Due to recent information in the public media regarding work in an electromagnetic field (EMF) environment, as well as exposure concerns expressed by some University staff, the Department of Environment Health and Safety (EHS) has created a position statement regarding the safety of working in an EMF environment.

Sources of EMF exposure include ELF (extremely low frequency), cell and mobile phones, wireless networks, smart meters, and microwave devices. This discussion provides information concerning the current consensus in the scientific and medical community about the hazards of exposure to EMF radiation, the status of regulations governing such fields, and EHS’s present position on EMF exposure guidelines.

EMF Emitted by Electrical Devices

EMF includes both electrical and magnetic fields emanating from electrical devices. The electromagnetic radiation is in the frequency range of 50/60 Hz (from typical power lines) through the RF range (wireless networks at 2.4 – 5.8 GHz) up to 300 GHz (microwave devices). These frequencies are all lower than visible light which is electromagnetic radiation in the frequency of 100s of THz and is much lower in energy than ionizing radiation (e.g. the type of radiation emitted by x-ray machines and radioactive materials), and the biological effects associated with exposure are much different.

Potential Hazards

The long-recognized and well understood adverse biological effect resulting from exposure to high levels of Rf exposure is tissue and cell heating. More recently concerns have been raised about whether there may be effects, including carcinogenicity, at EMF levels below those levels that produce detectable harmful heating. Many studies have been conducted to determine whether there is a causal relationship between low-level radiofrequency exposure and harmful effects such as cancer and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Most of the studies conducted to date have been on RF emissions from mobile phones. Due to the close distance between the mobile phone and the head and because of the higher power levels involved with mobile phone use, the level of exposure for frequent mobile phone users is considerably higher than the potential exposure to those persons working in areas in which WiFi systems exist. Epidemiological studies by reputable scientists have consistently failed to demonstrate convincing evidence of any adverse health effects from RF exposure below the regulatory limits and guidelines cited below. The references cited at the end of this discussion provide more detailed information regarding these studies and their conclusions.

Regulations and Guidelines

Exposure limits for radiofrequency radiation have been established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA), and various state regulatory organizations. Additionally, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienist (ACGIH) have established guidelines for exposure to RF radiation.

Conclusion and General Recommendations

The technical literature is conflicted regarding EMF exposure and health effects. While many studies conclude that there are no adverse health effects from established acceptable levels of EMF exposure, others conclude that adverse health effects may result from long-term exposure to high level EMFs. However, it is the general consensus of the majority of the scientific community that scientific studies, to date, have suggested that the existence of harmful effects from environmental levels of exposure has not been substantiated but remains a possibility.

As a result, EHS will continue to utilize the predominate guidelines issued by reputable scientific organizations to date while acknowledging that technologies that produce EMF are continually evolving (ie, 4G communication systems and smart meter technology) and that the EMF literature will continue to develop and must be reviewed often.

References and Resources

The following references provide additional information regarding the effects and hazards of exposure to RF fields and provide information about RF exposure guidelines, standards, and regulations:

  • The Possible Harmful Biological Effects of Low-Level Electromagnetic Fields of Frequencies up to 300 GHz
    2012 Position Statement by the Institute of Engineering and Technology.
  • Radiofrequency (RF) Evaluation Report
    February 2013. Prepared by URS, Omaha Nebraska.
  • Guidelines for Limiting Exposure to Time Varying Electric, Magnetic, and Electromagnetic Fields (up to 300 GHz)
    April 1998. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
  • C95.6 – 2002 IEEE Standard for Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields 0 to 3 kHz
    2002. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
  • Fact Sheet on the Guidelines for Limiting Exposure to Time Varying Electric and Magnetic Fields (1 Hz – 100 kHz), November 2010, The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
  • C95.1-  2005 IEEE Standard for Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Electromagnetic fields, 3 kHz t0 300 GHz