APS News

APS Council Adopts Statement on EMFs and Public Health

The APS Council approved a statement in April declaring that purported health effects of power line fields have not been scientifically substantiated, and the cost of mitigation and litigation "is incommensurate with the risk, if any." This is the strongest position on the issue taken by a major scientific society. Since electromagnetic fields (EMFs) were first linked to cancer in 1979, epidemiological evidence has grown ever fainter and proposed mechanisms more speculative. The Council action was a result of several years of discussion and monitoring of the issue by the APS Panel on Public Affairs, and was endorsed by the leaders of the APS Division of Biological Physics. Complete text of the statement follows:

"Physicists are frequently asked to comment on the potential dangers of cancer from electromagnetic fields that emanate from common power lines and electrical appliances. While recognizing that the connection between power line fields and cancer is an area of continuing study by research workers in many disciplines in the United States and abroad, we believe that it is possible to make several observations based on the scientific evidence at this time. We also believe that, in the interest of making the best use of the finite resources available for environmental research and mitigation, it is important for professional organizations to comment on this issue.

The scientific literature and the reports of reviews by other panels show no consistent, significant link between cancer and power line fields. This literature includes epidemiological studies, research on biological systems, and analyses of theoretical interaction mechanisms. No plausible biophysical mechanisms for the systematic initiation or promotion of cancer by these power line fields have been identified. Furthermore, the preponderance of the epidemiological and biophysical/biological research findings have failed to substantiate those studies which have reported specific adverse health effects from exposure to such fields. While it is impossible to prove that no deleterious health effects occur from exposure to any environmental factor, it is necessary to demonstrate a consistent, significant, and causal relationship before one can conclude that such effects do occur. From this standpoint, the conjectures relating cancer to power line fields have not been scientifically substantiated.

These unsubstantiated claims, however, have generated fears of power lines in some communities, leading to expensive mitigation efforts and, in some cases, to lengthy and divisive court proceedings. The costs of mitigation and litigation relating to the power line/cancer connection have risen into the billions of dollars and threaten to go much higher. The diversion of these resources to eliminate a threat which has no persuasive scientific basis is disturbing to us. More serious environmental problems are neglected for lack of funding and public attention, and the burden of cost placed on the American public is incommensurate with the risk, if any."

For further information contact the APS Washington Office, 529 14th St. NW, Suite 1050, Washington, DC 20045; phone: (202) 662-8700; email: opa@aps.org.


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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin