Health risk assessment of electromagnetic fields: a conflict between the precautionary principle and environmental medicine methodology

Rev Environ Health. 2010 Oct-Dec;25(4):325-33. doi: 10.1515/reveh.2010.25.4.325.


The purpose of the precautionary principle is that legal requirements are to be made to safeguard against the possible health risks that have not yet been scientifically established. That a risk is not established cannot, therefore, be used as an excuse for not applying the principle. Yet, that rationale is exactly what is happening in the case of the possible health risks from exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF). The scientists, representing both the World Health Organization and the European Commission, do not have at all the precautionary principle in mind when they report on health risks. Their starting point is instead to determine whether new research findings have been scientifically established and thus cannot be the basis for an amendment to the existing exposure limits. Uncertain indications of risk are ignored or played down. This approach is in conflict with European Union (EU) law, which requires that the degree of scientific uncertainty should be presented correctly. A thorough examination of the state of research shows many serious indications of possible health risks from exposure very far below existing limits for EMF. Case law, for other types of exposure, also shows that the precautionary principle can be applied on the basis of weaker evidence than that. Our investigation shows that the precautionary principle is not being used for its intended purpose in relation to exposure to EMF. The reason for this position is that decision-makers are being misled by inaccurate risk assessments.

MeSH terms

  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Medicine / methods*
  • European Union
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Radiation
  • Radio Waves / adverse effects
  • Risk Assessment
  • Uncertainty
  • United States
  • Wireless Technology*
  • World Health Organization