Can EMFs be harmful to my health?

During the 1990s, most EMF research focused on extremely low frequency exposures stemming from conventional power sources, such as power lines, electrical substations, or home appliances. While some of these studies showed a possible link between EMF field strength and an increased risk for childhood leukemia, their findings indicated that such an association was weak. Now, in the age of cellular telephones, wireless routers, and portable GPS devices (all known sources of EMF radiation), concerns regarding a possible connection between EMFs and adverse health effects still persists, though current research  continues to point to the same weak association.
Additionally, the few studies that have been conducted on adults show no evidence of a link between EMF exposure and adult cancers, such as leukemia, brain cancer, and breast cancer. Nevertheless, NIEHS recommends continued education on practical ways of reducing exposures to EMFs.

Does my cell phone emit EMF radiation?

Measured in units called hertz, cell phone emissions, a form of radiofrequency radiation, exist at the lower end of the non-ionizing radiation spectrum at the 900-1900 megahertz range. At present, the weight of the current scientific evidence has not conclusively linked cell phone use with any adverse health problems, though scientists admit that more research is needed. To that end, the National Toxicology Program (NTP), headquartered at NIEHS, is leading the largest laboratory rodent study, to date, on cell phone radiofrequency exposure, the findings of which are expected sometime in 2015.

What if I live near a power line?

It is important to remember that the strength of a magnetic field decreases dramatically with increasing distance from the source. This means that the strength of the field reaching a house or structure will be significantly weaker than it was at its point of origin, a concept which is illustrated on page 37 of the NIEHS educational booklet, “EMF: Electric and Magnetic Fields Associated with the Use of Electric Power.”. For example, a magnetic field measuring 57.5 milligauss immediately beside a 230 kilovolt transmission line measures just 7.1 milligauss at a distance of 100 feet, and 1.8 milligauss at a distance of 200 feet.
How can I find out if I’m being exposed to EMFs?
If you are concerned about EMFs emitted by a power line or substation in your area, you can contact your local power company to schedule an on-site reading. You can also measure EMFs yourself with the use of a gaussmeter, which is available for purchase online through a number of retailers.

Where can I learn more?

Electromagnetic Spectrum



International Guidance Levels

[Home Page] [Guide to EMFs] [Guidance Levels] [Unit Conversion] [Studies List] [Bias] [EMFs pre-2000] [FAQs] [Publications] [Links]

The main international guidance comes from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). These levels apply in most of Europe.

Their maximum exposure guidance levels vary with frequency and the place where people are exposed. This can be seen in the following graph:

ICNIRP guidance varies with frequency

These levels are set to protect against direct effects such as electric shock and body tissue heating. ICNIRP do not consider that the available scientific evidence regarding reported adverse health effects at lower exposure levels justifies a more precautionary attitude. This advice now differs from a number of other authorities who have chosen to issue more precautionary maximum advisable public exposure levels for chronic (i.e. long-term) involuntary exposure.

ICNIRP have recently produced an excellent statement on emf-emitting new technologies covering all aspects of the rapid proliferation of RF emitting devices in the last few decades.

Microwave Frequency

The table below shows a comparison of guidance from various authorities for the frequency of 1800 MHz. In fact, the more precautionary levels are usually specified to cover all the mobile phone and digital cordless phone frequencies. The varying levels in the ICNIRP table were primarily due to the heating effects of radiofrequency radiation and as the more precautionary levels are below measurable heating, there is no need for different values for different frequencies.

As 'volts per metre' is not a unit that most people are familiar with, we have arbitrarily taken the 1998 Salzburg level of 0.6 V/m as being 'equivalent to' a 30 mph vehicle speed limit in residential areas and then scaled the other levels relative to this. It is easy to see that the ICNIRP guidance is not very precautionary.

1800 MHz Public Exposure Guidelines PFD Equivalent c.f. speed
  µW/m2 V/m m.p.h.
FCC (USA) OET-65 10,000,000 61 3000
ICNIRP (1998), WHO 9,000,000 58 2847
Belgium (ex Wallonia) 1,115,000 21 1002
Italy (sum of frequencies) 100,000 6 300
Russia, PRChina 100,000 6 300
Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg 95,000 6 292
Belgium Wallonia 24,000 3 147
Typical 100m from a base station (0.2 to 6 V/m) 10,000 1.9 95
Wien (sum GSM) 10,000 1.9 95
Italy (single frequency) 1,000 0.6 30
Salzburg 1998 (sum GSM) 1,000 0.6 30
EU-Parl, GD Wissenschaft, STOA GSM (2001) 100 0.2 9
Median level, 15 US cities 1977 (mainly VHF & TV) 48 0.14 7
Salzburg GSM/3G outside houses (2002) 10 0.06 3
Salzburg GSM/3G inside houses (2002) 1 0.02 1
Burgerforum BRD proposal, waking areas (1999) 1 0.02 1
Burgerforum BRD proposal, sleeping areas (1999) 0.01 0.002 0.1
Mobile phone handsets can work down to about 0.000002 0.00003 0.0015
Natural background level (all RF frequencies) 0.000001 0.00002 0.001
Cosmic background at 1800 MHz average approx 0.00000000001 0.00000006 0.000003

Note that it is very rare indeed for broadcast radio signals to exceed 1 V/m inside residences, with VHF/UHF ones rarely exceeding 0.05 V/m, being typically less than 0.01 V/m.

Mobile phones can work down to less than 0.00003 V/m.

Note also that The Power Flux Density (PFD) value only converts into the volts/metre value for continuous signals (like VHF FM radio signals). PFD, by its definition, relates to the average power (ICNIRP specifies that it should be averaged over 6 minutes) and is often much lower in mobile phone mast (etc) signals than is found in the short peak signal strength in the pulsing radiation. Most precautionary authorities believe that it is the peak power than matters and that the V/m figure should be taken as the peak value that should be allowed.

On the available evidence, Powerwatch believes that signal strengths in bedrooms should be as low as possible and definitely below 0.05 V/m. The results from a study by some German GPs shows that adverse health symptoms were found in their patients at and above this level. See also our Bamberg story. A Spanish study also found significant health effects by 0.05 V/m - See here for more information.

Levels below 0.05 V/m can be difficult to achieve, especially within a few hundred of metres of mobile phone masts. Some degree of screening is usually necessary.


It is easy to get confused by the many different units that are quoted. Here is a useful table, based on one found on the UK HPA-RPD website.

Note that while the HPA-RPD website is very good for physics based factual information, Powerwatch believes that a far more precautionary response regarding involuntary human exposure is needed than the one currently expressed in public by the HPA-RPD.

Characteristics of radiofrequency and microwave fields
Quantity Symbol Unit
Frequency (oscillations per second) f hertz (Hz)
Wavelength (length of travelling wave) λ metre (m)
Electrical field strength E volt per metre (V/m)
Magnetic field strength H ampere per metre (A/m)
Magnetic flux density B tesla (T)
Power flux density S watt per square metre (W/m2)
Dosimetric units (i.e. how to judge internal effects of exposure)
Specific energy absoption rate SAR watt per kilogram of tissue (W/kg)
Current density


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