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.