Health effects related to exposure to low frequency electromagnetic fields
ANSES published a new review today (21/6/2019) on the health effects related to exposure to low frequency electromagnetic fields.
ANSES’s new expertise aimed to analyze all the new scientific knowledge available on exposure to low-frequency electromagnetic fields and their possible biological and health effects. In order to better characterize the population’s exposure, particularly in relation to their place of residence, ANSES has also funded various measurement campaigns.
Better knowledge of the exposures
Populations are exposed to multiple sources of electromagnetic fields, whether in the outdoor environment via power lines, transport, transformers, or indoor environments via household appliances. The numerous studies conducted since 2010 now make it possible to have a more precise vision of the exposure to low frequency electromagnetic fields to which the populations are subjected.They show, in particular, that the highest values in the external environment are measured in particular under very high voltage electrical lines and in the immediate vicinity of the premises of the transformers or the electrical substations. Inside homes, high levels of magnetic field can be produced by household appliances, but exposure to these devices is very short and very localized.
Limit exposure of vulnerable populations near a high-voltage line
In 2010, ANSES highlighted the convergence of epidemiological studies that showed an association between the occurrence of childhood leukemia and exposure to low frequency magnetic fields at levels greater than 0.2 μT or 0.4 μT. Given the new data, the Agency confirms the “limited” level of evidence associated with this long-term effect, even though studies published after 2010 find this association less frequently.
As part of this expertise, ANSES funded a study to quantify the share of the French population, and more specifically children, exposed to such levels of fields emitted by a high-voltage line. This study, conducted by a team from Inserm and the University Hospital of Caen, indicates that about 40,000 children under 15 (0.35% of the population) are exposed to their home at a magnetic field greater than 0 , 4 μT, and about 8,000 children (0.18%) are enrolled in a school with a magnetic field greater than 0.4 μT.
Considering all these results, the Agency reiterates its recommendation to limit, as a precaution, the number of sensitive people exposed around high-voltage lines as well as exposures. As such, it recommends not to install or develop new establishments welcoming sensitive people (hospitals, schools …) in the immediate vicinity of the very high voltage lines, nor to establish new lines above such establishments.
The Agency also emphasizes that current regulations in France only regulate exposure levels close to electricity transmission and distribution lines by respecting a limit value for exposure. The Agency therefore recommends extending this regulatory provision to all sources of electromagnetic fields exposing the general population.
Mastering occupational exposures
Levels of worker exposure to low-frequency magnetic fields vary widely by occupation. A study conducted jointly by the National Research and Safety Institute for the Prevention of Work Accidents and Occupational Diseases (INRS) and the Pension and Occupational Health Insurance Funds (Carsat) showed that some professionals may be exposed to very high field levels, potentially higher than the exposure limit values (1000 μT at 50 Hz), in particular situations such as when using certain industrial machines.
Thus, ANSES reiterates the importance of enforcing regulatory provisions on occupational health and reducing overexposure situations, in particular by adapting workstations. In addition, the Agency recommends that manufacturers of industrial machines emitting low-frequency electromagnetic fields measure the exposure associated with the use of these devices and indicate this on the technical documentation provided to customers and users.
Moreover, at high levels of exposure that may be encountered in the workplace, experimental studies have shown the possibility of biological effects (oxidative stress, genotoxic effects, effects on cell physiology). However, the Agency indicates that the epidemiological studies are too heterogeneous to establish a link between occupational exposure and the appearance of chronic diseases, in particular neurodegenerative diseases and tumors of the nervous system. It appears necessary to continue research on the possible risk of pathologies associated with exposure to low frequency magnetic fields. In addition, the Agency recommends that a next re-evaluation of exposure limit values take into account the latest scientific evidence.
Finally, the Agency draws attention to cases of exposure of the pregnant woman to work. Indeed, it has been shown that in certain occupational exposure scenarios, the induced current density in the fetus may be higher than the limit values recommended for the general population. ANSES therefore recommends that women be better informed and made aware of the regulatory provisions governing their workplace when they are pregnant, in order to limit the exposure of the fetus to low frequency electromagnetic fields.