The IEEE has recently acknowledged, in their own industry magazine (see photo), that there are defined mechanisms for non-thermal bioeffects of long-term, low level, non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation (NIER) at the cellular level.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines regarding EMF exposure were originally intended to prevent interference between pieces of electronic equipment. Health effects from exposure were “not on the radar”. Guidelines were adjusted in response to public concern as telecommunications industry growth took on momentum in the 1990s.
Current FCC guidelines for limiting exposures to the general public are based on IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and ANSI (American National Standards Institute) recommendations. These limits were set based on providing a significant safety factor over exposure levels known to cause thermal damage, where the primary damaging mechanism is heating and an increase in temperature.
Because of the difficulties in establishing the direct biological effects of long term, low-level exposure, the lack of an understood mechanism, and difficulties in obtaining reproducible results, the guidelines for exposure limits have been set based on relatively short term exposures (minutes) that show clear cut damage with the addition of a substantial safety factor. But long term exposure to fields below the guideline levels may affect biological systems and modify cell growth rates.
“The epidemiological evidence on EMFs is stronger and considerably more abundant than it was when asbestos was accepted as a carcinogen in 1949,” said David Ozonoff, chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University’s School of Public Health, in an interview. He acknowledged that EMF health effects are controversial among scientists. “But the reasons for the lack of consensus don’t have to do with scientific factors,” he contended, citing instead the high social and economic stakes involved.
On the EMF–cancer connection, Ozonoff argued, “The only thing that stands in the way of general acceptance is for someone to demonstrate a plausible biological mechanism, because everything else is there. And this is not a requirement for the standard methods of epidemiology. In fact, we still don’t have a biological mechanism for asbestos.”
The most favored proposed mechanism for effects from low level long term exposures involves radicals, molecules that can cause damage to important biological molecules such as lipids and DNA. Damages, such as aging, cancer and Alzheimer’s, are associated with radical concentrations that are elevated for extended periods of time.
A brand new research paper, “Some Effects of Weak Magnetic Fields on Biological Systems” (Barnes and Greenebaum), published in the IEEE Power Electronics Magazine in March of 2016, describes both the theoretical basis and sufficient experimental results for further consideration of the possibility that long-term exposures to magnetic fields can lead to undesired health effects, and that these effects are time dependent.
The extended time factors used in this study point to a need for closer scrutiny of limits where the exposures, though small, are long-term.