Bridlewood Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) Information Service

What Are Safe EMF Levels

By: Richard W. Woodley, Webmaster
June 1999
The most common and the most difficult question I get asked is whether someone should buy a home or move from a home because of the EMF levels. The basic question they are asking is “what are safe EMF levels”.

There are a couple of easy responses available to me. One is that I am not an expert and not qualified to answer the question. The other is that we don’t know. Both are true and both are not very useful responses to people with difficult decisions to make.

I may not be an expert but I am certainly an informed observer of the EMF situation. If I am going to disseminate information on the subject, I owe those that ask for help more than just “I don’t know”. So, in that spirit, I will try to provide, not advice, but some informed comment on the situation.

The first thing I look to for guidance in this question is the epidemiology. There have been a fair number of epidemiological studies in the area of childhood brain cancer and leukemia all of which indicate an association with EMFs - two to three times the number of cases - at magnetic field levels above 2-3 milliGauss (mG). This implies, of course that EMF levels below that are safer than levels above that. However, some have suggested guideline levels of 1 mG or even 0.65 mG.

The fact is none of the studies compared exposed subjects to unexposed subjects but only compared relative levels of exposure - because there are no unexposed people in our wired world. For all we know, all cases of childhood leukemia and brain cancer may be related to EMFs. We also do not know for certain whether long term chronic exposure is a key factor - although it certainly appears to be. And we do not know the role that such electrical events as power spikes and transients, etc., may play.

We do know however that for power line fields most people that are exposed, even to relatively high levels, do not seem to be affected. It is not a simple cause and effect relationship. In fact many, myself included, suspect that EMFs may not be a cause of cancer, but a promoter that acts when other factors such as exposure to other environmental pollutants, or a genetic disposition are present.

These are all factors that need to be studied. If the scientific and political community would accept the obvious facts - that there is indeed an association between EMFs and higher levels of cancer and other diseases and disabilities then we could get on with the important research in finding what the key factors are.

So where does that leave us. Most of us cannot run off to a desert island with no electricity or radio transmission. What we can do is reduce our exposure as much as possible. We can start with personal exposure. Most appliances have high levels of EMFs that drop off very quickly and we are not exposed to them for long periods of time. But there are some exceptions where we can take avoidance measures such as not using electric blankets or keeping electric clocks right beside our beds or placing our children’s beds in the bedrooms with the lowest EMF levels. We can also check our homes for hot spots - in some cases improper grounding systems can cause high EMF levels that can easily be corrected.

And we can be cautious when buying a home - including a satisfactory EMF inspection requirement in the offer to purchase, and avoiding homes with levels above the 2-3 mG magnetic field level (recognizing that it is not necessarily a safe level but perhaps a level of acceptable risk relative to higher levels, given what we know at this time).

I have not referred to electric field readings simply because most of the studies have looked at magnetic fields and most of the meters available to the general public at reasonable cost measure magnetic fields. I have also not referred to radio frequency or cellular telephone fields because I am not as familiar with that area which is very complicated with research just being begun in that area.