Electromagnetic fields and health
Technologies which use radio frequency waves - Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Wimax, mobile telephones, etc. - have seen rapid growth over the last 20 years. Due to this, the sources of radio frequency electromagnetic fields have become abundant in our environment, and have become a subject of health concern, as well as a concern for the environment, both in France and abroad. The subject therefore has received constant coverage both in a scientific and a political context and with regard to the media. The Agency is involved is expertise activities in virtually all the areas involving the full spectrum of ionising radiation, from extremely low frequencies to millimetre waves. See our work on this topic.
Extremely low frequency (ELF) fields are mostly emitted by electrical installations and power grids. The possible health effects of these electromagnetic fields have been studied for several decades. Although several studies have found statistical associations between exposure to ELF electromagnetic fields and childhood leukaemia, no relationship of cause and effect has been clearly identified. The degree of uncertainty that still surrounds the issue of the health effects of these phenomena, especially over the long term, is still a question of public concern and debate, focussing particularly on electrical power distribution grids and their components. In addition, the effects of these fields on animals, and more specifically on livestock, are an issue that is regularly brought up. The Agency has conducted a number of expert assessments on these subjects.
Radiofrequency identification (RFID) technologies aim to identify any broadly defined “object” fitted with an “RFID tag” using data transmission by radio waves, without the need for contact with a “reader”. The use of radio frequencies for the identification of tags enables blind communication, at varying distances, and sometimes with hundreds of objects almost simultaneously. In 2009, the Agency assessed the potential impacts of these technologies on the environment and human health, especially with regard to the electromagnetic fields emitted by these systems, and issued a number of recommendations.
The European Parliament Directive (2005/32/EC) on ecodesign requirements for energy-using products provides for improvement of the energy performance of certain consumer products. Electric lighting falls within the scope of the Directive and incandescent lamps for domestic lighting are therefore to be gradually phased out between 2009 and 2017. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), also known as “energy-saving lamps”, or other more energy-efficient sources of lighting such as LED lamps may in time replace these older products. In this regard, the Agency was approached by the French Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME) in 2008 and by the Ministries for Consumer Affairs, Health and the Environment in 2011, and asked to assess human exposure to the electromagnetic fields emitted by these lamps.
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