SCENIHR

SCENIHR is the European Union's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks.

February 2014 Preliminary Opinion

On 4 February 2014, SCENIHR published "Preliminary opinion on Potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF)".  This is an update to the 2009 opinion. It is a preliminary opinion which is issued for consultation, with the consultation period running up to 16 April 2014.

The section of the abstract concerning ELF fields states:

"Health effects from Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) fields

The new epidemiological studies are consistent with earlier findings of an increased risk of childhood leukemia with long-term average exposure to magnetic fields above 0.3 to 0.4 μT. However, as stated in the previous opinions, no mechanisms have been identified that could explain these findings. The lack of experimental support and shortcomings identified for the epidemiological studies prevent a causal interpretation.

Studies investigating possible effects of magnetic fields (MF) exposure on the power spectra of the waking EEG, behavioural outcomes and cortical excitability are too heterogeneous to enable drawing any conclusion.

While most studies investigating the effects of ELF MF exposure on symptoms have not found any effects, two experimental studies have identified individual participants who may reliably react to exposure. Replication of these findings is essential before weight is given to these results.

Recent results do not show an effect of ELF MF exposure on reproductive function in humans."

January 2009 Opinion

On January 19 2009 SCENIHR published "Health Effects of Exposure to EMF".

The stated purpose is:

"The purpose of this opinion is to update the SCENIHR opinion of 21 March 2007 in the light of newly available information, and to provide a methodological framework and corresponding guidelines to evaluate available scientific evidence in order to ensure the best possible quality for risk assessment."

The section of the abstract concerned with ELF fields states:

"The few new epidemiological and animal studies that have addressed ELF exposure and cancer do not change the previous assessment that ELF magnetic fields are a possible carcinogen and might contribute to an increase in childhood leukaemia. At present, in vitro studies did not provide a mechanistic explanation of this epidemiological finding.

No new studies support a causal relationship between ELF fields and self-reported symptoms.

New epidemiological studies indicate a possible increase in Alzheimer's disease arising from exposure to ELF. Further epidemiological and laboratory investigations of this observation are needed.

Recent animal studies provided an indication for effects on the nervous system at flux densities from 0.10-1.0 mT. However, there are still inconsistencies in the data, and no definite conclusions can be drawn concerning human health effects.

Very few recent in vitro studies have investigated effects from ELF fields on diseases other than cancer and those available have very little relevance. There is a need for hypothesis-based in vitro studies to examine specific diseases.

It is notable that in vivo and in vitro studies show effects at exposure levels (from 0.10 mT and above) to ELF fields that are considerably higher than the levels encountered in the epidemiological studies (μT-levels) which showed an association between exposure and diseases such as childhood leukaemia and Alzheimer's disease. This warrants further investigation."

March 2007 Opinion

The previous scientific opinion of the Commission on EMFs was produced as a draft for consultation in September 2006 and then adopted in final form in March 2007 by SCENIHR – the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly identified Health Risks.

Their conclusion on power frequencies was:

“The previous conclusion that ELF fields are possibly carcinogenic, chiefly based on childhood leukaemia results, is still valid. There is no known mechanism to explain how electromagnetic field exposure may induce leukaemia. The effects have not been replicated in animal studies.”

and

“For breast cancer and cardiovascular disease, recent research has indicated that an association is unlikely. For neurodegenerative diseases and brain tumours, the link to ELF fields remains uncertain. No consistent relationship between ELF fields and self reported systems (sometimes referred to as electrical hypersensitivity) has been demonstrated.”

October 2002 CSTEE Opinion

The SCENIHR opinion of 2007 was an update of the previous scientific opinion provided to the European Union which was in October 2002 by CSTEE – the Scientific Committee on Toxicity, Ecotoxicity and the Environment.

“With regard to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields, the CSTEE reached the following conclusions:

  • Combined analyses of the epidemiological studies on the association between exposure to ELF and childhood leukaemia have strengthened the evidence of an association. However, given some inconsistencies in exposure measurements and the absence of other criteria commonly used in assessing causality (particularly a plausible explanation of underlying biological mechanisms, (see above), the association does not meet adequate criteria for being considered causal. Thus the overall evidence for 50/60 Hz magnetic fields to produce childhood leukaemia must be regarded as being limited*(*).

  • The effect, if any, seems to be limited to exposures above 0.4 µT. In European countries, the proportion of children exposed to such levels is less than 1%. Assuming that the risk is doubled among the exposed, in the general population this would roughly correspond to an excess incidence of less than 1% childhood leukaemia. To put this in context, in European countries, the incident of leukaemia is around 45 per million children (age 0-14) per year.

  • Whether changes of recommended exposure limits to 50/60 Hz magnetic fields (12) ought to be recommended on this basis is a problem for risk managers, falling beyond the remit of the CSTEE.

  • There is no convincing suggestions of any other carcinogenic effect on either children or adults. Current information on this respect does not provide for reconsidering exposure limits.

  • Reports on possibly hypersensitive individuals require confirmation and do not provide a basis for proposing changes in the exposure limits.”

2009 Research Recommendations

In July 2009, SCENIHR published "Research needs and methodology to address the remaining knowledge gaps on the potential health effects of EMF".

For ELF, the research recommendations are:

"Extremely low frequency fields
- Experimental studies relevant to possible carcinogenicity of ELF fields (laboratory studies using in vitro and/or animal models).
- Studies on the association between ELF magnetic fields and neurodegenerative diseases (epidemiological study (cohort study or register-based case-control study) on Alzheimer's Disease and laboratory study using animal and possibly in vitro models of Alzheimer’s Disease).

Additional considerations
Environmental effects (comparison of selected ecosystem(s) before and after the installation of a new facility and/or located at varying field strengths from specific ELF EMF source(s))."