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Electromagnetic Fields Linked to Health Risks

Exposure of pregnant women to non-ionizing radiation from magnetic fields significantly raises the risk of miscarriage, says a new study from Kaiser Permanente. The study raises the question of the danger of exposure to electromagnetic fields in the general population.

Non-ionizing radiation from magnetic fields is produced when electric devices are in use and electricity is flowing. It is ubiquitous in modern life, because it can be generated by commonly used devices, including electric appliances, power lines and transformers, wireless devices and wireless networks.

Humans are exposed to magnetic fields when they are in close proximity to these sources while they are in use.

The health hazards from ionizing radiation — the type of radiation most people think of when they think of radiation — are well-established, and they include radiation sickness, cancer and genetic damage.

However, the evidence of health risks to humans from non-ionizing radiation remains limited, said study leader Dr. De-Kun Li, a reproductive and perinatal epidemiologist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California.

“Few studies have been able to accurately measure exposure to magnetic field non-ionizing radiation,” said Li. “In addition, due to the current lack of research on this subject, we don’t know the biological threshold beyond which problems may develop, and we also don’t yet understand the possible mechanisms for increased risks.

For Li’s study, women with confirmed pregnancies wore a small (a bit larger than a deck of cards) magnetic-field monitoring device for 24 hours. Participants also kept a diary of their activities on that day, and were interviewed in person to better understand how typical their activities were on the day they were monitored.

Researchers controlled for multiple variables known to influence the risk of miscarriage, including nausea/vomiting, past history of miscarriage, alcohol use, caffeine intake, and maternal fever and infections.

The women were divided into four groups of exposure — from lowest to highest.

The researchers found that miscarriage occurred in 10.4 percent of the women who were exposed to the lowest levels of electromagnetic fields, and 24.2 percent in women exposed to higher levels. The rate of miscarriage in the general population is between 10 and 15 percent. The increase was almost threefold, said Li.

“This study provides evidence from a human population that magnetic field non-ionizing radiation could have adverse biological impacts on human health,” he said.

“We hope that the finding from this study will stimulate much-needed additional studies into the potential environmental hazards to human health.”

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

An earlier study published in Reproductive BioMedicine, found that men who talk on a cellphone for at least an hour every day double their risk of infertility. Researchers found that men who talked on their cellphones for more than an hour a day had a 60.9 percent chance of having abnormal sperm counts compared to 35.7 percent of the general population. Men who talked on their phones while they were charging had an even higher risk — 66 percent.

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