Electromagnetic Fields (EMF): Do They Play a Role in Children's Environmental Health (CEH)?

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2007 Oct;210(5):635-44. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2007.07.007. Epub 2007 Aug 31.


Possible adverse health effects of exposure to electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields (EMF), and especially the question of whether there exists a special vulnerability of children, have been a much discussed topic during the last two decades. Static fields produce health effects only in very rare and exceptional circumstances at extremely high field intensities. As for low-frequency EMF, the results of epidemiological research with respect to childhood leukaemia prompted the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2001 to classify these fields as "possibly carcinogenic to humans". Current hypotheses on the mechanism of such action are presented. The effect, if existent, appears to be not very important in relation to established other causes of childhood leukaemia. High-frequency EMF, as used in mobile and wireless communication (mobile telephony according to the GSM and UMTS standard, cordless DECT phones, wireless local area networks (WLAN), Bluetooth) and since many decades also in radio and television technology, are practically omnipresent. At high intensities, the generation of heat is the principal effect. Current guidelines, limits and regulations prevent any such effect. Mobile phone calls may, in certain circumstances, lead to local exposures close to limit values. Base stations typically produce exposures lower by 2-5 magnitudes. The discussion centres on the so-called non-thermal effects, which are supposedly occurring at field intensities, which are by orders of magnitude lower than those responsible for thermal effects. The reproducibility of these effects is usually poor, and no physiologic or pathogenic mechanism, so far, has been found to explain the alleged effects. Equally, epidemiologic studies have not furnished clear and reproducible data as arguments for negative health effects. Final results of the INTERPHONE study on the risk of brain tumours, acoustic neurinoma and parotid gland tumours associated with the use of mobile phones will be soon available. Preliminary results do not seem to indicate a substantial increase in risk. There are presently no scientific data supporting the concept of a special vulnerability of children and adolescents to high-frequency EMF, even if the usual caveats (developing organisms and structures may be more vulnerable, decades of life to come) are considered. The concept of precautionary measures adapted to such concerns is critically discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cell Phone
  • Child
  • Child Welfare*
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Health*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity*
  • Leukemia, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Microwaves
  • Public Health*