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HEALTH EFFECTS RELEVANT TO THE SETTING OF EMF EXPOSURE LIMITS

Bailey, William H.

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Abstract— To date, electric and magnetic exposure limits for frequencies below 100 kHz have been based on vaguely defined neurobiological responses to electric fields induced in tissues in vivo by magnetic fields and on perceptual responses to external electric fields. Advances in tissue dosimetry, risk assessment methods, and biological research on stimulation thresholds and mechanisms are providing new bases for exposure limits. This paper reviews the historical basis for current electric and magnetic exposure limits in preparation for the development of the “next generation” of electric and magnetic occupational and public exposure guidelines. This is followed by an overview of reported neurobiological effects of electric and magnetic stimulation that should be considered in new exposure guidelines. For magnetic fields, there is stronger evidence for setting exposure limits to protect against adverse effects of nerve stimulation than for protecting against visual magnetophosphenes. Magnetophosphenes are not adverse, and the evidence that these perceptual responses of the eye are a precursor or surrogate for other adverse neurologic responses is weak. Rather than relying just on theoretical models to set exposure limits, data from human subjects exposed to pulsed magnetic fields should be used to estimate nerve stimulation thresholds. Such data can provide a solid basis for setting magnetic field exposure limits if uncertainties in the data and inter-individual variability are addressed. Research on sensory perception, spontaneous and evoked potentials, and epidemiologic studies of neuropsychiatric conditions in electric and magnetic exposed populations does not suggest a need for lower exposure limits. However, a report that a 60-mT magnetic field (below the threshold for peripheral nerve stimulation) produces prolonged alterations of brain excitability and “indisposure” of subjects should be investigated in future research.

*Exponent, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suite 408, New York, NY 10170.

Manuscript received 8 January 2001;

revised manuscript received 15 October 2001, accepted 28 May 2002

For correspondence or reprints contact the author at the above address, or email at wbailey@exponent.com.

© 2002 by the Health Physics Society