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EMF exposure as a possible carcinogen? This paper discusses electromagnetic radiation or electromagnetic fields (EMF) as a possible cancer risk and offers a brief analysis of the probable cancer risk from EMF compared with other hazards. It graphs the effect of fear of power lines and EMF exposure as well as other environmental concerns as it affects property values over time.
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Our page top photo shows an electrical worker repairing a local electrical power distribution line. Electrical workers, because they are regularly have close exposure to strong electrical fields, are a group that has been closely studied for correlation between cancer occurrence and electrical field exposure. See WORKPLACE EXPOSURE to Electromagnetic Fields for more information on workplace exposure to EMF.
We define "Enviro-Scare" (ES) and we use this cyclic fear pattern to describe the variation and effects of the level of public environmental worry by recapping the enviro-scare history of asbestos, EMF, UFFI, and other environmental concerns.
The red graph at EMF Cancer Scare depicts the varying level of ES or public fear for a given environmental concern. ES generally increases, peaks, and then diminishes over time, independently of the actual level of risk.
As people become acclimated to the particular topic it loses its initial shock value. Links to other
EMF Procedures & Causes of EMF Measurement Error & Variation. As a point of comparison also see Mold Enviro-Scare.
Because RF and EMF measurement tools need to be properly chosen to measure the particular type and frequency of RF or EMF signal that is of interest, be sure to also see EMF RF FIELD & FREQUENCY DEFINITIONS for a simple explanation of different types of radio frequency (RF) and electromagnetic frequency (EMF) types and where they are found. Also see Definitions of Gauss vs Milligauss for details about gauss and milligauss and definitions of these terms.
Here is a summary of the actual health risks and property value risks associated with EMF, electromagnetic fields.
Determining actual health risks from EMF exposure is complex. Not all experts agree about the danger. However a growing body of articles and studies suggests that there may be health risks at EMF levels as low as 2 milligauss, probably depending on many variables including length of exposure in the field, actual field strength during the exposure period, person's age, body mass, general health and perhaps genetic predisposition or vulnerability to cancer. While debate continues, it remains possible that in some instances there are some hazards from EMF.
While prudent avoidance has been recommended by experts, to date (Marcy 2012) we know of no Federal nor State accepted standard for allowable exposure to EMF. My information is based on our understanding of current literature on this topic. When set, standards for acceptable levels of EMF exposure may then be higher or lower than 2 milligauss.
Measurements at the same site can vary widely because of variations in the load on the electric transmission facility and because of other variables discussed at my Suggested EMF Measurement Procedures and Measurement Variability Paper. Measurements also vary widely if a standard procedure is not followed. Very often EMF levels are not constant at all locations on a property. Using a procedure which may reduce this problem, I report measurements made at a series of standard locations and sometimes also at locations of special interest. I have made this procedure available to other professionals and I invite critique, feedback, and suggestions.
For currently popular concerns, economic risks to property owners remain even if there is no demonstrable health hazard. I call the cycle of increasing, peaking, then declining consumer fear "enviro-scare." The economic impact on property owners of these topics depends on this cycle.
One of my EMF measuring equipment manufacturers reports the following: " Magnetic radiation readings of 1 milligauss and less are considered below those which were shown to increase the level of leukemia in several medical epidemiological studies in the greater Denver area."
"Readings in the 1 to 3 milliGauss range were found to double the leukemia rate in children in the Denver studies." "Some epidemiological studies indicate a higher than normal incidence of cancer, including leukemia and brain tumors, among children and adults living or working close to power lines." Time Magazine, July 17, 1989. "Dr. Savitz mentioned 2 milliGauss as the level at which cancer is produced in children. In the home of these people, I have measured 10 to 12 milliGauss, depending on how much current is flowing down the line." House of Representatives, 100th Congress.
We (DJ Friedman) have regularly found background levels of .5 to 1 milliGauss at residential properties, and higher levels in urban environments. It's unusual to find an urban or even suburban environment with lower EMF levels than .5-2 milligauss.
What does "double the risk of leukemia" really mean as true measure of danger?
Telling a prospective home buyer or home owner that "Exposure of your child to a 2 milligauss field can double his risk of childhood leukemia." is frightening. The statement may be true, but stated alone, this admonition lacks a very important perspective. An informed viewpoint is very important for every environmental hazard. Let's review again the opening statement about "doubling cancer risk."
At the risk levels discussed in the Werth study, "doubling the risk of childhood leukemia" means increasing the chances from about 1 in 10,000 to 2 in 10,000. In either case, the risk is extremely low -- much less than the risks posed by a large number of much more common hazards to which people are exposed daily.
A clear summary of EMF risks and characteristics is at "Magnetic Field Exposure and Cancer: Questions and Answers [ copy on file as /emf/EMF_Fact_Sheet_NCI_NIH.pdf ] - ," National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health.
A Friday, March 26 editorial in the New York Poughkeepsie Journal, "Don't mix kids and chemicals." The editorial mentions a 1987 National Cancer institute study which "... found that children who lived in homes where lawn chemicals were applied were six times more likely to develop leukemia."
In other words, your lawn may be more dangerous than a 2 mg EMF.
Based on current research, EMF may be near the bottom of risks to children. [In fact one wonders if some of the leukemia cases reported for children living along a power line right of way might have been influenced less by the EMF than by the strong herbicides commonly used by power companies to hold down brush growth under the power lines.
Readers might review the Agent Orange issue affecting veterans of the Vietnam war, for example.]
While this and any health hazard may change as new data is developed, consumers who are concerned with the health of their children should consider all risks and should, when worrying about individual ones such as EMR, keep them in perspective. If ones objective is to stay healthy and alive, a rational approach identifies and responds to risks first by identifying the most-significant ones and making sure that those concerns have been addressed.
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