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Musings of an Energy Nerd

EMFs and Human Health

Can exposure to electric fields or magnetic fields make you sick?

Protect yourself from electromagnetic fields (EMFs)! This $140 device is a "vortex energizer and EMF harmonizer." According to the manufacturer, the device was "developed to balance and harmonize the energetic environment in buildings, counteracting geopathic stress and the effects of electromagnetic radiation, such as generated by computers, TVs and microwave ovens."
Image Credit: Centre for Implosion Research

Every now and then, green builders are approached by clients who are worried about exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Such clients have read that EMF exposure can make them sick, and they’re interested in building a house that minimizes EMF exposure.

In the modern world, EMFs are ubiquitous. Most of us are surrounded every day by weak electric and magnetic fields that are generated by electrical wires, home appliances, cell phones, and broadcasting equipment.

Electric fields are governed by voltage; they are generated (for example) near wires that are plugged into an electric receptacle, even when the appliance isn’t turned on. The higher the voltage, the stronger the electric field.

Magnetic fields are governed by current; they are generated near electric wires when an appliance is turned on and current is flowing through the wires. The higher the current, the stronger the magnetic field.

The electric and magnetic fields from 60-cycle AC electricity are considered extremely low frequency (ELF). People concerned about possible negative health effects from EMFs are usually more concerned about magnetic fields than by electric fields.

“EMFs can make you sick”

It’s easy to find warnings about the dangers of EMFs; all you need to do is surf the web:

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  1. dankolbert | | #1

    Guess I was a little late getting my individualized Prius Faraday cages to market. I would have cut you in, too, if you could have just kept your mouth shut.

    Ah well, in a parallel universe I'm rich.

  2. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #2

    Response to Dan Kolbert
    Yes, someone has beat you to it. Every variation of the aluminum-foil hat is already available on the market. Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and PayPal all accepted.

  3. user-741168 | | #3

    Good job
    Nice writeup. The National Center for Healthy Housing has completed a draft of a National Healthy Housing Standard here. It contains nothing about EMF.

    The European text equivalent to the US Architectural Graphic Standards is by Ernst Neufert, and the book is referred to fondly as Neufert. It is loaded with terrestrial fields that must somehow be detected so that the direction of the client's sleep is consistent with the governing pattern. Sheesh.

  4. GBA Editor
    Rob Wotzak | | #4

    Buy only the best EMF-protective gear
    This "EMF protection device" must be designed to protect innocent bystanders from the radiation emanating from the wearers own cellphone.
    (actually, I think it's just a photo of a wearable umbrella that an "EMF-protection-device" website borrowed for their unscrupulous marketing campaign)

  5. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #5

    Be sure to protect your whole family
    Everybody needs adequate protection from EMF exposure.


  6. Expert Member
    ARMANDO COBO | | #6

    More Hazards
    Other than the tobacco smoke and formaldehyde, In new construction, I would be more concerned about good IAQ in homes that have open flame fireplaces, gas stoves, pets, uncleansed and nasty housekeeping , pets and bad HVAC systems, including no ventilation or make-up air, to name a few. All these seem to be the norm in most states!

  7. user-1089777 | | #7

    Much needed info
    This is a great article and most welcome, especially out here in California, where energy fields seem to affect people more intensely in some very, um, 'interesting' ways.

    Thank you.

  8. user-963341 | | #8

    Reason at last
    When I started the article I thought I had found the reason for the arthritis, nose bleeds, headaches and all the other ills I've acquired over the years. Then you go and debunk the whole thing, and very well at that. Could you at least debunk the scurrilous talk going around that it's because of my advancing age?

    BTW, those tinfoil hats may protect you from mind control but they probably attract lightning.

  9. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #9

    I'm always amazed...
    ... at how the helpful hints on how to protect against EMF don't differentiate between 60HZ line frequency stuff (a wavelength a bit bigger than the circumference of the earth) and cell phone stuff in the gigahertz-band (one full wavelength less than a foot), or how to deal with it from the magnetic field side of it vs. the electrical field side.

    The Environmental Building News has it sort of right- the really big fields at the extremely low frequency (ELF) end of the spectrum are from high current loops in power lines. The lower power your appliances, the lower the current, and thus the lower ELF potential (not that the current & ELF typically seen in homes is all that high, even with low-efficiency electric baseboard heating.) But their statement that "the electric and magnetic fields from 60-cycle electric current are extremely low-frequency (ELF) and thus low energy" is utter crap borne of a complete misunderstanding of what's going on- the frequency has no bearing on the power, or the field strengths- it's all about the current & loop size, and proximity to the loop. Unless you're living/working at a large power generation plant or under grid substation transformer those fields & effects in YOUR environment are going to be vanishingly small- the orders of magnitude in power density surely matter.

    If I lived in 20 unit apartment building and the transformer serving the building was pole-mounted 6 feet from my bed I'd be inclined to at least measure it. Under high voltage power lines the phases are of-necessity separated from each other (to avoid arcing), and from the ground, leading to large loop areas, and since it's the power feed to huge loads, fairly high currents to boot, which can make for very high magnetic fields at ground level during high grid-load conditions. Living right under the grid feeder to the local sub-station might have SOME remotely theoretical health risk, but those health effects are low enough to be extremely difficult tom measure, even in those instances.

    In the other 99.999% of homes you're more likely to run into abnormally high ELF field from illegitimate ground paths (say, neutral wiring tied at multiple points rather than only at the breaker box) than whether it's in Romex or BX or metal conduit, etc., and unless you have a bunch of very high power loads pulling that current, the fields are pretty tiny compared to the power-substation example even WITH illegitimate wiring practices. Really cheap iron-core transformers in alarm clocks and other small appliances can have unusually high fields for the amount of power going through them, which only means you probably shouldn't put one under your pillow- the bedside stand is far enough- there just isn't that much radiated power density 2-3' away from the thing.

    At the other end of he spectrum, the total radiated power for most the UHF/microwave stuff like wireless routers, cell phones and smart meters is miniscule compared to the stray ELF/MLF coming off the ferrite core inductors & transformers in the switching power supplies in your lap-top or tablet computer, but even you spend 24 hours/day with your i-Pad glued to your face you're incurring a far greater health risk from tripping and bumping into things 'cuz your walking while distracted by the YouTube vidi of cat-pianist than any stray fields the device is putting out.

    Perhaps the right way to think about it is along the lines of UV exposure. Habitually spending 1 second per week under the noon-day sun has near zero health risks (other than vitamin D deficiency from not getting enough sun:-) ). That's about 7-8 orders of magnitude less exposure than spending that entire week in a tanning bed, which would surely be lethal. It's 5 orders of magnitude less than spending a full hour in the tanning bed every day- a practice hat would deliver significant burns daily, and would likely kill you (probably within months, not years) from any number of acute effects.

    But 10 minutes/week of mid-day sun isn't very dangerous, and that's less than three orders of magnitude less dose than a clearly dangerous hour per day in the tanning bed.

    So sure, sticking your cat in a 1000 watt microwave -oven for sixty seconds is going to be pretty dangerous (for the cat) but the maximum legal radiated power out of a cell phone is 0.4 watts, more than two orders of magnitude lower power, and unlike the cat in the micro-wave oven, most of that radiated power is going somewhere other than into your body, call it at most 5 orders of magnitude or lower field that's actually applied to your mammalian tissues. If you have the thing glued to your head and actively using it day & night it would still take years to get the total dose the cat got in 60 seconds, but never enough power at any one time to suffer the acute thermal effects that affected the cat. The health risks of car accidents associated with being distracted by the phone conversation are readily measurable, whereas the risks of the radiation is at the far fringes, and difficult to parse.

    Your home wi-fi router's radiated output is limited to no more than 0.03 watts, about order of magnitude below the cell phone. Are we really going to sweat that one? Even if you put it under your pillow every night it's less of a daily dose than an hour of talking on the cell phone, and you won't reach the dose the cat got one minute even from a lifetime of 8 hours/day with your head on the router. Assuming you don't sleep with you head on the router, but maybe have it a few feet away on your desk where you sit 8 hours/day it might take a millenium to reach the dose the cat got. The inactivity of sitting at that desk 8 hours daily has a readily measurable health risk, whereas the RF emissions of the router just plain doesn't.

    At the ELF end of the spectrum you're also looking at a handful of orders of magnitude of what's measurable in a typical house v.s that at a power station where it's STILL difficult to separate out the occupational health effects of that daily high-ELF dose on those who work in those environments.

    You can worry about those extremely low exposures if you like, but I don't. Personally I prefer to worry more about the long term health effects of my habit of getting sunburned 1-2x year skiing on glaciers or high alpine snow fields, acute short term health effects that are clearly manifest, with long term health effects that are measurable. But even there, I don't worry about it enough to DO much about it, other than to bring whatever sunscreen/hats, etc to limit the exposure. ( Hell, random crevasse-falls or rock hits are far more likely to create a health issue of consequence on those summer-skiing tours than the skin damage related to the occasional burns. :-) )

    OK, time to check back on KickStarter to see if I need to start designing the platinum-plated mu-metal body suit for protecting against EMFs.

  10. JonathanTE | | #10

    Martin, you are ignoring the well-known fact that almost all scientists are only in it for the money and will say anything to protect big industry. That they chose careers in science instead of on Wall Street merely shows that they are stupid -- and why trust people who are not only greedy but stupid? The only trustworthy sources are those extremely rare independent, self-trained investigators of whose loyalty is to truth, justice, and free lunches. For now, I'll give you benefit of the doubt that you've been hoodwinked, and are not actually an agent of 14th dimension overlords seeking to sap our precious bodily fluids.

  11. KyleA | | #11

    Voice of caution
    So does this mean the following bodies are 'tin-foil hat' kooks for being at all concerned, and are in the pockets of the BIG 'EMF-shielding gimmick' business:

    American Academy of Environmental Medicine (advocates a moratorium on Smart Meters)
    World Health Organization (classified RFs from cell phones as a possible human carcinogen)
    BioInitiave Report (global research collaborative advocating strict EMF emission limits)
    International Institute For Building Biology and Ecology
    French National Assembly (suspended Wifi installation in schools)
    European Environmental Agency (advocates strict limits in emission from WiFi, cell towers)
    Frankfurt City Government (suspended WiFi in schools)
    Austrian Medical Association (advocates banning WiFi in schools)
    Israeli Minister of Education (suspended WiFi installation in K-3 classes)
    Bavarian Parliament (recommends no wireless in schools)
    Swiss Government (advocates limiting WiFi in schools)
    Italian Supreme Court (ruled that cell phones can cause cancer)

    It's easy for electrical experts who are not experts in biology to pipe up and state that such and such an emission field poses no threat (and vice versa). I am no electrical or biological expert, and like to think for myself as much as possible, but under certain scenarios the precautionary principle doesn't seem like such a bad idea. I hate to generalize, but it's pretty well established that overall human fertility is on the decline, and degenerative, chronic diseases are on the increase (oh but the pharma companies are here to rescue us!). Maybe EMFs aren't at all the culprit, but I get the feeling they aren't helping any.

    Also, the reference to Smart Meters emitting 100-1000 times less than cell phones I take issue with. Utilities have been caught giving false claims about the intensity and frequency of Smart Meter emissions, and in some cases the EMF pulses from Smart Meters have been in the range of 1000 times greater in RF power density than typical cell phones. While a cell phone may pulse more frequently, the RF pulses are typically much lower in power density. If there is a segment of population with EMF hypersensitivity, than they at least have the choice to use or not use a cell phone or WiFi (usually). With Smart Meters they don't have a choice though, and in many cases they are right next to where they sleep. From a human rights perspective, mandatory installation of Smart Meters does not sit well with me, and I feel homeowners should be given a choice, other than having their power shut off.

    Aside from Smart Meters, there are some simple steps recommended by the International Institute For Building Biology and Ecology to minimize your risk, and for most people these should be pretty easy:

    1) forward your cellphone to your landline when you get home and then power off your cellphone;
    2) use corded phones, and unplug your cordless phones (from power sources) when not in use, particularly before bedtime;
    3) turn off your wireless internet router (WiFi) when not in use, particularly before bedtime - and better yet hardwire your router via ethernet cable to your computer(s) and disable your modem's WiFi signal;
    4) maintain a distance of at least six feet between your bed and all electrical devices;
    5) Before bedtime, turn off the circuit breaker that serves your bedroom(s).

  12. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #12

    Response to Kyle Anders
    I made reference to the precautionary principle in my article, and you are welcome to adhere to the principle if you choose.

    However, your list of organizations and agencies is misleading. To choose just one agency on your long list -- the World Health Organization -- I think it's fair to say that your intended implication is undermined by statements made by the WHO, including the ones I quote in my article (“Despite extensive research, to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health.”)

  13. Expert Member
    MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #13

    There was unfortunately a time
    When worry about EMF exposure dominated many people's interest green building. I had clients who wanted the kitchen appliances moved away from their bedrooms, but their concerns never seems to extend to a serious study of where the EMFs might really be or their power.
    Last year we had Smart Meters installed here and people immediately noticed an increase in the frequency of various ailments - and that all their bees disappeared! Reminding them that the meters hadn't been activated and were not transmitting yet did nothing to assuage their fears.

  14. user-1135248 | | #14

    I'm protected!
    But I've got all this foil-face polyiso in the roof and walls
    now, isn't that good enough to keep out the orbital mind-control
    lasers? I mean, how many DERs are they doing in Roswell NM or
    Grovers Mill NJ??

    Seriously, you almost lost me around "harmonization". I knew
    this one would generate a storm of comments... but I should get
    back to fixing the wireless theatre intercom that went flakey
    on us today. Analog baseband FM all the way, baby! The little
    antennas on the beltpack were warming my midsection all day.


  15. JonathanTE | | #15

    Response to Kyle Anders
    Kyle, the trouble with super vague correlations such as the reductions in fertility contemporaneous with increases in electrical gadgetry is that pretty much everything in our lives is new the past 1/2 century or so and makes the same correlation. I've started keeping a list of the theories I encounter that supposedly explain some or all of the various mysterious ailments of modern society (cancer, autism, ADD, Alzheimer's, and so on). Every one of these sources claims to have scientific backing:

    - Electromagnetic pollution
    - GMOs
    - Modern strains of wheat
    - Pasteurized cow's milk
    - Cow's milk whether or not pasteurized when it comes from the predominant genetic strains of cattle
    - Pesticides
    - Immunizations
    - Aluminum food containers and cooking vessels
    - Air pollution (that is, particulate matter and stuff like that)
    - Lead (largely from paint and gasoline)
    - High-fructose corn syrup
    - Fluoride

    No doubt I've missed many supposed culprits. And personally I suspect that some of these indeed do cause trouble beyond the mainstream belief. But as Martin cited, EMFs have been studied out the wazoo. It's not that it's impossible for them to be causing the kinds of harm that some people claim, it's just that the odds are quite small--say, about as small as the odds that the climate "skeptics" are right that measured climate change has no human causation.

    When you throw in the community that promotes the use of magnets as miracle health-giving tools, what's left of the precautionary principle? For sake of precaution do you opt out of the smart meter, and then simultaneously start wearing magnet-impregnated clothing?

  16. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #16

    Question for Kyle Anders (response # 12)
    On what basis is the trade off being made between the miniscule gigahertz band exposure from cell phones to the 30 hertz ELF exposure from land-lines in the recommendations:

    "1) forward your cellphone to your landline when you get home and then power off your cellphone;
    2) use corded phones,...."


    The thesis that ELF at some unspecified power level has health consequences (also unspecified) is at odds with the thesis that RF at cell-phone levels has health consequences (with similarly vague specificity. ) Without data, or even a well founded narrative of how these consequences come about, how does one choose?

    "3) turn off your wireless internet router (WiFi) when not in use, particularly before bedtime - and better yet hardwire your router via ethernet cable to your computer(s) and disable your modem's WiFi signal;"

    Really? Have you compared the power density at the signal & carrier frequencies to the ELF imposed by the inherent ground loops in cabled solutions to what happens with wi-fi routers? Again, the health effects (if any) of either data-solution are so small as to be unmeasurable, so on what basis is this trade-off being made?


    "4) maintain a distance of at least six feet between your bed and all electrical devices;"

    Why is six feet enough while two feet is not? For giga-hertz RF that's only a 3dB difference in power density, and for ELF the orientation of the emitter has a far more significant impact on the localized field strength than the a few feet difference in proximity.

    Those kinds of recommendation lists have some vague correlation to lowering field strengths in some band or another, but seem more designed to give the anxious a sense of security by giving them something to do, but in the absence of data it's not clear at all that the "doing" is always going to be in the right direction, even if there were a measurable hazard level.

    My degrees are in physics & math- I'm a data-driven kind of person. I also have multiple close relatives working hard-science research biology- I respect those capable scientists who make a serious efforts to tease out the causes and effects. MANY well-intentioned serious professionals have looked hard at these issues over decades, and it's just not coming up on the side of things like cell-phones or wi-fi having measurable health consequences. Typical studies that have shown statistically significant issues have tended to have very small sample sizes, and subsequent attempts to verify across larger numbers for more precise measurement have thus far demonstrated that the earlier smaller studies to be a statistical outliers.

    Health issues related to ELF seem restricted to chronic exposure to VERY high magnetic fields (higher than those found in 99.5% homes), with a possible but not clearly measurable increase in the incidence of childhood leukemia, that has not yet been verified. (Like I said previously, if there were a grid power transformer mounted on a pole 6' from my bedroom I'd at least want to measure it.) Skip on ahead to p161 of this document:

    There isn't even enough smoke there to say with any certainty that there's a fire, but if eventually it turns out there IS a fire, it has to be a very small one, given the number of well-qualified eyeballs who have been parsing the data for the past 3-4 decades. There are more people making a living off of studying this stuff than there are people dying from it.

  17. KyleA | | #17

    misleading and only super vague correlations?
    Martin I don't think it's fair of you to call my list misleading. You only referenced WHO, which very matter of factly has listed EMF's from cell phones (have they even investigated other sources?) as a class 2B carcinogen, up there with gasoline and diesel, and they readily state that there are gaps in the data that need further study. This sounds like a precautionary vote in my books. Let's keep in mind that WHO is a large, politically vulnerable organization, I don't expect they would have much of an incentive to lead the charge on investigating this issue, other than to cover their butt. Were there others in the list you felt were misleading too?

    Jonathan, I don't think it's fair to characterize EMFs as having only 'super vague' correlations to disease. The 2012 Bioinitiative Report complied gobs of scientific studies indicating otherwise:

    There continue to be more studies studies coming out to back this up. A 2012 study dealing specifically with fertility and WiFi exposure, under controlled laboratory conditions, showed a direct correlation with DNA damage to sperm and exposure to EMF from WiFi:

    I agree that there are certainly plenty of other factors, as you've listed, which contribute to our modern day health challenges, and in no way mean to downplay those.

    My point is that I felt it would have been a more honest investigation had things like the Bioinitiative Report, Dr. Havas, Dr. Milham, and the more scientific, rational voices on the side of concern been covered, instead of constantly focusing on sellers of gimmicky energy pendants. There does exist scientific studies on both side of the debate, and I don't think it's a particularly easy to task to sort through both the invalid science, and the conflicts of interest. However I don't think it's as simple as pointing to the State of Oregon or the Government Canada's website as proof there's nothing to worry about, and calling it a day.

  18. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #18

    Was it really the wi-fi?
    From the nih study cited (

    "Motile sperm were selected by swim up. Each sperm suspension was divided into two aliquots. One sperm aliquot (experimental) from each patient was exposed to an internet-connected laptop by Wi-Fi for 4 hours, whereas the second aliquot (unexposed) was used as control, incubated under identical conditions without being exposed to the laptop."

    Was it the wi-fi, or something else related to lap top use? There is nothing in the control that isolated the wi-fi- only the lap top. Assigning proximate cause to the wi-fi based on this study would be ludicrous, since the there was no control for wi-fi.

    Had there been a control group doing the same 4 hours with a wired internet connection (or no connection) one might be able to tease out whether the wi-fi had anything at all to do with it, but the control was "no laptop use", not "wired laptop use".

    The intensity of the ELF from the backlighting power supplies is at FAR greater power density than the wi-fi link, but without proper controls assigning ELF as a proximate cause would be a stretch. The visible spectrum of the backlighting of laptop displays is known to have multiple biogical effects, which was also not controlled in that study. So while there may be that viability of sperm in a petri dish might be affected when placed at close range to a laptop, the causal mechanisms and specific factors behind it are completely unknowable on the evidence. For all we know the UV emissions off the screen were a factor, or even the heat from the power supply, or there could be nothing do it at all: A study where N=29 isn't broad enough to get very far statistically with any of it, and while results that show some effect might be interesting enough to prompt further study, NOTHING in that study points to wi-fi.

    t's possible to do real science to determine real effects and real causes,(and people ARE doing that science) but the evidence of wi-fi links causing damage just isn't compelling so far, despite many well-qualified eyeballs on the subject.

    In any urban or suburban area, looking at the relevant RF bands for wi-fi using a spectrum analyzer & antenna to measure it's power at different distances, unless it's being tested in a shielded anechoic chamber it takes some skill to even find the output of your home wi-fi in the forest of other emissions at nearby frequencies that are of equal or higher power. Only the selectivity of the filtering on the transceivers allow that equipment to work at all given the amount of ambient power present across the frequency band. If wi-fi at those power densities is dangerous, how do you separate the effects of YOUR wi-fi from the higher power radiation from other sources? You pretty much have to move to Patagonia and live in a cave (or maybe just Martin Holladay's house :-) ), to get away from it.

  19. Tristan Roberts | | #19

    cell phones?
    Martin, kudos for tackling this topic. I appreciate the resources you have brought to light.

    The parallel universes thing is entertaining, but I'd quibble that it's a bit of a "you won't believe what these people say" argument, and is off topic. I'm quite sure that most people couldn't explain the scientific method in any detail, but many if not most people are otherwise reasonable sounding and grounded.

    It may be a bit out of your bailiwick, but I'd be curious to see you dive deeper into cell phones and wifi (possibly separate topics).

  20. Billy | | #20

    Answer to Kyle Anders

    Your article was well researched and written. Thank you.

    Kyle, the organizations you listed have no special expertise or credibility for me in this area, including WHO. Contrary to what you said WHO said, this is what they actually said:

    "Concerning radiofrequency fields,the balance of
    evidence to date suggests that exposure to low
    level RF fields (such as those emitted by mobile
    phones and their base stations) does not cause
    adverse health effects.Some scientists have
    reported minor effects of mobile phone use,
    including changes in brain activity,reaction
    times,and sleep patterns.In so far as these
    effects have been confirmed,they appear to lie
    within the normal bounds of human variation."


  21. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #21

    Response to Tristan Roberts
    You wrote, "The parallel universes thing is entertaining, but I'd quibble that it's a bit of a 'you won't believe what these people say' argument, and is off topic."

    That's a fair criticism. However, it's noteworthy that anyone who researches this issue online will find a remarkable number of EMF-worriers who use an unscientific New Age vocabulary that includes references to parallel universes, aligning with vibrations that most of us can't feel, and feng shui principles. If I research other green building topics -- for example, by Googling "net zero energy home" -- I don't encounter people with the same philosophies. In a posted comment on this page, Bronwyn Barry implied that there are significant clusters of these folks in California. Perhaps she's right.

    There is something about the topic of EMF worrying that seems to attract this crowd. Enough said.

    You wrote, "It may be a bit out of your bailiwick, but I'd be curious to see you dive deeper into cell phones and wifi."

    Many of the documents I linked to include information on this topic. Here's a link to a World Health Organization document: "A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use."

    As I noted in my article, you are welcome to follow the precautionary principle if you want, and stick to land-line phones. It's entirely up to you.

  22. mchelnov | | #22

    Another source of information
    I occasionally run across advertisements for EMF mitigating jewelry or stick on decals or desktop chatzkas, which make me roll my eyes.

    On the other hand , there is an organization called International Institute for Building Biology & Ecology, originating in Germany (BauBiologie) which takes a scientific approach to examining the invisible effects of many man made additions to our environment. I am generally impressed with their point of view and standards. A lot of their offerings are in the form of courses, but they do have some free stuff:

    an overview of EMR and EMF in the news: I just discovered this one.

    a standard for EMF exposure :

    a LEED type home evaluation checklist:

    they have a pretty nifty interactive home page too:

    Martin, thanks for your overview of this sector of green building, controversial as it is.

  23. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #23

    Response to Michael Chelnov
    I'm sorry, but I disagree with you when you suggest that there is any scientific credibility to Bau-Biologie principles.

    For more information on this topic, I suggest you read Warning Signs of Bogus Science (in the form of Bau-Biology).

  24. mchelnov | | #24

    Origins of BauBiologie standards

    That is an interesting site which I will study.

    I just did a search and found this statement by one of the organizers of BauBiologie, explaining how they derive their standards.

  25. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #25

    Response to Michael Chelnov
    Bau-Biologie is more cult than science, and most scientific researchers give it little credence.

    Even the document you linked to, which was created to explain and defend the Bau-Biologie approach, notes: "Is it [Bau-Biologie] scientifically comprehensible? From an empirical scientific point of view: yes. From a strictly orthodox scientific point of view: less so."

  26. user-1089563 | | #26

    Ease of measurement

    Notwithstanding the lack of definitive health data, and the scams involved with EMF "avoidance", it is quite easy to minimize exposure in a house. Using an inexpensive field meter, I can see that most of my house has a magnetic field of about 2 milligauss or less. I see excursions up to 100 mg around some bundled electrical wires in the basement (sloppy electrician) and in close vicinity to some electrical appliances. Bedside clock radios are a case where changing to a battery-operated alternative makes a huge difference in field strength and overall exposure. The meter is also good at showing microwave leakage in the kitchen (probably not a good idea to stare at your coffee through the little window) and the EMF present in vehicles of all designs. I have not noticed any effect in the house due to the smart meter on the outside wall.

    Like other potential "pollutants", it makes sense to minimize exposure especially when it is inexpensive to do so and relatively simple. We had friends who had their bed against the wall with the electrical service on the outside. Moving the bed to the other side of the room dropped magnetic field exposure by a factor of ten while they slept. This probably will not result in any measurable improvement to health but it was not a big imposition either.


  27. leighadickens | | #27

    assessing when the precautionary principle is worthwhile
    The precautionary approach isn't a bad idea, I'm all for it when it comes to many environmental issues. But I'm not a fan of it here, because there is a big difference between "we've never tried this and we don't understand much about it but hey there's no evidence that it's harmful yet so bombs away!" and "after repeatedly testing this, we found no evidence that it's harmful, and furthermore finding no evidence of harm makes sense with our current and robust understanding of how it works." There is being open-minded, and then there is letting that open-mindedness run roughshod over scientific validity. The green movement is diminished, if it allows itself to do that. It was precisely things like this that drove me change my major in college from Environmental Studies to Physics.

    But yeah, when a customer comes to you, as a green builder, and says, "I want my house to be green, and I want to avoid EMFs", the challenge is to educate them why they might be wasting time and money to worry about EMFs in a way that maintains trust and doesn't come off as insulting judgement or intelligence.

    (Edit: I had made a comment about the word "radiation" but I decided it wasn't relevant.)

  28. maisonsaine | | #28

    Yes -EMFs ARE a major emerging public health issue
    I'm a Canadian reporter who has been writing about healthy housing - including the health and political implications of EMFs - since 1990 []. I'm sorry to say your article parrots industry and government hogwash about ''baseless worries''. EMFs are a major emerging public health issue since the turn of the millennium when already more than 50% of Scandinavians used a cell phone. Waiting for conclusive evidence (i.e.: consensus on biological triggering mechanisms) has already cost millions of lives because governments did not apply the precautionary principle in dealing with pollutants such as tobacco, pesticides, PCBs, heavy metals, etc., warns the European Environment Agency's "Late lessons from early warnings : science, precaution, innovation 2013" report (do read its chapter on cell phones

    I recommend you read credible websites such (''meticulously researched and thoroughly documented'', says Time Magazine) written since the 1981 by physicist Lou Slesin, by Trent University (Ontario) toxicologist and pioneering researcher (also on acid rain in the 1970s) Magda Havas, which lists hundreds of EMF research abstracts, etc.

    You should know that Germany and many other Governments and organizations ban or warn against the dangers of wireless technology []

    National surveys have shown that more than 10% of Europeans say they react to EMFs []. Microwave illness was first documented by the military as early as the 1930s. In 1971, a US Navy review of the litterature collected more than 2,000 papers on this issue (see Zory's archives on The most famous electrohypersensitive person is none other than Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former Norwegian Prime Minister who also headed the World Health Organization (WHO): she can detect a hidden cell phone that is turned on - but not in use - up to 4 meters away because it gives her a headache, she told reporters in 2002. Here is what she shared at the University of Waterloo in 2012:

    Her testimony certainly embarrassed many governments and WHO staff who work hand-in-hand protecting industry interests.
    Did you know WHO's EMF policy was written with electric utilities? Science-based policy? BS!
    Microwave News | WHO and Electric Utilities: A Partnership on EMFs []

    The WHO 2005 backgrounder on EMF Hypersensitivity (EHS) is clearly outdated [].
    I recommend you read my Jan 2012 article Electromagnetic intolerance elucidated []. Excerpts:

    ”In Sweden, electrohypersensitivity
 (EHS) is an officially fully recognized functional impairment (i.e., it is not regarded as a disease, thus no diagnosis exists), explains Swedish dermatologist and EHS expert Olle Johannson []. Thus, the first step for a person in Sweden with a functional impairment is to contact the municipality’s special civil servant for disability issues, as well as the various handicap organizations and authorities, to achieve accessibility measures of various types with the sole aim to have an equal life in a society based on equality according to The UN Convention on Human Rights for Persons with Functional Impairments,”

    A professor of oncology at Paris-Descartes University, Dr. Dominique Belpomme … (has) coined the Electromagnetic Intolerance Syndrome (SICEM in French). “I have 450 patients and see up to 20 new cases every week, including children who have headaches, impaired memory, concentration or language. We have the largest European cohort of electrosensitive patients. This is a major public health concern.” (…)
    Dr. Belpomme’s team has developed a diagnostic method based on blood tests and a special brain scan (pulsed Doppler echography) to visualize blood flow. “These patients clearly have vascular disorders in the brain, said the oncologist. In addition, our biological tests show that 30% of them have high levels of histamine, 50% have too much stress proteins, most have low levels of melatonin (an potent anti-cancer hormone), and 30% have levels of antibodies and proteins that are tell-tale signs of thermal shock and brain damage.” He adds that half of his patients suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) and that MCS and EHS share the same brain abnormalities.

    In 2012, the Austrian Medical Association published a historic guideline [] on diagnosing and treating EMF-related health problems. It recognizes that reducing radiofrequency/microwave exposure from antennas and wireless devices as well as powerfrequency (60 Hz domestic) EMFs is the first treatment to reduce or eliminate such (EHS/Microwave Illness/SICEM, whatever you call it) symptoms. The Association recommends exposure limits recommended by the German Institute for Baubiology and Ecology []. They were written by former journalist Wolgang Maes who solved his 7-year-long bout with major insomnia by reducing his EMF exposure. They are applied notably by North American Building Biologists [] such as architects Paula Baker Laporte and Stephen Collette who have been invited to speak at the American Institute of Architect's Annual Conference in Chicago on June 25:
    WE301 - Building Biology a Potent Model for Health and Ecology

    As for smart meters, governments have no proof of their safety because their health effects have never been tested. They only say that the average exposure to the microwaves they initially pulse once per minute is far smaller than what you get from a portable phone or Wi-Fi or cell antenna, which is true. However, they are making many people sick only with their first (900 Mhz) chip/antenna and that's before their second (2,4 GHz) chip is activated to talk to new ''intelligent'' appliances which also have such chips which emit and receive microwaves. As the documentary film Take Back Your Power [] and other sources revealed last year: ''According to court-ordered documentation[17], and independent testing[18], utilities have been proven to be lying about how often “smart” meters transmit bursts of microwave radiation. Depending on the utility their claim is typically something like “4-6 times per day” (Pepco), or “45-60 seconds per day” (PG&E) — whereas courts and independent testing reveal that meters are transmitting in the range of 10,000 to 190,000 pulsed microwave transmissions per day. []''

    Preliminary data of the ongoing and first clinical study on the health effects of smart meters are very troubling:
    Quote: The AAEM has received a case series submitted by Dr. Federica Lamech, MBBS, Self-Reporting of Symptom Development from Exposure to Wireless Smart Meters’ Radiofrequency Fields in Victoria. AAEM supports this research. It is a well documented 92 case series that is scientifically valid. It clearly demonstrates adverse health effects in the human population from smart meter emissions.
    The symptoms reported in this case series closely correlate not only with the clinical findings of environmental physicians, but also with the scientific
    literature. Many of the symptoms reported including fatigue, headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness and other symptoms have been shown to be triggered by
    electromagnetic field exposure under double blind, placebo controlled conditions.

    Symptoms in this case series also correlate with the Austrian Medical Association’s Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of EMF Related Health Problems.

    It is critically important to note that the data in this case series indicates that the “vast majority of cases” were not electromagnetically hypersensitive until after
    installation of smart meters. Dr. Lamech concludes that smart meters “may have unique characteristics that lower people’s threshold for symptom development”.

    To understand how they make people sick, read this rebuttal endorsed by 50+ physicians and international EMF & health experts on the ''gross misinformation circulating about smart meters'' [].
    Quote: As Australian Associate Professor of neurosurgery Vini G. Khurana reports [], adverse neurological effects have been reported in people who sustain close proximity to wireless meters, especially under 10 feet (3 metres)… Thus people in proximity to a smart meter are at risk of significantly greater aggregate of RF/microwave exposure than with a cell phone, not to mention the cumulative exposure received by people living near multiple meters mounted together, pole-mounted routers or utility collector meters using a third antenna to relay RF signals from 500 to 5,000 homes.

    A month ago, Northeast Utilities, Massachusetts' Largest Electric Utility, wrote to the Mass Dept of Public Utilities:
    "[T]here is no rational basis for the implementation of AMI." (AMI = Advanced Metering Infrastructure = 'smart' meters/infrastructure)
    "[T]here is no cost justification that can support the implementation of AMI."
    "[Smart m]eters do not reduce the number of outages...”
    "[Smart m]etering systems are not necessary to integrate distributed resources..." (wind & solar)
    "AMI introduces a brand new portal into [companies'] information systems, significantly increasing the cyber-security risk."
    "[M]andated implementation of AMI is not a prerogative within the [Massachusetts Dept. of Public Utilities'] discretion.”

    As for domestic (60 Hz) EMFs, electric fields are higher in Europe where everything runs on 220-v power. Distorted electric field regimes have been linked notably to more infections in hospitals [] when they are combined with synthetic materials and dry air which generate higher concentrations of charged sub-micron contaminants, as British architect and environmental scientist Isaac Jamieson has found.

    In North American, magnetic fields (MF) are higher than electric fields because more amperage is needed to produce wattage as our appliances generally use lower voltage. MFs are highest in homes near high-voltage transmission and primary distribution lines and especially in electrically-heated homes, which is the case in 70% of Quebec housing. Is it a coincidence that Quebecers have among the highest MF exposure levels in the world and also the highest Canadian incidence rates of child cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer and leukaemia? No one knows, but it's possible.

    British powerline EMF expert Denis Henshaw [], Professor of Chemistry at Bristol University, is a great source. See his enlightning presentation made two weeks ago on the Scientific Basis of Health Effects of EMFs [], notably on the biological effecst of geomagnetic storms. The fact that the risk of chilhood leukaemia doubles at average daily magnetic field (MF) exposure levels of 3-4 milligauss (0.3-0.4 microtesla) is anything but trivial.

    Henshaw says ''the MF link with adult leukaemia is, if anything, even stronger than the link with childhood leukaemia. Representative results from 33 independent adult leukemia studies tabled by IARC yielded 23.5 positives.'' IARC concluded there was no association with MFs but offered no evidence for this conclusion, he says. He analyzed the 33 studies taken together and the p-value (probability of this link being just due to chance) is 1 in 10 million, similar to the recent discovery of the Higgs boson in Geneva.

    Finally, for a great EMFs primer, I highly recommend the book Dirty Electricity - Electrification and the diseases of civilization [], by American epidemiologist Sam Milham, the first scientist to link higher risk of leukemia among electrical workers. It is backed by research done notably by Magda Havas on the health impacts of so-called dirty electricity, powerline interference such as 50-kilovolt transients on home wiring generated by smart meters and other electronic devices. Havas has shown that filtering them stabilizes blood sugar, multiple sclerosis symptoms, etc. etc. Milham says DE is one of the rare universal carcinogens because they are linked to many types of cancers (most carcinogens only target a single organ).

    Best regards

    Andre Fauteux, Editor
    La Maison du 21e siècle magazine
    2955 Domaine-lac-Lucerne
    Ste-Adèle (Qc) Canada J8B 3K9

    450 228-1555
    [email protected]

  29. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #29

    Response to Andre Fauteux
    I have not yet had the time to review all of the links you provided, by I did read Chapter 21 of Late lessons from early warnings (the chapter on mobile phones). The chapter did not include any convincing data about cell phone dangers, but did advise that "precautionary actions" might be advisable.

    I noted the precautionary principle in my article. Decisions about when to invoke the precautionary principle are tricky; as the chapter you cited notes, "The benefits of mobile telecommunications are many..."

    Clearly, every reader or consumer will need to make his or her own decision concerning the land line vs. cell phone question.

  30. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #30

    Second response to Andre Fauteux
    Thanks for your recent e-mail, in which you noted, "I'm just frustrated when journalists with wide readerships and influence such as yourself make conclusions based on such limited information. As was the case with other pollutants, governments are playing the tune of big business instead of defending public health. I do hope you will take time to read what I sent you as well as the European Parliament resolution of 2 April 2009 on health concerns associated with electromagnetic fields."

    Andre, I have read the document that you just linked to. I remain unconvinced. That document provided no relevant data. The document noted, in part:

    "... the dispute within the scientific community regarding the potential health risks arising from EMFs has intensified....
    the scientific community has reached no definite conclusions...
    ...the EU has laid down exposure limits to protect workers from the effects of EMFs; ...on the basis of the precautionary principle such measures should also be taken for the sections of population concerned, such as residents and consumers... is necessary to continue investigations into intermediate and very low frequencies so that conclusions can be drawn as to their effects on health...
    [The European Commission recommends the launch of] an ambitious programme to gauge the electromagnetic compatibility between waves created artificially and those emitted naturally by the human body with a view to determining whether microwaves might ultimately have undesirable consequences for human health..."

    This is a political document, not a report of research findings.

  31. KeithH | | #31

    You missed the scientifically proven benefit of those
    scraps of polypropylene:
    The placebo effect.

  32. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #32

    Response to Keith H
    Yes, worries can cause symptoms -- and placebos can make symptoms disappear. Fortunately, researchers have devised methods to distinguish the placebo effect from effects attributable to drugs or mechanical gizmos like polypropylene spheres.

  33. [email protected] | | #33

    Just Like Sugar
    Yes, and for years we were told that Sugar was an essential part of a healthy diet. So let me get this straight. You think it's good for the human body to be exposed to various electro magnetic fields at close proximity? And that when someone reports particular symptoms that they are basically crazy? I am on this forum because I have recently leased an Electric Car (2015 Fiat 500e) and for the first time in my life I am experiencing negative physical effects from a car. The only I think I can compare it to is the headaches I used to get from older cellphones. (but I'm sure you don't believe I was actually feeling that either) After extensive testing of all possible causes, I am certain it is from the strong EM field from the car. I and others who have been in the car suffer from headaches, cloudy feeling in the head and sometimes a pressure feeling on the chest, whether or not the car is moving. About 30% of people feel symptoms without being prompted. Some do not notice anything. i have never ever heard of electrical sensitivity, but based on my experience I can say that people definitely demonstrate different levels of sensitivity. It is strongest when the AC is on, but NOT because of the air, because of the increase in Power Output. ( I closed all vents to verify this) It is also not from the car interior. I have sat in my car for an hour with car off to test this. No problems whatsoever. This is not something I have ever 'worried' about, or that I am particularly 'worried' about. And no I'm not going to pay for some gismo. I am a reasonable scientific person. I don't know if it's going to cause cancer, but I do know that it is very uncomfortable to drive this car for extensive periods. Let me say this again: I am the most scientific person out there. I watch science documentaries like most people watch Seinfeld. Why is it that people who are attuned to sensations in their body are accused of being new-agey, nerdy, or worriers? I never worried about any of this. But yes, it is happening. It is real. You are incorrect. Please be more open.

  34. timveronika | | #34

    Emf protection
    Thanks, I have found this very interesting. I have long had an interest in EMF and the relationship to our health. I need to make emf reduction [Web link deleted by GBA editor] to the health of the whole family improved.

  35. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #35

    Response to Tim Veronika
    You have a lot of chutzpah -- trying to sell your "EMF shield" and jewelry on GBA!

    Note to GBA readers: Tim was trying to direct GBA readers to his website -- a site that displayed the images below.


  36. mrk7 | | #36

    Looking for decent protection
    Thank you for your article.

    I understand you're going completely based off the evidence you see, which is appreciated.

    However, to say that there are absolutely no issues with "all" that's out there at this point is a bit of a stretch as well. It's not to say that some or many don't go overboard, but why countless upon countless people, scientist, (all from which have no vested interest, or sell emf protection devices), and so on ... state otherwise? Dr Mercola, Kruse, etc. Can they all just be mistaken? Could there be some truth?

    Even personally for myself I never even knew cell phones were much of an issue until I got an iPhone 6+ (as a replacement) for my landline. I noticed on the longer calls my head would hurt a bit and would almost always be when my phone felt hot.

    Next out of curiosity I googled it and came up with all this crazy information on emf.

    Of course it was very concerning, being that I have young children who play on tablets for years. And it didn't stop at the cell phones/tablets either. Refrigerators, smart meters, neighbors' wifi. Sheesh.

    So to be on the 'safer side' what would you recommend would suffice as decent protection?

    I was thinking of getting protection sleeves on tablets/phones and unplugging the router at night. But I do live in a town home area with lots of neighbors so I'm not sure if that would even help.

    Any suggestions would be welcomed. Thanks.


  37. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #37

    Response to Ken
    I try not to worry about potential risks when there isn't any scientific evidence showing that the risks exist.

    If making long phone calls with your iPhone causes your head to hurt, I advise you to stop making long phone calls with your iPhone. That will give you more time during the day to talk to people face to face.

    You said that you "googled it and came up with all this crazy information on EMF. Of course it was very concerning." Well, I advise you to stop visiting sites that pop up on Google unless you know the authors to be reputable. Personally, I don't get concerned when I read "crazy information" that is presented by Google.

  38. Expert Member
  39. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #39

    Response to Malcolm Taylor
    I agree -- good article. Thanks for the link.

  40. mrk7 | | #40

    Credible enough for you?
    I do not know -- is the credible enough for you?

    “A group of 255 scientists from across the world, including Columbia University, Harvard and the University of Southern California, wrote a letter to WHO about their concerns regarding the pervasive exposure to electromagnetic fields and the organizations response, writing: ‘By not taking action, the WHO is failing to fulfill its role as the pre-eminent international public health agency. The various agencies setting safety standards have failed to impose sufficient guidelines to protect the general public, particularly children who are more vulnerable to the effects of (electromagnetic fields).’ ”


  41. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #41

    Response to Ken
    My article reports the scientific consensus on this issue. That said, a variety of opinions exist.

    My article noted, "Although there isn’t any convincing evidence that exposure to EMFs in a home or office causes any health problems, some people feel that the precautionary principle dictates that they should take efforts to reduce exposure to EMFs in the home." If you prefer to follow the precautionary principle, you should do so.

  42. carles_suria | | #42

    EUROPAEM EMF Guideline 2016
    I recommend reading "EUROPAEM EMF Guideline 2016 for the prevention,
    diagnosis and treatment of EMF-related health problems and illnesses". Available at:

    In short, it identifies long-term exposure to electromagnetic fields with common symptoms such as concentration difficulties, depression, lack of energy, fatigue, sleep disturbances, flu-like symptoms and as a risk factor for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's and male infertility.

    Carles Surià

  43. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #43

    The EUROPAEM Guideline is not published by a reputable source
    The document cited by Carles Suria has not been peer-reviewed, and has a cloudy history. An earlier version of the document was retracted due to plagiarism.

    For more information on the controversy surrounding this document, see “A big mistake:” Paper about the dangers of Wi-Fi pulled for plagiarism.

  44. FussyGirl | | #44

    Anything so fraught as EMF will have disinformation surrounding it. I learned in psych nursing that folks suffering from mental disorders frequently latch onto religion and/or conspiracy to obsess over. (The movie "A Beautiful Mind" was a sympathetic layman's look at one aspect of the phenomenon.) This by no means negates the benefits of religious belief or the intrigues of governmental agencies; it just means those of us trying to sort through the noise must be aware of the over representation.
    And we all know that anyone with a financial interest is also prone to some level of deception in their favor.
    If we ignore the possibilities of dangers from something new - the harnessing of electricity is brand-spanking new in terms of the human evolutionary timeline - because there are those who have made skepticism and warnings into a parody, or because we've fallen for the deceptions of those who have a financial incentive to obfuscate those potential dangers, we have no right to congratulate ourselves.
    I found the book "Going Somewhere" by Andrew Marino to be an enlightening read on the scientific struggles and the political wrangling surrounding some aspects of this subject. From his author's bio on Amazon: Andrew Marino taught in Orthopedics and Neurology at LSU Medical School. For 50 years he performed laboratory and clinical research on the biophysics and health impact of electromagnetic energy, and served as a legal consultant in numerous court cases in the area. He is the author of many scientific publications, available on his personal website at
    I recommend that anyone who wades into this debate read his story before proceeding.
    My takeaway, and I hesitate to even spell it out for fear of misrepresentation, is that EMFs pose more risk than the "experts" would lead us to believe, and that as long as moneyed interests are in control of the reporting we aren't likely to be able to develop reasonably cautious policies based on true scientific research.
    It seems wise to me that we be personally cautious, and reasonably careful over this "new" technology as it becomes increasingly pervasive.

    1. Expert Member
      MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #45


      As this is a site about green building, I'm wondering what you think being reasonably cautious would look like? As builders or designers we have no scientific basis or metrics of what might be considered risky, or what being reasonably cautious might entail. I'm not sure where that leaves us beyond making whatever changes worried clients may suggest. Something that in the absence of some evidence or useful guidelines I would reticent to do.

    2. GBA Editor
      Martin Holladay | | #46

      Fussy Girl,
      As a journalist, I feel duty-bound to defend journalism against the implications of your statement that "moneyed interests are in control of the reporting" on this issue. My reporting was based on the best available scientific reports, not the viewpoints of moneyed interests. Neither bribes nor pressure from my bosses was involved in any way in my reporting.

      The "moneyed interests" in this story were the people selling quack cures to suffering people.

      I know dozens of scientists, and I have no reason whatsoever to believe that the reports of the scientists referred to in this article were swayed by bribes or financial pressure. I find the allegation highly unlikely.

    3. maine_tyler | | #47

      Basically every technology that we use today is 'new' by this definition. Yet the physical presence of certain effects of these technologies are NOT all new, (such as emf, such as combustion reactions), which have been 'with us' from before there was an 'us.'

      I don't think it's wise to declare definitively 'there is no harm,' however those claiming definitively that there IS harm need to show the evidence of said harm; something largely lacking by those making such claims with emf, yet definitely not lacking when it comes to harmful effects of combustion products.

      1. Expert Member
        MALCOLM TAYLOR | | #48


        This topic popped up again for me recently when a design client asked me about possible changes to her plans to avoid EMF exposure. I linked to this discussion, but I wonder where things are now some 9 years later? I've heard of no smoking gun. The predicted increases in neurological problems related to ubiquitous cell phone use and wifi haven't materialized. Have there been any credible studies in the meantime linking the higher levels Dana speaks about with human health?

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