Does short-term exposure to mobile phone base station signals increase symptoms in individuals who report sensitivity to electromagnetic fields? A double-blind randomized provocation study

Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Nov;115(11):1603-8. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10286.


Background: Individuals with idiopathic environmental illness with attribution to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) believe they suffer negative health effects when exposed to electromagnetic fields from everyday objects such as mobile phone base stations.

Objectives: This study used both open provocation and double-blind tests to determine if sensitive and control individuals experience more negative health effects when exposed to base station-like signals compared with sham.

Methods: Fifty-six self-reported sensitive and 120 control participants were tested in an open provocation test. Of these, 12 sensitive and 6 controls withdrew after the first session. The remainder completed a series of double-blind tests. Subjective measures of well-being and symptoms as well as physiological measures of blood volume pulse, heart rate, and skin conductance were obtained.

Results: During the open provocation, sensitive individuals reported lower levels of well-being in both the global system for mobile communication (GSM) and universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS) compared with sham exposure, whereas controls reported more symptoms during the UMTS exposure. During double-blind tests the GSM signal did not have any effect on either group. Sensitive participants did report elevated levels of arousal during the UMTS condition, whereas the number or severity of symptoms experienced did not increase. Physiological measures did not differ across the three exposure conditions for either group.

Conclusions: Short-term exposure to a typical GSM base station-like signal did not affect well-being or physiological functions in sensitive or control individuals. Sensitive individuals reported elevated levels of arousal when exposed to a UMTS signal. Further analysis, however, indicated that this difference was likely to be due to the effect of order of exposure rather than the exposure itself.

Keywords: base station; electromagnetic fields; electromagnetic hypersensitivity; mobile phone; well-being.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood Pressure / radiation effects
  • Cell Phone* / statistics & numerical data
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Illness / etiology
  • Environmental Illness / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology