available to date does not suggest that the use of mobile phones has any detrimental effect on human health.
Magnetic fields in everyday life: are they really that high?
In recent years, national authorities in different countries have conducted many measurements to investigate electromagnetic field levels in the living environment. None of these surveys has concluded that field levels could bring about adverse health effects.
The Federal Office for Radiation Safety in Germany recently measured the daily exposure to magnetic fields of about 2000 individuals across a range of occupations and public exposures. All of them were equipped with personal dosimeters for 24 hours. The measured exposure varied widely but gave an average daily exposure of 0.10 µT. This value is a thousand times lower that the standard limit of 100 µT for the public and five thousand times lower than the 500 µT exposure limit for workers. Furthermore, the exposure of people living in the centres of cities showed that there are no drastic differences in exposure between life in rural areas and life in the city. Even the exposure of people living in the vicinity of high voltage power lines differs very little from the average exposure in the population.
- Background electromagnetic field levels in the home are mainly caused by the transmission and distribution facilities for electricity or by electrical appliances.
- Electrical appliances differ greatly in the strength of fields they generate. Both electric and magnetic field levels decrease rapidly with distance from the appliances. In any event, fields surrounding household appliances usually are far below guideline limits.
- At operator positions the electric and magnetic fields of television sets and computer screens are hundreds of thousands times below guideline levels.
- Microwave ovens meeting the standards are not hazardous to health.
- As long as close public access to radar facilities, broadcasting antennas and mobile phone base stations is restricted, exposure guideline limits for radiofrequency fields will not be exceeded.
- The user of a mobile phone encounters field levels that are much higher than any levels in the normal living environment. However, even these increased levels do not appear to generate harmful effects.
- Many surveys have demonstrated that exposure to electromagnetic field levels in the living environment is extremely low.
Article on ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) Electrical Field Emissions by Cancer.Org
This article essentially states that ELF from the electrical wiring in common household electrical appliances has NOT been shown to cause cancer and that there is little to no reason for any health concern regarding ELF/ home appliances.
Primary causes for possible ELF health concerns emanate from large power and electrical relay stations, not common household appliances nor Far Infrared Sauna heater panels or sauna wiring.
Power Lines, Electrical Devices and Extremely Low-Frequency Radiation
What is extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation?
Radiation is the emission or sending out of energy from any source. X-rays are an example of radiation, but so is the light that comes from the sun and the heat that is constantly coming off our bodies.
When talking about radiation and cancer, many people think of specific kinds of radiation such as x-rays or the radiation in nuclear reactors. But these are not the only types of radiation that concern us when we think about radiation risks to human health.
Radiation exists across a spectrum from very high-energy (also referred to as high-frequency) radiation to very low-energy (or low-frequency) radiation. This is sometimes referred to as the electromagnetic spectrum.
Examples of high-energy radiation include x-rays and gamma rays. They, as well as some higher energy ultraviolet (UV) rays, are classified as ionizing radiation, which means that they have enough energy to remove an electron from (ionize) an atom. Ionizing radiation can damage the DNA inside cells, which can lead to mutations and the uncontrolled cell growth we know as cancer.
Extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation is at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum and is a type of non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation has enough energy to move atoms around or make them vibrate, but not enough to directly damage DNA. ELF radiation has even lower energy than other types of non-ionizing radiation like radiofrequency radiation, visible light, and infrared.
With most types of radiation, the electric and magnetic fields are coupled. Because they act as one, they are considered together as an electromagnetic field (EMF). But with ELF radiation, the magnetic field and the electrical field can exist and act independently, so they are often studied separately. Typically, we use the term “magnetic field” to indicate ELF radiation from a magnetic field, while we use “electric field” to mean ELF radiation from an electric field.
The possible link between electromagnetic fields and cancer has been a subject of controversy for several decades. It's not clear exactly how electromagnetic fields, a form of low-energy, non-ionizing radiation, can increase cancer risk. Plus, because we are all exposed to different amounts of these fields at different times, the issue has been hard to study.
Electric and magnetic fields
All radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum is produced by the interactions of 2 forces, referred to as fields. Radiation has both an electric field and a magnetic field.
Electric fields are the forces acting on charged particles (parts of atoms), like electrons or protons, which cause them to move. Electric current is simply the flow of electrons produced by an electric field. The strength of an electric field is often expressed as volts per meter (V/m) or, for stronger fields, as kilovolts per meter (kV/m), where a kilovolt is 1000 volts.
A magnetic field is created when charged particles are in motion. The strength of a magnetic field can be expressed in many different units, including Tesla (T), microtesla (µT or one-millionth of a Tesla), and Gauss (G), where one G equals 100 µT.
How are people exposed to ELF radiation?
Generating, transmitting, distributing, and using electricity all expose people to ELF radiation. Power lines, household wiring, and any device that uses electricity can generate ELF radiation. Thus any electric device, from refrigerators and vacuum cleaners to televisions and computer monitors (when they are on) are sources of ELF radiation. Even electric blankets expose people to ELF radiation.
How much electromagnetic radiation you are exposed to depends on the strength of the electromagnetic field, your distance from the source of the field, and the length of time you are exposed. The highest exposure occurs when the person is very close to a source putting out a strong field and stays there for a long period.
Does ELF radiation cause cancer?
Researchers use two main types of studies to try to figure out if something causes cancer.
In lab studies, animals are exposed to different levels of the substance (sometimes at extremely high levels) to see if this exposure causes tumors or other health problems. Researchers might also expose normal human cells in a lab dish to see if this causes the types of changes that are seen in cancer cells. It’s not always clear that the results from these types of studies directly apply to humans, but lab studies are a good way to find out if an exposure might possibly cause cancer.
Studies in people
Other types of studies look at cancer rates in different groups of people. Such a study might compare the cancer rate in an exposed group to the rate in a group with lower exposures, or to a group not exposed at all. Sometimes the exposed group’s cancer rate is compared to the cancer rate in the general population. But it can be hard to know what the results of these studies mean because many other factors might affect the results. For example, people are typically exposed to many substances other than the one being studied, and these other exposures could affect the results.
In most cases, neither type of study provides conclusive evidence on its own, so researchers usually look at both lab-based and human studies when trying to figure out if something can cause cancer.
Studies in the lab
Several large studies have looked at the possible effects of ELF magnetic fields on cancer in rats and mice. These studies expose the animals to magnetic fields much stronger than what people are normally exposed to at home, with fields ranging from 2 to 5000 microtesla (µT).
Most of these studies have found no increase in the risk of any type of cancer. In fact, the risk of some types of cancer was actually lower in the animals exposed to the ELF radiation. One study did show an increased risk of tumors that start in thyroid cells, called C-cells, in male rats at some exposures. This increased risk was not seen in female rats or in mice, and was not seen at the highest field strength.
These inconsistencies, and the fact that these findings were not consistently seen in the other studies, make it hard for scientists to conclude that the observed increased risk of tumors is from the ELF radiation.
Other studies in mice and rats have looked specifically for increases in leukemia and lymphoma as a result of exposure to ELF radiation, but these studies have also not found a link.
Studies in people
Studying the effects of ELF radiation in people can be hard, for many reasons:
Exposure to ELF radiation is very common, so it’s not possible to compare people who are exposed with people who aren’t exposed. Instead, studies try to compare people exposed at higher levels with people exposed at lower levels.
It is very hard to determine how much ELF radiation a person has been exposed to, especially over a long period. As far as we know, the effects of ELF radiation do not add up over time, and there is no test that can measure how much exposure a person has had.
Researchers can get a snapshot of ELF exposures by having a person wear a device that records their exposure levels over hours or days. Or, researchers can measure the magnetic or electrical field strength in a person’s home or workplace settings.
Other options include estimating exposure based on the wiring configuration of someone’s workplace/home or on its distance from power lines. But these methods result in exposure estimates that have a lot of uncertainty and that can produce biased estimates of total exposure. They typically do not account for a person’s ELF exposures while in other places, they don’t measure ELF exposures in every location that person has ever lived or worked over their lifetime.
As a result, there are no good ways to accurately estimate someone’s long-term exposure, which is what matters most when looking for possible effects on cancer risk.
A number of studies have looked at a possible link between ELF radiation from magnetic fields in the home and childhood leukemia, with mixed results. Still, when the findings from these studies are combined, a small increase in risk is seen for children at the highest exposure levels compared to those with the lowest exposure levels.
Studies looking at the effect of ELF electric fields on childhood leukemia have not found a link.
Studies have generally not found any strong links between ELF electric or magnetic fields and other types of childhood cancers.
Although several studies have looked at possible links between ELF exposures in adults and cancer, most have not found a link.
What expert agencies say
Several national and international agencies study different exposures in the environment to determine if they can cause cancer. (Something that causes cancer or helps cancer grow is called a carcinogen.) The American Cancer Society looks to these organizations to evaluate the risks based on evidence from laboratory, animal, and human research studies.
Based on animal and human evidence like the examples above, some expert agencies have evaluated the cancer-causing nature of ELF radiation.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). One of its major goals is to identify causes of cancer. In 2002, IARC considered the evidence for ELF magnetic and electric fields separately:
- It found “limited evidence” in humans for the carcinogenicity of ELF magnetic fields in relation to childhood leukemia, with “inadequate evidence” in relation to all other cancers. It found “inadequate evidence” for the carcinogenicity of ELF magnetic fields based on studies in lab animals.
- It found “inadequate evidence” for the carcinogenicity of ELF electric fields in humans.
Based on this assessment, IARC has classified ELF magnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” It has classified ELF electric fields as “not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity to humans.”
In 1999, the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) described the scientific evidence suggesting that ELF exposure poses a health risk as “weak,” but noted that it cannot be recognized as entirely safe, and considered it to be a “possible” human carcinogen.
How can I avoid exposure to ELF radiation?
It’s not clear that exposure to ELF radiation is harmful, but there are things you can do to lower your exposure if you are concerned. Your exposure is based on the strength of the ELF radiation coming from each source, how close you are to each, and how long you spend in the field.
The NIEHS recommends that people concerned about their exposure to EMF (and ELF radiation) find out where their major EMF sources are and move away from them or limit the time spent near them. For example, moving even an arm’s length away from a source can dramatically lower exposure to its field.
People who are concerned about ELF radiation exposure from high-power electrical lines should keep in mind that the intensity of any exposure goes down significantly as you get farther away from the source. On the ground, the strength of the electromagnetic field is highest directly under the power line. As you get farther away, you are exposed to less and less, with the level eventually matching normal home background levels. The electromagnetic field directly under a power line is typically in the range of what you could be exposed to when using certain household appliances.