German Federal Office for Radiation Protection-Focus on Possible Influence of Electromagnetic Fields on Plants and Animals

The BfS wishes to further investigate indications of possible effects
Year of issue 2019
Date: 2019.12.06
Some animal and plant species can perceive electric or magnetic fields. Although limited effects on plants and animals have been observed in some laboratory and field studies, there is still no scientific proof of a risk to plants or animals posed by electromagnetic fields below the limit values . However, there is still a considerable need for research. This is the result of an international workshop on the “Influence of electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields on the living environment”, which was organised by the Federal Office for Radiation Protection.

The findings of the workshop are particularly important in light of the ongoing expansion of the electricity grids and the introduction of the new 5G mobile communications standard. A comprehensive evaluation of the workshop results will form the basis for future research.

Possible influences of power lines on the orientation of animals

Birds can perceive the Earth’s magnetic field and orient themselves accordingly

The transmission of current mainly involves animal species that perceive the Earth’s magnetic field and orient themselves accordingly. The main focus of research is whether fields caused by humans influence the perception of these animals – or even disturb their orientation.

A study under laboratory conditions led to the conclusion that the orientation of migratory birds that perceive the Earth’s magnetic fields can be disturbed by weak magnetic fields, even below the limit values. This frequency range can neither be associated with power lines nor with mobile radio but rather lies somewhere between them.

On the other hand, in the initial results of another study on migratory birds exposed to such magnetic fields immediately before being released, no difference in flight behaviour (direction of migration, delayed departure) could be observed compared with non-exposed animals. Further studies will be carried out within the framework of this study.

It is still unclear how the new direct current lines resulting from the expansion of the electricity grid will influence the orientation of animals. It is expected that the animals will adapt their behaviour – as is the case with natural earth magnetic field anomalies – and use other factors such as the sun, stars, or landmarks for orientation.

Discussion about possible effects of mobile radio on insects

In connection with mobile radio, numerous effects, especially on insects and plants, were discussed. Overall, the studies presented in the workshop support the current state of knowledge that there is no evidence of harmful effects on plants or animals caused by high-frequency electromagnetic fields below the applicable limit values.

However, there are isolated indications that radiofrequency fields may influence insects. In a field study, for example, changes in the frequency and biodiversity of pollinators near base stations were observed. Some questions also remain unanswered with respect to the new 5G mobile phone generation. For example, it is conceivable that the higher frequencies that may be used in a few years’ time could increase the energy absorption of insects.

Partly contradictory results on the effects of fields on plants

In plant studies, growth effects in particular were investigated. The Earth’s static magnetic field and its artificial attenuation or amplification influence the growth of plants. Under laboratory conditions, high-frequency fields can trigger a stress reaction and influence growth. However, because the results here were also partly contradictory, further research is needed in this area.

The workshop took place at the beginning of November in Munich. Investigations from various scientific disciplines were presented. A total of 64 experts from 15 countries around the world took part.

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