A Review of the Exposure Level Guidelines for Electromagnetic Fields...

By MICHAEL R. NEUERT  © 2012 Michael R Neuert

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There are three main types of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) to be considered.  All three have been linked to important biological effects in the scientific studies, and each type of EMF is measured with a different kind of test instrument...
  • ELF Magnetic Fields

    ELF Magnetic Fields are the EMF component most often linked to serious health effects – such as childhood leukemia and other cancers – in the research studies.  Common sources include power lines, electrical wiring, light fixtures, appliances and most other electrical devices.  Wiring errors and stray electricity in pipes can sometimes create surprisingly high levels.  Magnetic fields are measured with an ELF* gaussmeter, in units called “milligauss” (mG).
    (*Note: “ELF” or “extremely-low-frequency” is the scientific name for the EMF frequency range that includes the 60 cycles-per-second – or 60 Hertz – electricity used in the US and Canada.)

  • ELF Electric Fields

    ELF Electric Fields have also been linked to important biological effects, but have been studied less in the research.  Anecdotally, they are often involved when people feel “sensitive” to electromagnetic sources.  Electric fields are usually caused by hidden electrical wiring within walls, by nearby power cords for lamps and devices, and sometimes from overhead power lines.  Electric fields induce measurable voltages onto the skin, which are easily detected with a Body Voltage Meter, in units of “AC Volts” (VAC).

  • Radio Frequency (RF) Fields (including microwaves)

    Radio Frequency (RF) Fields (including microwaves) have been linked to several kinds of tumors and health problems.  RF fields are emitted from many wireless and electronic devices – cell towers, cell phones, cordless phones, TV/radio broadcast towers, Smart Meters, Wi-Fi, wireless computers and components, baby monitors, microwave ovens, radar, etc.  In the US, they are usually measured in units of “microwatts per centimeter squared” (μW/cm²).
    (In many cases, the ELF electric and magnetic fields will also carry some added RF frequencies due to the use of dimmers, fluorescent lights, computers, Wi-Fi, Smart Meters, etc.  This is called “Dirty Electricity”.)

What Are the Health Concerns?

Published studies from around the world have linked electromagnetic fields (EMFs) to increased risks for several types of cancer, as well as increased stress, suppression of the immune system, important cellular and hormone changes, and even depression and suicide.  Well over a thousand scientific studies have reported biological effects related to EMFs.

Some specific illnesses that have been linked to EMFs include leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, melanoma, breast cancer, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, miscarriage and birth defects.  Anecdotally, EMFs have also been associated with sleep problems, headache, fatigue, anxiety, mental confusion, irritability, memory loss, dizziness, itchy or burning skin sensations, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

There is still great controversy about these potential health effects.  To offer some assistance, I have provided several EMF safety guidelines to consider on the following page.  Some of the information presented is anecdotal – based on my professional testing work over the last 20 years.  So please refer to the proper medical authorities and scientific research literature to make your own decisions regarding EMF health effects and safety levels.9

Possible EMF Safety Levels to Consider... See Note 9

“Possible EMF Safety Levels To Consider”
for the 3 Types of EMF →



Frequency (RF)
& Microwaves

Unit of Measurement in USA
AC Volts on
skin (VAC)

Lowest Level Linked to Cancer See Note 1

1.0 (2.0) Unknown Unknown

Average Level in Homes See Note 2

0.5 to 1.0 0.5 to 2.0 0.0001 to 0.5

BioInitiative Report See Note 3

1.0 N/A 0.1

General Public Precautionary Level See Note 4

0.5 1.0 (sleep 0.5) 0.01

EMF Hypersensitivity Advice See Note 5

0.1 0.1 0.001 or less

FCC Guidelines for General Public See Note 6

N/A N/A 1000 Note 8

ICNIRP Guidelines for General Public See Note 7

833 N/A 1000 Note 8

Special Notes about the EMF Safety Levels above...

Note 1 The Lowest Level Linked to Cancer:  For magnetic fields, the strongest evidence comes from the Swedish epidemiological study which reported increased leukemia for children at levels of 2.0 mG or more (Feychting & Ahlbom, 1993).  Also, a Canadian study has reported increased leukemia starting at 1.5 mG for children under age six (Green, Miller Villeneuve, Agnew, Greenberg, Li & Donnelly, 1999).  And a German study has linked exposures as low as 1.0 mG to reduced survival rates for children recovering from leukemia (Svendsen, Weikopf, Kaatsch & Schuz, 2007).
Note 2 The Average Level in US Homes for magnetic fields is derived from nationwide research studies and confirmed by my own testing experience.  The average levels for electric fields and RF fields are estimates based on my 20 years of professional testing in the San Francisco Bay area.
Note 3 The BioInitiative Report Recommendations are from the 2007 “BioInitiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields” (go to www.bioinitiative.org).
Note 4 The General Public Precautionary Level is my own offering to concerned clients based on my own understanding of the EMF research, and leaning towards caution.  For example for magnetic fields, to offer some margin of safety below the 1.0 mG linked to cancer, I might suggest a safety level of 0.5 mG.
Note 5 The EMF Hypersensitivity Advisory is based on anecdotal experience by EMF professionals like myself who often find it necessary to reduce EMF exposures below these levels for sensitive individuals to report relief of their symptoms.  However, there is no guarantee that these levels will be low enough for any particular person – especially with RF exposure, as some people report symptoms at surprisingly low levels.
Note 6 The FCC Guidelines for General Public show the current US standards for Radio Frequency exposure from FCC/OET Bulletin 56, based on the ICNIRP guidelines (go to http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Engineering_Technology/Documents/bulletins/oet56/oet56e4.pdf).
Note 7 The ICNIRP Guidelines for General Public are taken from the commonly cited 1998 publication by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (go to www.icnirp.de/documents/emfgdl.pdf).
Note 8 The official safety level depends on frequency.  Value shown is for frequencies of 2.0 GHz and higher.
Note 9 I am engineer, not a medical doctor, and I cannot diagnose or treat any EMF-related health problems.  Please consult with your own doctor or other health professional regarding proper exposure guidelines.

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