The object of this study was to investigate the immune system of 19 women with a mean age of 35 years, for at least 2 years (mean = 13 years) exposed to electromagnetic fields (ELMFs) induced by radiotelevision broadcasting stations in their residential area. In September 1999, the ELMFs (with range 500 KHz-3 GHz) in the balconies of the homes of the women were (mean +/- S.D.) 4.3 +/- 1.4 V/m. Forty-seven women of similar age, smoking habits and atopy composed the control group, with a nearby resident ELMF exposure of < 1.8 V/m. Blood lead and urinary trans-trans muconic acid (a metabolite of benzene), markers of exposure to urban traffic, were higher in the control women. The ELMF exposed group showed a statistically significant reduction of blood NK CD16+-CD56+, cytotoxic CD3(-)-CD8+, B and NK activated CD3(-)-HLA-DR+ and CD3(-)-CD25+ lymphocytes. 'In vitro' production of IL-2 and interferon-gamma (INF-gamma) by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of the ELMF exposed group, incubated either with or without phytohaemoagglutinin (PHA), was significantly lower; the 'in vitro' production of IL-2 was significantly correlated with blood CD16+-CD56+ lymphocytes. The stimulation index (S.I.) of blastogenesis (ratio between cell proliferation with and without PHA) of PBMC of ELMF exposed women was lower than that of the control subjects. The S.I. of blastogenesis of the ELMF exposed group (but not blood NK lymphocytes and the 'in vitro' production of IL-2 and INF-gamma by PBMC) was significantly correlated with the ELMF levels. Blood lead and urinary trans-trans muconic acid were barely correlated with immune parameters: the urinary metabolite of benzene of the control group was only correlated with CD16+-CD56+ cells indicating a slight effect of traffic on the immune system. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that high frequency ELMFs reduce cytotoxic activity in the peripheral blood of women without a dose-response effect.