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Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Residential Electric and Magnetic Fields
organisms (including humans), the conclusion of the committee is that the current body of evidence does not show that exposure to these fields presents a human-health hazard. Specifically, no conclusive and consistent evidence shows that exposures to residential electric and magnetic fields produce cancer, adverse neurobehavioral effects, or reproductive and developmental effects.
The committee reviewed residential exposure levels to electric and magnetic fields, evaluated the available epidemiologic studies, and examined laboratory investigations that used cells, isolated tissues, and animals. At exposure levels well above those normally encountered in residences, electric and magnetic fields can produce biologic effects (promotion of bone healing is an example), but these effects do not provide a consistent picture of a relationship between the biologic effects of these fields and health hazards. An association between residential wiring configurations (called wire codes, defined below) and childhood leukemia persists in multiple studies, although the causative factor responsible for that statistical association has not been identified. No evidence links contemporary measurements of magnetic-field levels to childhood leukemia.
Epidemiologic studies are aimed at establishing whether an association can be documented between exposure to a putative disease-causing agent and disease occurrence in humans. The driving force for continuing the study of the biologic effects of electric and magnetic fields has been the persistent epidemiologic reports of an association between a hypothetical estimate of electric-and magnetic-field exposure called the wire-code classification and the incidence of childhood leukemia. These studies found the highest wire-code category is associated with a rate of childhood leukemia (a rare disease) that is about 1.5 times the expected rate.
A particular methodologic detail in these studies must be appreciated to understand the results. Measuring residential fields for a large number of homes over historical periods of interest is logistically difficult, time consuming, and expensive, so epidemiologists have classified homes according to the wire code (unrelated to building codes) to estimate past exposures. The wire-code classification concerns only outdoor factors related to the distribution of electric power to residences, such as the distance of a home from a power line and the size of the wires close to the home. This method was originally designed to categorize homes according to the magnitude of the magnetic field expected to be inside the home. Magnetic fields from external wiring, however, often constitute only a fraction of the field inside the home. Various investigators have used from two (high and low) to five categories of wire-code classifications. The following conclusions were reached on the basis of an examination of the epidemiologic findings: