Man-made Frequency Fields

Man-made Frequency Fields

The advent of electricity is a relatively new development, and it is blatantly obvious that the full implications of this technological innovation have not yet been determined, particularly with regard to the effects of ELF and EMF exposure upon biological systems. However, taken as a whole, the wide array of correlative evidence that is available in the extant published research literature on the subject leave little doubt that these forces initiate or exacerbate a number of disadvantageous biological responses in humans and animals, many of which, like cancer, are strongly linked with negative health outcomes.

Harmful Effects of Man-made Electromagnetic and Extremely Low-Frequency Fields

March 2006
By Professor David Wagner

Perhaps no other technological innovation has exerted as profound an impact upon the history of human civilization as has electricity. In the relatively short span of time that humans have been able to control and manipulate electric currents to power devices and implements, the resulting array of scientific, medical, technological, economic, cultural, and even social breakthroughs have equaled or arguably, exceeded those made during all of the preceding millenniums of recorded history.

In the course of a single day, virtually every action that inhabitants of the developed world undertake is supported or facilitated in some way by electricity (Feychting, Ahlbom, and Kheifets 145). It is impossible to deny that electricity has greatly advanced many beneficial developments for humanity. However, because electricity has only been in widespread, frequent use for a little over a century, some of the long-term impacts of this technological breakthrough remain to be seen.

In the latter decades of the twentieth century, reports linking proximity to the electromagnetic and/or extremely-low frequency fields (EMFs and ELFs, respectively) that are created when electricity is used, with negative health outcomes began to surface (Beale 273). This research prompted immediate controversy, and soon, a number of empirical studies of the issue were underway. Today, as new forms, modes, and applications of electricity are introduced into the marketplace for public usage at an ever-increasing rate, the comparatively slow pace of scientific research cannot adequately assess the possible health risks (Kheifets and Matkin 146).

Since the advent of studies assessing the potential harmful effects of EMFs and ELFs, there has been significant pressure from both governmental agencies and corporate interests to offer conclusions that would not prove detrimental to the many industries that benefit economically from these technologies. Furthermore, the regulatory rigor and scrutiny of the federal government towards the potential health risks posed by EMFs and ELFs has wavered considerably over the course of the last twenty-five years, prompting a number of prominent public health experts to question the credibility of all of its often contradictory declarations on the subject (Beale 282; Von Winterfeldt, Eppel, Adams, Neutra, and DelPizzo 1490).

The current discussion will seek to assess the harmful effects of man-made electromagnetic and extremely-low frequency fields. Based on a thorough review of the extant published literature on the subject, an analysis of the harm of these technologies to biological systems will be undertaken. Finally, in conclusion, an overarching assessment of the health risks associated with usage of and/or exposure to EMFs and ELFs will be presented.

Assessing the Harmful Effects of Man-made EMFs and ELFs
When electricity is used, an electromagnetic field is created as a result. Taking into consideration all of the sources of electricity that the average individual encounters in the course of even a single day, the magnitude of typical EMF exposure greatly exceeds the natural levels of this force seen in nature (Beale 275). The widespread and varied application of electricity and electrically-powered devices in developed nations today ensures that humans (as well as animals and other biological life forms) are exposed to electric and magnetic fields in a variety of types and intensities.

Over the last several decades, epidemiologists, environmental researchers, and other scientists have sought to assess the types of EMF and ELF risks that exist in the environment, as well as the nature and extent of the biological responses and potential health risks that humans and animals evince in the presence of these fields (Beale 274). Although many different sources of EMFs and ELFs exist, the most concentrated fields occur in the vicinity of electrical transmission lines, transformers, and power stations, and as such, a substantial proportion of the extant research has focused on the health risks associated with these sites (Feychting, Ahlbom, and Kheifets 175).

There are many different sources of exposure to EMFs and ELFs, ranging from electrical transmission lines, to cellular phones, to home appliances (Behrens, Terschüren, Kaune, and Hoffmann 144; Kundi, Mild, Hardell, and Mattsson 353). In addition, some individuals, due to their occupation, residential location, or other variables, are exposed to levels of EMFs and/or ELFs that are much higher than normal. A number of studies have sought specifically to assess the biological outcomes of EMF and ELF exposure variables in these unique populations (Bonhomme-Faivre, Marion, Forestier, Santini, and Auclair 713).

The first widely acknowledged study in this field was conducted by Nancy Wertheimer in the late 1970s (Feychting, Ahlbom, and Kheifets 168). Using longitudinal and epidemiological data from the Denver area that spanned much of the 1950s and 1960s, Wertheimer analyzed the convergence between proximity and exposure to EMFs, particularly in the form of power lines, and the development of cancerous cellular activity (263).

Based on her analyses, Wertheimer posited the existence of a strong correlation between these two variables, with a possible causal link. Specifically, Wertheimer determined that children who resided in close proximity to electrical transmission lines experienced a two-fold increase in the development of an array of childhood cancers (263).

In the ensuing decades following the publication of Wertheimer’s groundbreaking study, an array of additional investigations have been undertaken. Many of these studies have also determined that exposure and/or close proximity to EMFs and ELFs significantly increase an individual’s propensity to develop a number of deleterious biological responses and health conditions (Feychting, Ahlbom, and Kheifets 170).

The biological responses that have been linked with EMF and/or ELF exposure in the research literature include many different types of cancer, leukemia, and tumor growth, sleep and circadian rhythm disturbances, neurological, cognitive, and memory differences and impairment, hormone regulation and production, endocrine system deficiencies, mental and behavioral problems, immune system deficiencies, nervous system disorders, fetal development, birth defects, hematological and circulatory functions, and genetic damage (Zahm and Devesa 178; Feychting, Ahlbom, and Kheifets 171). In addition, a number of additional biological responses have been suggested in individual or small-group case studies that, although they may produce compelling evidence, do not definitively prove the existence of a correlation between environmental variables and health outcomes.

The research findings pertaining to the negative health outcomes associated with exposure to EMFs and ELFs have been controversial (Beale 275). Because many different exposure scenarios have been assessed in the research literature, with results that vary according to the precise scenario evaluated in each experiment, some critics of the research have claimed that it is inconclusive or contradictory (Feychting, Ahlbom, and Kheifets 171).

However, a closer examination of the research will reveal that many of these outward-appearing inconsistencies actually stem from differences in the research design or operational definitions employed in different studies on the subject (Beale 278). In fact, the vast majority of research studies that have been undertaken on this subject have concluded that exposure to higher-than-normal levels of EMFs or ELFs are consistently linked with negative health outcomes (Anderson 48).

The first generation of experiments assessing the link between EMFs, biological responses, and negative health outcomes focused almost entirely upon the conceptualization of the issue that was based on residential proximity to electrical transmission apparatus (Marino and Becker 7). The prevalence of this experimental design in the 1980s and 1990s reveals the widespread influence of Wertheimer’s 1979 study, which nearly single-handedly initiated this field of research (Brain, Kavet, McCormick, Poole, Silverman, Smith, et al. 963; Sheikh 57).

However, another influential variable in the research were unsubstantiated reports that workers in the Soviet Union whose vocational responsibilities entailed exposure to electricity and/or electrical wiring were experiencing an array of health problems and symptoms. Initially, these reports were met with uncertainty. However, coupled with Wertheimer’s 1979 findings, these reports began to intrigue researchers.

As such, the next wave of experiments focused on occupational exposure to higher-than-normal levels of EMFs and ELFs (Feychting, Ahlbom, and Kheifets 146). Researchers were able to access epidemiological data categorized by occupation, allowing them to determine whether workers such as telephone workers, engineers, radio operators, and electricians were experiencing disproportionate incidences of cancers or other inexplicable biological responses or health outcomes (Bonhomme-Faivre, Marion, Forestier, Santini, and Auclair 714).

Depending on a number of variables, including the length of career, the nature of each worker’s responsibilities, and the degree and duration of exposure to EMFs and ELFs, studies have demonstrated that there is a compelling link between occupation exposure and a number of biological responses, including cancers and tumor growth. Although the increasing sophistication of electrical technology has changed the nature of the occupational EMF and ELF exposure experienced by workers in high-risk categories, it has not eradicated the risk altogether. Epidemiological studies of the occupational risk factors continue to be conducted as technologies and the nature of occupational exposures evolve (Feychting, Ahlbom, and Kheifets 178).

Another category of research that has been conducted assessing the impact of man-made electromagnetic fields upon biological systems is more focused on laboratory experimentation, rather than the analysis of existing epidemiological data. Specifically, recent research efforts have sought to gain a clear conceptual understanding of the ways, if any, that EMFs and ELFs can play a contributing role in initiating or exacerbating biological responses.

Because cancers and tumor growth have been the deleterious health outcomes that have been most closely identified with exposure to EMFs and ELFs, many laboratory experiments have focused on modeling and evaluating the processes and mechanisms by which these forces could promote carcinogenesis in the biological systems of human and animals. At the current stage, the answer to this complex question remains elusive. However, a number of published studies have suggested models that serve to connect ELF and EMF exposure to plausible carcinogenic processes (Day 1926).

More concise findings have been attained in laboratory studies that have sought to determine the ways in which exposure to EMFs and/or ELFs could exacerbate, worsen, or promote the negative health outcomes associated with existing genetic or cellular damage.

In other words, a number of studies have successfully demonstrated processes by which exposure to higher-than-normal levels of these fields can actually worsen existing conditions in the body, leading, in some cases, to carcinogenesis, accelerated cellular activity, and tumor growth (Işler and Erdem 36).

Scientists have posited that genetic damage -- which can conceivably be initiated by many environmental variables, including x-rays -- can be exacerbated and, in some cases, rendered carcinogenic by sustained exposure to higher-than-normal levels of electromagnetic fields.

There are a number of models that scientists have developed to demonstrate the ways in which EMF and/or ELF exposure could potentially promote or exacerbate cellular or genetic damage to an extent that carcinogenic processes could be triggered. The models that have attained the most acceptance within the scientific community include damage to the immune system and damage to cellular materials (Işler and Erdem 37).

Although institutionally-affiliated scientists have demonstrated a great deal of interest in the possible causal connection between EMF/ELF exposure and negative health outcomes, there has been a great deal of resistance to this vein of inquiry. Primarily, the organized resistance to this research has been mounted by the industries that would be most vulnerable to liability if widespread remediation of existing standards for EMF/ELF exposure were revised, such as the utilities industry. However, the federal government has also vacillated significantly on the issue over the course of the last several decades, prompting some public health experts and consumer advocates to claim that the federal government is beholden to special interest groups representing the lucrative industries whose profits rely on maintaining the relatively lax safety standards that currently remain in effect in the United States (Von Winterfeldt, Eppel, Adams, Neutra, and DelPizzo 1489).

As alluded to previously, within the context of human history, the advent of electricity is a relatively new development, and it is blatantly obvious that the full implications of this technological innovation have not yet been determined, particularly with regard to the effects of ELF and EMF exposure upon biological systems. However, taken as a whole, the wide array of correlative evidence that is available in the extant published research literature on the subject leave little doubt that these forces initiate or exacerbate a number of disadvantageous biological responses in humans and animals, many of which, like cancer, are strongly linked with negative health outcomes.

Works Cited

Anderson, Larry. “Extremely Low Frequency Fields and Cancer: Laboratory Studies.” International Journal of Toxicology 17.3 (1998): 47-57.

Brain, Joseph D., Robert Kavet, David L. McCormick, Charles

Poole, Lewis B. Silverman, Thomas J. Smith, et al. “Childhood Leukemia: Electric and Magnetic Fields as Possible Risk Factors.” Environmental Health Perspectives 111.7 (June 2003): 962-70.

Beale, Ivan L. “The Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on Mental and Physical Health.” Journal of Child & Family Studies 6.3 (September 1997): 273-88.

Behrens, Thomas, Claudia Terschüren, William Kaune, and Wolfgang Hoffmann. “Quantification of Lifetime Accumulated ELF-EMF Exposure from Household Appliances in the Context of a Retrospective Epidemiological Case-Control Study.” Journal of Exposure Analysis & Environmental Epidemiology 14.2 (March 2004): 144-53.

Bonhomme-Faivre, Laurence, Sylvie Marion, Francis Forestier, Roger Santini, and Huguette Auclair. “Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on the Immune Systems of Occupationally Exposed Humans and Mice.” Archives of Environmental Health 58.11 (November 2003): 712-17.

Day, Nick. “Exposure to Power-Frequency Magnetic Fields and the Risk of Childhood Cancer.” Lancet 354.9194 (4 December1999): 1925-31.

Feychting, Maria, Anders Ahlbom, and Leeka Kheifets. “EMF and Health.” Annual Review of Public Health 26.1 (2005): 165-89.

Işler, Serkan, and Gunhan Erdem. “The Effect of Electromagnetic Fields on Oxidative DNA Damage.” Journal of Cell & Molecular Biology 2.1 (2003): 35-8.

Kheifets, LeekaI., and Chantal Matkin. “Industrialization, Electromagnetic Fields, and Breast Cancer Risk.” Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements 107 (February 1999): 145-54.

Kundi, Michael, Kjell Hansson Mild, Lennart Hardell, and Mats-Olof Mattsson. “Mobile Telephones and Cancer: A Review of Epidemiological Evidence.” Journal of Toxicology & Environmental Health 7.5 (September 2004): 351-84.

Marino, Andrew A., and Robert O. Becker. “High Voltage Lines: Hazard at a Distance.” Environment 20.9 (November 1978): 6-11.

Sheikh, Kazim. “Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields and the Risk of Leukemia.” Archives of Environmental Health 41.1 (January 1986): 56-63.

Von Winterfeldt, Detlof, Thomas Eppel, John Adams, Raymond Neutra, and Vincent DelPizzo. “Managing Potential Health Risks from Electric Powerlines: A Decision Analysis Caught in Controversy.” Risk Analysis: An International Journal 24.6 (December 2004): 1487-1502.

Wertheimer, Nancy. “Electric Power Lines Linked with Cancer.” Science News 115.16 (21 April 1979): 263.

Zahm, Shelia Hoar, and Susan S. Devesa. “Childhood Cancer:

Overview of Incidence Trends and Environmental Carcinogens.” Environmental Health Perspectives 103.6 (September 1995): 177-84.