Comparative risks

Comparing possible risks from EMFs to risks from other issues

At present no-one can be certain whether there is a risk from EMFs or not - see here for a discussion of what the evidence says.  But if there is a risk from EMFs, how does it compare to other risks?

Comparing different risks is a fraught business.  Depending on how you express a risk, you can make it sound bigger or smaller.  The acceptability of a risk doesn't just depend on how big it is, but also on other factors such as whether people get a benefit from it, whether they accept it voluntarily, etc.  And just because we are exposed to bigger risks, that doesn't mean we should automatically accept smaller risks.  So none of the following statistics are intended to tell you how you should react to a possible EMF risk.  We provide them, in as neutral a way as possible, so that people who are interested can see the figures for themselves.

How big would any EMF risk be?

The average annual risk of childhood leukaemia for a child (age 0-15) in the UK is 1 in 24,000.  So, if there were a doubling of the risk, the extra risk experienced by those children who are exposed to the relevant fields would also be 1 in 24,000 per year.

Another way of looking at this is how many children across the whole country would be affected.  We discuss this in detail here and the calculation says that if there is a real risk, 2 extra cases a year might be attributable to magnetic fields.

What other risks do we experience in the home?

clg-comparative-risk-p22-thThe Department for Communities and Local Government have published a report which analyses risks in homes.  It doesn't just look at the numerical risk but looks at the severity of harm, the number of people affected, etc, and uses a matrix approach to reach an overall score.  Out of 33 hazards, hygrothermal conditions (the effect on health from either low- or high-temperatures and humidity), and slips, trips and falls are among the most severe – attracting the highest index. By comparison, electromagnetic fields are at the bottom of the list with a risk index of “no basis for risk assessment”.

We give more details of this analysis including the summary ranking of all 33 agents here.

How many people die from different causes?

The best source of statistics on this comes from the Office of National Statistics and we give a selection of figures here.  For example, half a million people die each year in the UK, of which 141,000 are from cancer, of which 11,000 are from leukaemia, of which 50 are children.  12,000 people die from accidents and around 300 from assault.

What are the risks of different activities?

We give examples here of how different organisations have compared risks from particular activities, ranging from the risk of death in pregnancy - 1 in 8000 - to death in aircraft incidents - 1 in 125 million journeys.