Intermittent extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields cause DNA damage in a dose-dependent way

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2003 Jul;76(6):431-6. doi: 10.1007/s00420-003-0446-5. Epub 2003 Jun 12.


Objectives: Epidemiological studies have reported an association between exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMFs) and increased risk of cancerous diseases, albeit without dose-effect relationships. The validity of such findings can be corroborated only by demonstration of dose-dependent DNA-damaging effects of ELF-EMFs in cells of human origin in vitro.

Methods: Cultured human diploid fibroblasts were exposed to intermittent ELF electromagnetic fields. DNA damage was determined by alkaline and neutral comet assay.

Results: ELF-EMF exposure (50 Hz, sinusoidal, 1-24 h, 20-1,000 mu T, 5 min on/10 min off) induced dose-dependent and time-dependent DNA single-strand and double-strand breaks. Effects occurred at a magnetic flux density as low as 35 mu T, being well below proposed International Commission of Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines. After termination of exposure the induced comet tail factors returned to normal within 9 h.

Conclusion: The induced DNA damage is not based on thermal effects and arouses concern about environmental threshold limit values for ELF exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Child
  • Comet Assay
  • DNA Damage*
  • Diploidy
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Male