Maternal proximity to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields and risk of birth defects

Eur J Epidemiol. 2019 Jul;34(7):689-697. doi: 10.1007/s10654-019-00518-1. Epub 2019 Apr 11.


Causes of birth defects are unclear, and the association with electromagnetic fields is inconclusive. We assessed the relationship between residential proximity to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields from power grids and risk of birth defects. We analyzed a population-based sample of 2,164,246 infants born in Quebec, Canada between 1989 and 2016. We geocoded the maternal residential postal code at delivery and computed the distance to the nearest high voltage electrical transmission line or transformer station. We used log-binomial regression to estimate risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for the association of residential proximity to transmission lines and transformer stations with birth defects, adjusting for maternal and infant characteristics. The prevalence of birth defects within 200 m of a transmission line (579.4 per 10,000 per live births) was only slightly higher compared with distances further away (568.7 per 10,000). A similar trend was seen for transformer stations. Compared with 200 m, a distance of 50 m was not associated with the risk of birth defects for transmission lines (RR 1.00, 95% CI 1.00-1.01) and transformer stations (RR 1.01, 95% CI 1.00-1.03). There was no consistent association when we examined birth defects in different organ systems. We found no compelling evidence that residential proximity to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields from electrical power grids increases the risk of birth defects. Women residing near electrical grids can be reassured that an effect on the risk of birth defects is unlikely.

Keywords: Congenital abnormalities; Electric power supplies; Electromagnetic fields; Environmental exposure; Pregnancy outcome.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Congenital Abnormalities / etiology*
  • Electric Power Supplies / adverse effects*
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome / epidemiology*
  • Premature Birth / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Retrospective Moral Judgment
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult