French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES)
2019 Report on the Health Effects of Exposure To Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields
June 21, 2018 The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) published a new report confirming the repeated association of health effects (childhood leukemia) from exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF). The reports recommends minimizing exposures, especially for children and pregnant women in “sensitive areas.”
ANSES has funded various measurement campaigns and reviewed research since 2010 finding highest values of ELF-EMF were found in the immediate vicinity of electrical facilities such as transformers, substations and high-voltage transmission lines that create full-body, chronic, day/night exposures. Household appliances inside homes also generate high levels of magnetic fields that tend to be short exposures localized to the area around the appliance.
The Agency reiterated their 2010 conclusions and issued updated recommendations to reduce ELF-EMF exposure including:
- New schools and hospitals should NOT be in close proximity to high-voltage power lines.
- Better controls and reductions are needed for occupational exposures especially for pregnant women. The Agency highlighted that research has found the exposure to the fetus in some situations may be higher than public exposure limits, and women should be better informed.
- Manufacturers of industrial machines which emit ELF-EMF should measure the associated exposures and provide customers/users with technical information on these exposures.
- Current regulations only regulate exposure levels close to transmission lines, and the Agency now recommends extending regulations to include all sources of ELF-EMF exposure to the general population.
Associations between ELF-EMF magnetic fields and childhood leukemia have been consistently found at levels between 2 and 4 milligauss, levels that can be found in homes in close proximity to high-voltage power lines. ANSES funded a study by a team from Inserm and the University Hospital of Caento to quantify how many children in France were exposed to such levels and found approximately 40,000 children less than 15 years of age are exposed at home to magnetic fields greater than 4 milligauss, and approximately 8,000 children are enrolled in a school where magnetic fields are greater than 4 milligauss. Research 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 ELF-EMF levels, even higher than legal limits in particular situations such as when using certain industrial machines.
Numerous research studies on ELF-EMFs have found a myriad of effects including cancer, synergistic effects, impacts to sleep and stressing bees. Recently, Kaiser Permanente researchers published a replication study linking pregnant women’s exposure to electromagnetic fields with increased miscarriage. Kaiser research also has found increased obesity and asthma in prenatally exposed children.
“Several countries have enacted policies to minimize exposure to residents, especially when it comes to children in homes, schools and parks,” stated Theodora Scarato, Executive Director of Environmental Health Trust. Scarato pointed to the EHT database on international policy, which documents the dozens of policies by countries around the world to minimize ELF-EMF exposures. “However, the United States has no safety limits for this type of electromagnetic field; and here in the USA, homes, schools and parks are built directly underneath high-voltage powerlines and beside electricity substations. As an example, in my town, the power company created a biking path directly underneath their high-voltage powerline, and the action was heralded as a benefit to the community. In some countries, this would be illegal.”
Scarato highlights examples of how several countries have policies in place to strictly minimize exposure to ELF-EMF including:
- The Netherlands: Since 2005, policy to reduce ELF-EMF near homes, schools and kindergartens. In 2013, the government had a buyout of houses directly under high tension power lines 380-220 kV. 2018 Report by the Health Council of The Netherlands confirms previous findings of an association to cancer, reiterates recommendations to reduce ELF-EMF.
- Germany: 2013 Ordinance recommends to exhaust all possibilities to minimize ELF-EMF and 220 kV lines may not be erected over buildings “intended for the long-term presence of humans.”
- Israel: The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health maximum permissible level of exposure to ELF in places of prolonged chronic exposure, such as schools and residences, is 4 mG (milligauss).
- French Polynesia: 2017 EMF public awareness campaign recommends reducing exposure including, “distance yourself and others at least 1 to 1.5 meters (3 to 4.5 feet) away from induction stovetop or any appliance capable of generating electromagnetic waves such as your refrigerator.”
- France: A ministerial recommendation advises to avoid as much as possible the creation of new hospitals, maternity wards and childcare facilities near power lines, cables, transformers and bus bars where children are exposed to a magnetic field stronger than 1 microtesla. The grid operator has the legal obligation to monitor EMF near power lines, and citizens can request ELF-EMF measurements from local power lines via their mayor.
- Slovenia: ELF Limits at 10% of the EU Council Recommendation reference value for new and modified installations in the vicinity of flats, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, sanatoriums, playgrounds, parks, recreation areas and public buildings.
- Denmark: Utilities measure magnetic fields at new installations: The annual average is supposed to not exceed 4 milligauss, and no kindergartens or new buildings are to be built in the vicinity of a high-voltage line.
- Switzerland: Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection Act has precautionary limit values for new installations.
- Croatia: Reduced electric and magnetic field limits for ‘sensitive areas’ which is defined a homes, offices, schools, playgrounds, kindergartens, maternity wards, hospitals, homes for the elderly and disabled.
- Luxemburg: Ministerial recommendation not to create any new living spaces in the immediate vicinity of overhead power lines (within 20 metres for 65 kilovolt lines and 30 metres for 100 to 220 kilovolt lines).
- Finland: The Radiation Safety Authority (STUK) recommends avoiding the construction of permanent residences in areas where the magnetic flux density continuously exceeds the level of approximately 0.4 microtesla.
- Norway: Government has an “Investigation level” of 0.4 microtesla (annual average) applicable to new homes, kindergartens and schools, and new power lines. If exceeded, they must evaluate possible methods for reducing exposure, but are only required to implement reduction measures if they are evaluated as “reasonable.”
- Italy: 2017 Decree of the Environment Minister recommends reducing to as low as possible the indoor exposure to ELF-EMFs induced by electrical systems. In addition, a precautionary “attention value” applies to 24-hour median exposure in homes, playgrounds, schools and places where people can stay for more than 4 hours.
- Belgium: In Flanders, new power lines over schools and childcare centers should be avoided and passing over homes kept to a minimum. New schools and childcare centers should not have more than 4 milligauss year-averaged exposure. In Brussels, a ministerial instruction requires that the magnetic field levels in places near newly installed transformers where children less than 15 years of age may stay is kept below a 24-hour average of 4 milligauss.
Please link to Environmental Health Trust in reposting this press release. This information is also documented in the EHT international database on EMF policy here. Unless hyperlinked, sources for these policies are from The Netherlands Government Report “Comparison of international policies on electromagnetic fields” commissioned by the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.
The USA used to have a robust Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research program on EMF before it was defunded. A 2002 Report by the California Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) Program (a program also now defunct) concluded, “To one degree or another, all three of the DHS scientists are inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and miscarriage.”
The California Department of Education has enacted regulations (Title 5, Section 14010) that require minimum distances between a new school and the edge of a transmission line “right-of-way.” The school setback distances are 100 feet for 50-133 kV lines, 150 feet for 220-230 kV lines, and 350 feet for 500-550 kV lines. There is a history of out-of-court settlements related to EMF exposure from high-voltage transmission lines. For example, Massachusetts Electric, a subsidiary of New England Electric System, agreed to an out-of-court financial settlement to avoid a lawsuit by the family of a child who contracted acute myeloid leukemia. The magnetic fields inside the front bedroom of the family home reached as high as 37 mG.
Reducing Personal Exposure to ELF-EMF from Electronics and Electrical Appliances
ELF-EMF magnetic fields from electronics and appliances fall off rapidly with distance. At one foot away the field is greatly reduced. At two to three feet, the exposures to magnetic fields are significantly reduced. Electrical fields are different than magnetic fields in that they emanate several feet from electrical cords regardless of wether the device is on or off. They can be eliminated by using shielded cables or turning electrical breakers off.
Clearly, brief exposures to ELF-EMF are unavoidable. So experts are most focused on long-term chronic exposures, such as every night or every day at work.
Here are some practical ways we can reduce daily exposures to electric and magnetic fields.
- Do not sleep near a charging cell phone or a charging laptop or digital device. Always charge devices away from sleeping/living spaces and preferable during the daytime. Charging generates high EMFs near the cord and batteries can catch fire during charging.
- Do not use a cell phone while it is charging as the ELF-EMF field is high. Likewise- try to use your laptop on battery , rather than while charging. Always unplug the laptop once it is charged.
- Corded alarm clocks and radios can have intense EMFs, so replace your alarm clock with a battery powered alarm clock. This will reduce your exposure at night.
- Do not sleep with your head or body near a wall that has the electric panel, electric meter or appliance on the other side.
- Unplug appliances and electronics such as TV’s and microwaves ovens when not in use. This reduces ELF and also reduces energy consumption. An easy way to do this for electronics is to get a powerstrip that you can easily switch off.
- Remove electronics from the bedroom—especially around your bed and the crib.
- Avoid sleeping with electric blankets and heating pads; if you use an electric blanket to preheat your bed, unplug it before sleeping. If you only turn it off, the EMF will still be present.
- Do not stand near a microwave oven when it is on.
- EMFs from electrical wiring can be reduced if you flip the switch on the breaker for the electrical circuits near the bedroom at night. However circuits are not designed to be flipped every night so we recommend getting a “kill switch” set up in your home so all you have to do is flip one switch at night to turn off breakers all at once. Shielded electrical wiring will minimize electrical fields.
- Get a magnetic field meter to take measurements in your home. If your ELF measurements show high levels in your home, it could be faulty wiring which an electrician can fix. Often simple fixes can greatly reduce ELF-EMF exposure.
- Take measurements in your home if you live near powerlines because levels can be high throughout the house from the EMF emanating from high voltage powerlines.
Learn more about reducing EMF exposure at EHT’s How to Reduce EMF at Home