Fields on Biologic Systems was convened by the Board on Radiation Effects Research of the National Research Council's Commission on Life Sciences. The committee was to perform the appropriate review and report to the board on its findings.


The committee was asked to focus its attention on electric and magnetic fields typical of household frequencies and on the possible adverse health effects of cancer, reproductive and developmental abnormalities, and neurobiologic dysfunction, such as learning and behavioral disabilities. Those effects are the health-related end points most often suggested to be associated with exposure to power-frequency electric and magnetic fields. The committee also was asked to examine the scientific evidence for the effects of the electric and magnetic fields of household frequencies on biologic systems to determine if sufficient scientific data of adequate quality exist to perform a health risk assessment.

The DOE charge to the committee included the following:

  • Review and evaluate the existing scientific information on the potential effects of exposure to electric and magnetic fields on cancer incidence, reproduction and development, and learning and behavior.

  • Critically examine epidemiologic and laboratory data relating to those topics and assess potential health effects.

  • Focus on electric-and magnetic-field frequencies and exposure modalities found in residential settings.

  • Produce a report that contains a review of pertinent information on the effects of electric and magnetic fields, identification of research areas in which data are needed to better understand any potential health hazard, and recommendations for research in those areas and strategies for implementing research that would enhance understanding. If data of appropriate quality are available, include a health risk assessment of power-frequency electric-and magnetic-field exposures.


Concern about the possible health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields first arose when military personnel were exposed to fields of relatively high strength from high-frequency radar systems and video screens during World War II. Since then, claims have risen of adverse health effects purportedly associated with high-frequency sources, such as radar units used by police, antenna systems used by the military, cellular phones used for communication, and microwave ovens and other appliances used in homes. Recently, attention has also focused on the potential for adverse health effects of low-frequency

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