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. 2005 Jun 29;360(1458):1223-30.
doi: 10.1098/rstb.2005.1663.

The Bernal Lecture 2004 Are Low-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields a Health Hazard?

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The Bernal Lecture 2004 Are Low-Frequency Electromagnetic Fields a Health Hazard?

Michael J Crumpton. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. .
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Abstract

Electric power is an essential commodity of the developed world, and is critical to the continuing progress of our technology-based society, as well as to the growth of less privileged societies. In contrast to its overwhelming benefits, there is a suspicion that the magnetic component of the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) associated with power distribution and electrical appliances has adverse health effects, especially a small increased incidence of childhood leukaemia. The possibility that environmental EMFs represent a health hazard has serious economic implications for government, the electricity industry and society, as well as raising several profound scientific challenges, including, in particular, biophysical mechanisms, experimental replication and scientific uncertainty. These challenges are explored in relation to the experiences of the EMF Biological Research Trust, a UK medical research charity which funds basic research on the biological effects of extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMFs). As judged from these experiences, at the present time there is no compelling experimental evidence that environmental ELF-EMFs induce biological responses.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
The relative risk of childhood leukaemia in relation to the average strength of the ELF-EMF to which the subject was continuously exposed. This paper is based on the data of Ahlbom et al. (2000). (I am grateful to Dr John Swanson (National Grid Transco plc) for the figure.)
Figure 2
Figure 2
Distribution curves showing the average strength of the ELF-EMF to which individual houses are continuously exposed in the UK and the USA. (I am grateful to Dr John Swanson (National Grid Transco plc) for the figure.)
Figure 3
Figure 3
The radical-pair mechanism. This figure is derived from a collection of theoretical and experimental studies on magnetic-field effects (Brocklehurst 2002). (I am grateful to Professor P. J. Hore for the figure.)
Figure 4
Figure 4
Demonstration of the ‘low-field effect’, whereby exposure to static magnetic fields causes an increase in the free-radical concentration. (Timmel et al., unpublished observations)
Figure 5
Figure 5
Outline of experiments using yeast to study the impact of environmental stresses on gene expression. (I am grateful to Professor N. Jones for the figure.)
Figure 6
Figure 6
Microarray analysis of changes in gene expression induced in yeast by various environmental stresses. Decreases and increases in gene expression are represented in green and red, respectively; the extent of the changes up to a maximum of sixfold being indicated by the intensities of the colours. (I am grateful to Professor N. Jones and Dr Jürg Bähler for figures 6 and 8).
Figure 7
Figure 7
Experimental protocol for determining whether exposure of yeast to electromagnetic fields induces changes in gene expression. (I am grateful to Professor N. Jones for the figure.)
Figure 8
Figure 8
Gene-expression changes in yeast exposed to either magnetic fields or ‘sham-exposed’. The changes are expressed in the so-called ‘Christmas tree’ format (Chen et al., unpublished observations). The pairs of columns at the far left and far right represent positive controls exposed to H2O2 and Cd++, respectively, in duplicate. The four central columns represent exposure to either to 1000 μT static magnetic fields for 60 min or sham-exposed in duplicate. No consistent twofold activation or repression of genes was observed in the sham or exposed samples. Therefore, the results do not show any measurable variation that would be consistent with a group of genes being specifically altered in transcription as a result of magnetic-field exposure.

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