EMF effects on mammalian cells
Vehicles powered only by batteries are by far preferable to internal combustion engine vehicles, as far as cancer risk is concerned.

The EM SAFETY consortium has adopted a number of complementary approaches to investigate the potential biohazard of Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) in Electric Vehicles (EVs). Alongside detailed magnetic field measurements in EVs, Internal Combustion Engine and Hybrid Vehicles, simulations of magnetic field emissions have been performed and specific tools and strategies to reduce such emission have been explored.

In full agreement with the policy of prudent avoidance adopted by EM SAFETY, experimental biomedical research on living cells in vitro has been also performed. In order to verify the possible effects of exposure to EMFs, some patterns of EMFs which are generated in EVs (as shown by scientific literature and reports from partners and especially those at extremely low frequency (ELF)) have been studied in cultured cells of mammalian origin. The network of interactions of EMF fields is highly complex to decipher and this constitutes a challenge for the scientific community dealing with the potential biohazards of electromagnetism.

Experimental findings

What emerges from our studies is that specific patterns of EMFs that are found in EVs do interact with living systems. Albeit we still have to elucidate the underlying mechanisms, we have established some new correlative observations which suggest that:

  • There is evidence in vitro for some effects of static and ELF EMFs in relation to cellular biology.
  • The biological effects associated with EMFs exposure vary with the tissue which is stimulated.
  • The biological effects correlated to EMFs stimulation occur not only at high intensity, but also intensities which are far below the limits established by 2010 ICNIRP guidelines for general public exposure. Importantly, the ICNIRP guidelines are not intended to be a complete system for protecting the public. Indeed, governments will have to decide whether and how to implement the guidelines.
  • There is a specific correlation between combinations of frequency and intensity and bioeffects rather than a dose-response relationship.
  • There is no evidence in vitro for the toxicity of static or ELF EMFs in relation to cardiac cells.
  • There is no evidence in vitro for the possible carcinogenicity (nor even increased proliferation) of static or ELF EMFs in relation to different lines of muscle, breast and gastric cancer cells.
  • Most of the applied combinations of static and alternating fields induce a stop in the proliferation of cells, both normal and cancer, and, in some cases, they also induce differentiation.
  • Finally, taking into account the data collected so far, we further support the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluation on the possible risks of EMF exposure on living beings. The scientific work, in terms of experimental stimulations and epidemiological studies, is certainly far from being completed. This should not delay policy makers who are now in a position to promote initiatives to further investigate the possible risk of EMF exposure.


In this project, the highest exposure levels derived from magnetic field measurements in a sample of eight hybrid and electric cars were less than 20% of the ICNIRP 2010 reference levels for general public exposure, compared with up to 10% for three internal combustion engine cars. However, these recommendations are only intended to protect against acute electro-stimulation effects, as ICNIRP consider that the evidence for chronic effects is currently too weak and lacking in demonstrable biophysical mechanisms to justify the definition of corresponding exposure limits.

Nonetheless, IARC has classified ELF magnetic fields as a carcinogen of Group 2B (possibly carcinogenic) on the basis of epidemiological data on children living close to power lines (50 and 60 Hz), although static electric and magnetic fields, as well as ELF electric fields, were considered not classifiable as to their carcinogenity (Group 3), due to insufficient evidence. Possibly carcinogenic means that the risk is far lower than that of a certain carcinogenic agent.

The results of our biological studies confirm the IARC view that static magnetic fields are not classifiable as carcinogenic to humans (Group 3), but do not support the view that ELF magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B). Indeed, most of the tested stimulation patterns reduced the growth of cancer cells. Moreover, we found no toxic effect elicited by static, ELF magnetic fields or combinations of both.

Gasoline used in internal combustion engine vehicles contains benzene (up to 1% by volume), which was defined by IARC as Group 1 carcinogens, i.e. certainly carcinogenic. Also diesel exhausts were classified by IARC as Group 1 carcinogens. As a corollary, vehicles powered only by batteries are by far preferable to internal combustion engine vehicles, as far as cancer risk is concerned.

Published January 6, 2014

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Coordinator: Andreas Vogl, SINTEF FP7
Duration: 1st May 2011 - 1st February 2014
EU contract FP7-SST-265772 in the Sustainable Surface Transport call in Framework Program 7.