ICNIRP is the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

In 2001 their Standing Committee on Epidemiology published a major Review of the Epidemiological Literature on EMF and Health. See the complete abstract below.  Similar conclusions are included in ICNIRP's exposure guidelines.

See also what ICNIRP says about static fields.

Their conclusions on specific health effects were:

Childhood leukaemia:

"Following the original report by Wertheimer and Leeper linking the three most common forms of childhood cancer with a proxy measure of residential EMF (wire codes), more than 18 studies in nine countries have shown no convincing evidence of a relationship between childhood leukaemia and residential EMF exposures among children with estimated exposure levels under 0.2 µT. A 2-fold increase in relative risk of childhood leukaemia, confined to a very tiny fraction of children (estimated as 0.8% in one large pooled analysis) with residential EMF exposures ≥ 0.4 µT, is difficult to interpret in the absence of a known biological mechanism or reproducible experimental support of carcinogenesis. There is also some evidence to suggest that selection bias may account for some of the increase in risk among the proportion of children with high residential EMF exposure."

Adult leukaemia:

"Results from these studies have ranged from null to rather strong positive associations, with relative risks in the upper exposure categories above 2.0. Unfortunately, there is not a clear pattern in which the better studies are more or less likely to produce positive associations. In the aggregate, assuming random error accounts for differences among studies, the results are most consistent with a weak positive association, with relative risks for the more highly exposed groups of the order of 1.1-1.3. Relative risks of this magnitude are below the level at which epidemiological methods can effectively assess causal relations. Nevertheless, the evidence at present supporting a role for EMF in the etiology of adult leukemia is weak."

Adult nervous system tumours:

"The conclusions provided for EMF and adult leukemia are essentially applicable to the brain cancer literature as well. A large number of studies, mostly addressing occupational exposure, have generated measures of association ranging from null to rather strongly positive, but in the aggregate, relative risk estimates would be in the range of 1.1-1.3, a level at which a meaningful discussion of causality is not possible."

Adult breast cancer

"The totality of evidence linking EMFs to breast cancer, in men or women, remains weak."

Neurodegenerative disorders

"For reasons discussed in the preceding sections, the ALS [amyotrophic Lateral sclerosis] results are intriguing and point toward a possible risk increase in subjects with EMF exposure. However, confirmatory studies are needed, as is an appropriate consideration of confounding, for example, from electric shocks, as a conceivable explanation. As for AD [Alzheimer’s disease], it appears the excess risk is constrained to studies with weaker designs; thus support for the hypothesis of a link between EMF and AD is weak."

Suicide and depression

"When assessing the overall literature on EMF and suicide, it is necessary to consider the relative weights of the available studies together with their results. In doing so the original study must be given a relatively light weight in relation to later studies because of methodological limitations. Nevertheless, the latest study also suggests that an excess risk may indeed exist.

The literature on depressive symptoms and EMF is difficult to interpret because the findings are not consistent. This complexity cannot easily be resolved by suggesting that one type of result can be confined to a group of studies with methodological problems or some other limitation."

Cardiovascular disease

"In summary, evidence of cardiovascular effects due to elevated exposure to magnetic fields is weak, and whether a specific association exists between exposure and altered autonomic control of the heart remains speculative until corroborating evidence from further large epidemiological studies becomes available."

Reproductive Effects

(note: this paper was written before the 2001 results from California)

"Thus fundamental methodological limitations preclude firm conclusions about reproductive outcomes. Studies with refined measurements of exposure and outcome could yield different results than those reported to date. However, on the basis of theoretical considerations and both experimental and epidemiological studies, there is very little encouragement for pursuing research on EMF and reproductive health. Existing evidence does not support the hypothesis that maternal exposure to EMF through residential, including heated bed, exposure or through the workplace is associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes."


Complete Abstract

"Exposures to extremely low-frequency electric and magnetic fields (EMF) emanating from the generation, transmission, and use of electricity are a ubiquitous part of modern life. Concern about potential adverse health effects was initially brought to prominence by an epidemiologic report two decades ago from Denver on childhood cancer. We reviewed the now voluminous epidemiologic literature on EMF and risks of chronic disease and conclude the following: a) The quality of epidemiologic studies on this topic has improved over time and several of the recent studies on childhood leukemia and on cancer associated with occupational exposure are close to the limit of what can realistically be achieved in terms of size of study and methodological rigor. b) Exposure assessment is a particular difficulty of EMF epidemiology, in several respects: i) The exposure is imperceptible, ubiquitous, has multiple sources, and can vary greatly over time and short distances. ii) The exposure period of relevance is before the date at which measurements can realistically be obtained and of unknown duration and induction period. iii) The appropriate exposure metric is not known and there are no biological data from which to impute it. c) In the absence of experimental evidence and given the methodological uncertainties in the epidemiologic literature, there is no chronic disease for which an etiological relation to EMF can be regarded as established. d) There has been a large body of high quality data for childhood cancer, and also for adult leukemia and brain tumor in relation to occupational exposure. Among all the outcomes evaluated in epidemiologic studies of EMF, childhood leukemia in relation to postnatal exposures above 0.4 µT is the one for which there is most evidence of an association. The relative risk has been estimated at 2.0 (95% confidence limit: 1.27-3.13) in a large pooled analysis. This is unlikely to be due to chance but, may be, in part, due to bias. This is difficult to interpret in the absence of a known mechanism or reproducible experimental support. In the large pooled analysis only 0.8% of all children were exposed above 0.4 µT. Further studies need to be designed to test specific hypotheses such as aspects of selection bias or exposure. On the basis of epidemiologic findings, evidence shows an association of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with occupational EMF exposure although confounding is a potential explanation. Breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and suicide and depression remain unresolved. Key words: cancer, chronic disease, epidemiology, extremely low-frequency EMF, review. -- Environ Health Perspect 109(suppl 6):911-933 (2001)." 

ICNIRP exposure limits

  • ICNIRP is principally an exposure-limits setting body.  This page deals with their review of the science but see also their 1998 and 2010 exposure limits.