Journal of Biosciences and Medicines, 2014, 2, 1-12
Published Online October 2014 in SciRes.
How to cite this paper: Rifai, A.B. and Hakami, M.A. (2014) Health Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation. Journal of Bio-
sciences and Medicines, 2, 1-12.
Health Hazards of Electromagnetic
Awn B. Rifai, Majed A. Hakami
Depart ment of Information and Communication Technologies, Arab Open Uni ver si ty , Jeddah, KSA
Received Ju ly 2014
Electri c al en ergy en te rs i n to the op er ation of a my riad indu strial, scienti fic, medic al, commun ity
and h ou se equ ipme nt a nd app liances . The acco mpa nying el ectr omagne tic fiel d s (EMFs) are par-
tially transfo rmed into r ad iation that aff ects human health. This res ea rch in vestiga tes the poten -
tial h e alth h az ard s of r adi at i on ema natin g from el ec tric powe r lin es. Th e rese arc h is bas ed on stu -
dies by research o rganiz ations a nd on prac ti c al fi eld measurem ents. The study includes inves tiga-
tion of el ectrom agnetic ra d iati o n from h igh-v olt ag e electric line s in inh abited ar e as in an u rb an
environment , and provides som e measurem ents in test locat ion s in a typical city. The results are
benchmarked ag ai nst rec ommend ed safety levels.
Electro ma gne ti c, R adi atio n, Envir onme nt, He al th
1. Research Aims and M et h od ology
Most people are una ware of the ris ks surrounding them as a conseque nce of electromagnetic radiatio n (EMR).
Studies were conducted to find o ut whether the use of electrical devices and equipment end angers human health,
and the e xt e nt of har m induced by continuous or long-term exposure to ra dia tion. However, the re sul ts were far
from being conclusive. T hi s research attempts to i nvestigate some potential effects of living close to, or using
some types of electromagnetic radiation sourc e s. This would co ntribute to increasing pu b lic a wareness, taki ng
measures to evade hazards, and re gul a ting and monitoring the use of electricity. Radiation measurements were
taken in so me electric f ield zo nes in a typical city in order to quantify the in ve s t igati on.
2. Elect ricit y Infrastructure
A typical electric power gene ration and tran s missio n s yst em is depicted in Figure 1. The power lines ca n be
under ground cables or high-vo ltage tower cables. Most power tra nsmissio n li nes use high-vo l t a ge three-phase
alternating c urre nt (AC) . Fo r greater efficie nc y across lo ng d ist ances, t ypica ll y hundreds of kilometers, high-
volta ge direct-current (HVD C ) technology is also used. Ele ctr icit y is transmitted at high volt a ges (120 KV or
above) in order to reduce t he energy lo st in long-distance tra nsmi ss ion. Power is usually transmitted by overhead
power lines. Und e rground power transmission has a highe r cost and greater operational li mitatio ns but is some
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
Figure 1. A typical electric power system.
times used in urban areas or sensitive locatio ns. Substations transform voltage bet ween high and lo w and per-
form related functions. Electric power may flow through several substations at different voltage levels fr om t he
generating station to the consumer. Transmission level volt a ges are usually 110 KV and above, but lower vol-
tages such as 66 KV and 33 KV are commonly used on lo ng lines with street lights. Voltages less than 33 KV
are usually u se d for distrib utio n while extra high voltages above 230 KV need a diffe rent setup. At the power
stations the power is produced at a relatively low voltage between 2.3 KV and 30 KV. T he generator terminal
volta ge is then stepped up by the power station transformer to a higher vol t age (115 KV to 765 KV AC) for
long -dista nce tr an s mission.
3. Electromagnetic Radiat ion
3.1. Radiation Types
The wor ld suffers from elect ro magnetic con tamination and electros mog (e-smog). E-smog refers to the huge
amount of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) present on this planet. Electrical and magnetic equipment c ause e-
smog and produce invisible EMFs and EMR that constantly attack the human body affecting its biofield. EMR
is categorized by freque ncy and falls into two typ es: non-io ni z ing which is the low-level rad iatio nmi st akenl y
perceived as ha rmless to humans, and ionizin g which ha s a p o tential for cellular a nd DNA damage (Figur e 2).
EMFs fall into these type s [20]:
Static electric fie lds caused by ions released fr om syntheti c materials, and can make hu mans feel unwell.
Resid ua l mag netism that often o ccurs from metal in the be d and can change its ma g netic field cau sing body
disco mfort.
Power frequency fields from wall wiring, electrical outlets, e xtension cords, lighting and other electrical ap -
pliances. These may t urn the body into an antenna and interfere with the ability of the cells to co mmunicate
with each ot her.
Power freque ncy magnetic field s caused by faults in wiring, power lines ru nnin g undergro und near the
sleeping area, electrical panel boxes located on adjacent walls or even a refrigerator or TV located on the
other side of a wall.
Radio co mmunicatio n frequenc y fields that include a broad range of radio and T V, cordless phones , wire less
devices, cell phones a nd communication towers.
Radioactivity ( and its by-product radon): This enters the home from building materials such as granit e
one-t hi rd of the gra nite in homes is radioactive, and radon gas is emitted from the grou nd.
3.2. Radiation Sources
EMFs occur in na t ure but current environmental expo s ure to man-made sources of EMF has progr e s sively in-
creased due to the overwhel ming use of electricity and wireless technologies [13]. A human body is exposed to a
complex mi x of EMFs at var io us freq uencies dur ing lifetime [19]. Tabl e 1 lists some non-ionizing sources and
the follo win g are the ma i n sources of high-voltage elec tr icit y rad iatio n [24]:
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
Figure 2. Ionizing and non-ionizing regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Table 1. No n-ionizing radiation.
Definition Forms of Radiation Source Examples
Low to mid-frequency
radiation which is generally
perc eived as harmless due to
its lack of potency.
Extremely Low
Frequency (ELF)
Radiofrequency (RF)
Visual light
Microwave ovens
Comput ers
House energy smart meters
Wir ele ss (WiFi) networks
Cell phones
Bluetooth devices
Power lines
High-voltage power lines.
District trans missio n lines.
Light nin g-pr otec tion syst ems.
Grounding systems.
Co mmon electrical appliances, including microwav e ovens, air conditioners, fans, e lectr ic heaters, elec-
tric blanket s , hair dryers , etc.
Appliances and power l ines at extremely low frequencies (ELF).
4. Field Measurements and Observations
4.1. Measuring Tools
Electric field st ren gth is measured in volts per meter (V/m). Magnetic fields are meas ured in units of gauss (G)
or tesla (T), with 1 T = 10,000 G, and most commonly in microtesla (μT) or milligauss (mG). The sensor that
was used in the measurements is the Cell Sensor EMF Detection Meter (F ig ure 3). It detects cell phone radia-
tion and extremely low frequency electromag netic field s as well as high strength signa ls, d elivers audible and
visua l alerts, and inc l udes a remote probe for ease of measur ement . It measures hazard s with an easy-to-read
gauge that a lso beeps a nd glows when high readings are detected, r uns on one 9-vo lt a l ka line batte r y a nd has a
flattened frequenc y respo nse in ELF mode for increased accurac y.
4.2. Exposure to EMFs
Electric c ur rents e x i st naturally in the human body and play an important role in the no rmal ph ysiolo gical fu nc-
tions [10]. Nerves transmit their signals by rela ying electr i c i mpul se s. T he effects of exposure to EMFs on the
body a nd cells d epend on the EMF freq ue ncy and st ren gth. At low fre quency EM Fs pass t hrou gh t he bod y,
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
Figure 3. Measuring device.
while at radio frequencies the fields are partially absorbed and penetrate only a short depth into the tissue.
Lo w-frequenc y elec tric fields influe nc e the d istribution of electric charges at the surface of conducting tissue s
and cause electric currents to flo w in the body. Low-frequency magneti c fields induce circula ti n g curre nts within
the body; the strength of these ind uc ed cur re nt s depends on the amount of the external magnetic field and the
size of the loop thro ugh wh ich the cur rent flows. When large enough, these curr ents can cause excitation of
nerves and musc l es [9].
4.3. Exposure to 50 Hz Fields
Magnetic fields within homes can vary greatly. Fig ure 4 shows some EM Fs around power lines in a typical
home [15] [17]. Nearby fields can penetrate 6 - 7 inc hes int o the body, the safe exposure le vels be ing [8]:
1 mG or less: considered safe for sleepers.
Above 2 mG: start of creation of biological stress.
8 mG: discomfort from electric blanket on low.
21 mG: larger discomfort from electric blanket on high.
The safety limits specified by the USA Environmental Protection Agency [16] are shown in Table 2.
4.4. Proximity to Overhead Lines
The sites of the investigation are shown in Figure 5 and Figure 6. The strength of an EMF decreases dramati-
cally with increasing distance from the source. This means that the strength of the field reaching a house or
structure will be significantly weaker than it was at its origin. For example, a magnetic field measuring 57.5 mG
immediately beside a 230 KV transmission line measures just 7.1 mG at a distance of 100 feet, and 1.8 mG at a
distance of 200 feet. During the measurement, the selected sites A and C were found to contain old premises,
and due to building expansion, the area was occupied by laborers and construction equipment employed to build
a seven-storey building close to the high-voltage power line (HVPL). The HVPL is too close to the upper floor
apartments and to the roofs of nearby buildings (Figure 7 and Figure 8). The measuring device was beeping
high at these areas indicating that EMR strength exceeded the device scale limit. There were some buildings in-
side the critical zone of the power lines, in addition to some people parking their vehicles directly below the po-
wer lines. In site B most of the buildings are old, one to two-storey buildings. The main street that is going along
with HVPL is occupied by a commercial market (restaurants, groceries, pharmacies, etc.). There is a petrol sta-
tion and a junk yard with hundreds of people working and living right under the power lines.
4.5. Measurements Mapping
The location geographic coordinates were taken and the EMR strength at those points together with the vertical
distance to the power line were measured (Table 3), and the locations were charted in a map to demonstrate the
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
EMF Source
Dis tance
(fee t)
Streng th
( mG)
Common Appliances
Microwave Oven 0.5 2 00
1.0 4
Vacuum Cleaner 0.5 300
1.0 60
Power Drill 0.5 150
1.0 30
Office copy Machine 0.5 90
1.0 20
Hair Dryer 0.5 3 00
1.0 1
Electric Shaver 0.5 1 00
1.0 20
Transmission Lines
115 kV
0 29.7
49 6.5
200 0 .4
230 kV
0 57.5
49 19.5
200 1 .8
Figure 4. Typical EMF and EMR at home.
power lines, the points of the studied sites and the critical zones. There is no school or medical building within
the high-power tower zones. The city has around 100 main power stations with primary voltage of 110 KV for
the underground power line, and 380 KV for high-voltage transmission lines (HVTL) that are transformed to
13.8 KV in the secondary stations. There are more than 30,000 secondary stations that cover the city, initially
with 13.8 KV that is transformed into 110/220 V for public use. According to the EMR strength at the investi-
gated sites the distance to approach the safe limit of 2 mG is equivalent to 100 meters and above. The distances
have been divided into four zones (25, 50, 75, 100 m) to demonstrate the number of houses existing in each zone.
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
Table 2. Safety limits for EMFs.
Danger zones EMF levels from common sources in milligauss (mG) recommended safely levels 0.5 mG - 2.5 mG
Source Up to 4 inches At 3 feet
Blen der 50 to 220 0.3 to 3
Clothes Washer 8 to 200 0.1 to 4
Coffee Maker 6 to 29 0 .1
Compu ter 4 to 20 2 to 5
Fluorescent Lamp 400 to 4000 0.1 to 5
Hair Dryer 60 to 20000 0.1 to 6
Microwave Oven 100 to 500 1 to 25
Televisi on 5 to 100 0.1 to 6
Vacuum Cleaner 230 to 1300 3 to 40
Airplane 50 mG avg. in a 747
Source: USA Environmental Protection Agency.
Table 3. H igh -voltage power lines coordinates and EMR at test sites.
No. Coord i na tes EMR
mG Distance
m Description
Longit ud e Latitude
1 39.24253 21.52213 40 30
AQBM St. (Site A)
2 39.24253 21.57217 40 30
3 39.24470 21.57239 40 30
4 39.24478 21.57333 >1.3 150 NBAH St. (Site A)
5 39.24483 21.56861 40 30
IBH St. (Site C) 7-storey building
More than 50 mG at the roof
6 39.24591 21.56851 40 20
7 39.24275 21.56912 40 20
8 39.24272 21.56707 >1.5 180 About 4 buildings and 2 streets distance
9 39.24871 21.56790 >4 110 About 4 buildings and 2 streets distance
10 39.14561 21.34238 >40 60 -
11 39.21840 21.64779 >50 30 Station
12 39.23001 21.63613 >50 10 City junk yard exactly below HVPL
13 39.22388 21.64022 >10 50 Commercial market
14 39.22465 21.64263 >1.5 200 Area with old buildings
A general note in this respect is that up to one-fifth of homes are covered in hot spots of electromagnetic fields
over 2 mG. While it is safe to be in such a hot spot for a short time, it is not advisable to spend long periods in
them, such as during sleeping hours. Most of these spots are small, so by locating them, the furniture can be
safely moved out of these zones. It has also been noticed that there were no hazard warning signs or information
regarding EMF and EMR issues in the publications that are available on the web or in the reports. The only
concern was about the hazards of direct contact with overhead power lines, so the only communication to local
municipalities was about the safety clearance guidelines [7] (Table 4).
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
Table 4. Typical safety clearan ces. (a) Vertical clearances; (b) Horizontal clearances.
Construction type Build ings Telecom lines Train road High ways Public ways
Agricultural roads
Vertical clearances above the power line (height) in Meters
Power voltage (V)
69 kV 5 3 15 12 12 12
34.5/33 kV 4 2 8.5 12 7 6 .7
13.8 kV 3 2 8.5 12 7 6 .7
Low power 3 1.2 8.2 12 6 5
Construction type Build ings Train road High ways Public ways
Agricultural roads
Horizontal clearances side to power line in met ers
Power voltage (V)
69 kV 6.3 25 18 12 12
34.5/33 kV 2 15 15 12 12
13.8 kV 2 15 15 12 12
Low power 2 15 15 12 12
Figure 5. Sites A and C in the city.
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
Figure 6. Site B in the city.
Figure 7. Proximity of power lines.
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
Figure 8. Proximity of high-voltage towers to nearby buildings.
5. Hazards to Hu ma ns
5.1. Biologic a l Effects
Magnetic field s induce electric cur r ents in electrical conductors includi ng human, animal or plant bio-systems.
E-smog creates an artificial stress sit uation in the bio-system which, in turn, affects the metabo lis m as well as
hormone production. An individ ual’s stres s tolerance, which varies from person to person, determines the out-
break of an e-smog related disease. Adverse health effects manifest because the bio-system is exposed to tech-
nically-produced electromagne tic alter natin g fields which are many times stronger tha n the body’s cur rents, a nd
the fre que ncy of which in ter fer es a nd irritates t he body’s r egula t ory mecha nis m. When th e body ages and lacks
exercise and proper diet, the e-smog degenerates the weakness into sickness and disease. Biological effects are
measurable reactions of the o rgani sms or cells to a stimulus or to an environment change. However, the body
might not own adeq uate compensation mechanisms to dampen all environmental cha nges or str esse s. H ealth ef-
fects result from biological effects that cause de ficienc y in the health or wellbei ng of exposed individuals when
the energy of the fields is absorbed and transformed into moveme nt of molecules. Temperature is raised because
of friction between rapidly moving molecule s [6]. Complia nce with exposure limits recommended in interna -
tional guide l ines helps to control the ri sks of exposure [3] [4]. During t he tests a nd accord ing to locals, o ne
stra nge medical condition happened with an inhabitant and exhibited in him perceiving things upside down ac-
companying any sudden movement he make s. A hospital pr actitio ner attr ibuted this and o t her similar cases in
the area to suffer ing a previous head injury and living beside an EMF tower.
5.2. Effects on Cells
E-smog ha s an effec t on cell physiology a nd consequently on the control mecha nism of the body. EMFs produce
reactions because cell co mmunicatio n happens at several thousa ndt hs, even millionths of a volt. Fo r good heal th,
the body must be ab le to communicate within itself, that is, to be in harmony with the na tural rhythm. The ran-
dom pattern s from e-smog can create noise in the bod y and forc e it out of s ynchroniza t i on. The body is a com-
plex communicatio n sys t em wher e cells, tissue s, organs , and organisms all tal k to each other; the communica-
tion incl udes finely tuned bio-electrical transmitters and receivers [1]. Two more well-known biological impacts
of e-smog are the interruptio n of the br ain wave patterns leading to behavioral complic ations, and the interfe -
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
rence with the body’s communication s yst em (c ytoskeleton) lead ing to un usual neurological functio n, such as
dementia, c hronic fatig u e syndrome and fibro mya lgia . T he cell membrane receptors recognize EMFs at ver y
low levels of exposur e by producing a stress respo nse similar to that produced by exposure to heavy metals or
toxic chemicals. This can cause the cell membran e to go from an active or permeable state where it allows nu-
trients in and toxins o ut , to an i nactive state where the cell membrane is impermeable. Duri ng the day, the c e lls
will alternate state s thousands of times, but the membranes can be locked in the i na cti ve st a t e und er constant en-
vironmental stre ss. This is often referred to asoxidative stressas nutri ents are able to enter into the cell, while
toxins are not allowed to leave. There is evidence that the ina cti ve state can even have geno-to xic effects, which
means that e-smog is toxic and is da maging to the DNA and inhib it s the body from repairing it. Tabl e 5
represents disease s a nd health problems t hat are either a direct r e s ult of electr omagnetic r ad iatio n or are closely
associated with it. T he l i mited studie s that ha ve been co nducted on adul ts showed no conc l us ive proof of a link
between EMF exposur e a nd adul t ca ncers [5]. Nevertheless, continuous education on practical ways of EMF
exposure re ductio n is recommended [11].
6. Conclusions and Recommendations
Scientific knowledge about the health effects of EMFs is based on a large number of tec hnolo gical, epidemio-
logical, a nimal a nd environmental studies. Many outcomes have been e xamine d, but so far no conc l usi ve evi-
dence or connection has been drawn. This is due to overlooking the combined effects of multiple sources and t he
difficulty of correlating e ver y effect with its cause, and be cause many of the effects are exhibited in the lo ng-
term surp a ssing the timescale of the tec h nolo gies that caused th em, and r endering any later investigatio n out of
focus. A scienti fic working gr oup of the WHO’s I nter natio n al Agency for Research on Cancer (I ARC) revie wed
studies related to the carcinogenicity of static and ex tre mely low freq uency EMFs [21] [22]. U si ng the st and a rd
IARC class ifica tion that weighs up human, animal and laboratory evidence, ELF fields were classified as po ssi -
bly carcino genic to humans based on epidemiological s t udi e s of childhood leukemia. T his cla ssification is used
to represent an agent for which ther e is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less t han sufficie nt
evidence for experimental animals [5]. Evidence for a ll o th er cancers in children and a dults, as well as other
typ es of exposures was considered inadequate to classify d ue to insu fficient or inco nsiste nt scie nti fic informa-
tion [2]. The re is, however , some epidemiological evidence that prolonged exp osure to higher leve ls (mo re than
0.4 μT) of power freq uency magnetic fie lds is associated with a r isk of leukemia in children [12].
It is obvious from our study that EMR does cause harmful effects on human health. EMF exposure has a cu-
mulative effect, increasing over time and with the dose [23]. Children, pregnant women and those with poor
health conditions are especially at risk for a lifetime of exposure [14]. The amount of absorbed” vs. exposed
radiation has to be considered since the absorption depends on the nature, amount and duration of radiation as
well as the individual body condition. It is worth mentioning, however, that research and studies alerting from
hazards are much more than those denying the effects. Communication and electricity industries and other par-
Table 5. Di seases associated with EMR.
Child leukemia St res s Insomnia Brain fog
Breast cancer Lupus Forgetfulness Brain cancer
Immune dysfunction Heavy metal toxicity Birth defects Heart problems
Reduced sperm count Brain tumors ADD/ADHD A llergi es
Can c er Alzheimer disease Fatigue Migraine
Fibrom yalgia Inflammatory disease Erratic pulse Miscarriage
Lyme disease Poor concentration Acoustic neuromas Na u s ea
Chest pain Chronic fatigue Parkinson disease Rheumatoid arthritis
Hypertension Daily headaches Ill health Low iodine levels
Digestive disorders Asthma Sleep disruption Cell mutation
Electromagnetic hypersensitivitiy (EHS) Diseases of the nervous system
A. B. Rifai, M. A. Hakami
ties tend to ma sk the hazards in order not to risk the i r business, to the extent that some stakehold e rs stopped
funding and sponsoring related research, while other s are supporting research for opposing arguments. T he re-
search and stud i e s that under-rate the effects argue that there is no dependable decisive evidence on the hazards,
that mos t of the tests we re carried out on animals giving re s ul ts tha t do not reflect on humans, that the huma n
body itself e mits an electro magnetic power of 84 watt in the relax state and 10 time s this amount in the active
state, and that many people are exposed to high e lectr o magne tic power over long periods without any noticeable
effects on t he i r health.
At the technical level it is recomme nded to replace the tower power lines with under ground lines and to use
the new technology of nano carbon tube for shield ing the t ower cables [18]. On the precautionary side it is rec-
ommende d to sta y away from the EMF sources and to increase the clearance to the limit of the sleeping safety
zone. People should not sleep or sit for long periods near electrical devices, especially those cont a i ning motors.
Beds or cribs should not be placed against walls with nea rby major appliances. Electric appliances should be
moved at least 4 feet away from the head of the bed. Fluorescent bulbs generate stronger fields tha n incand es-
cent lamps and a distance of 1 foot for incandescent bulbs a nd 3 feet for fluo rescent lamps should be observed.
Electric b l anket s a nd hair b low drye rs sho ul d be avoided.
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