Non-specific physical symptoms in relation to actual and perceived proximity to mobile phone base stations and powerlines

BMC Public Health. 2011 Jun 1:11:421. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-11-421.


Background: Evidence about a possible causal relationship between non-specific physical symptoms (NSPS) and exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by sources such as mobile phone base stations (BS) and powerlines is insufficient. So far little epidemiological research has been published on the contribution of psychological components to the occurrence of EMF-related NSPS. The prior objective of the current study is to explore the relative importance of actual and perceived proximity to base stations and psychological components as determinants of NSPS, adjusting for demographic, residency and area characteristics.

Methods: Analysis was performed on data obtained in a cross-sectional study on environment and health in 2006 in the Netherlands. In the current study, 3611 adult respondents (response rate: 37%) in twenty-two Dutch residential areas completed a questionnaire. Self-reported instruments included a symptom checklist and assessment of environmental and psychological characteristics. The computation of the distance between household addresses and location of base stations and powerlines was based on geo-coding. Multilevel regression models were used to test the hypotheses regarding the determinants related to the occurrence of NSPS.

Results: After adjustment for demographic and residential characteristics, analyses yielded a number of statistically significant associations: Increased report of NSPS was predominantly predicted by higher levels of self-reported environmental sensitivity; perceived proximity to base stations and powerlines, lower perceived control and increased avoidance (coping) behavior were also associated with NSPS. A trend towards a moderator effect of perceived environmental sensitivity on the relation between perceived proximity to BS and NSPS was verified (p = 0.055). There was no significant association between symptom occurrence and actual distance to BS or powerlines.

Conclusions: Perceived proximity to BS, psychological components and socio-demographic characteristics are associated with the report of symptomatology. Actual distance to the EMF source did not show up as determinant of NSPS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cell Phone*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / etiology*
  • Young Adult