Effects of electromagnetic fields on the immune systems of occupationally exposed humans and mice

Arch Environ Health. 2003 Nov;58(11):712-7. doi: 10.3200/AEOH.58.11.712-717.


The authors examined immunological disorders in 6 individuals who had been exposed occupationally to environmental electromagnetic fields. Comparable effects on mice exposed in a similar environment were also investigated. The human subjects had worked 8 hr/day for 5 yr in a laboratory located above electrical transformers and high-tension cables, and in which there were low-frequency electromagnetic fields of 0.2-6.6 microtesla (microT). The 6 control subjects (matched for socioeconomic parameters, sex, and age) had worked away from the immediate vicinity of transformers and high-tension cables. The authors found statistically significantly lower total lymphocyte, CD4, and CD3 counts, and significantly increased natural killer (NK) cells, in exposed subjects vs. controls. Six months after exposure had ceased, total lymphocyte counts had increased, as had CD4, CD3, and CD19 counts (+13%, +28%, +22%, and +17%, respectively), and NK cell counts were decreased by 26% (not significant) in the same human subjects. In the second part of this study, 12 Swiss male mice housed in cages were exposed in the same room in which the human subjects had been exposed (i.e., 5-microT, 50-Hz magnetic field) for 109 days; 12 additional mice were used as unexposed controls. The total lymphocyte, leukocyte, polymorphonuclear neutrophil, CD4, and NK counts of the exposed mice at 109 days were significantly lower than those of controls. In addition, plasma glucose levels (at 30 days) and amylase activity (at 109 days) were significantly lower, whereas plasma sodium and chloride levels were significantly elevated at 109 days. Results from this study suggest that chronic exposure to a 0.2-6.6-microT magnetic field can lead to decreased immunological parameters (total lymphocytes and CD4 counts) in both humans and mice. The increase in some values once exposure was terminated suggests a causal relationship with exposure to electromagnetic fields, as do the changes in mice, particularly the changes in total lymphocyte and CD4 counts.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Hematologic Tests
  • Humans
  • Immune System / radiation effects*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Socioeconomic Factors