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NORA Manufacturing Sector Strategic Goals

927ZHNK - Managing Occupational Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF)

Start Date: 10/1/2008
End Date: 9/30/2014

Principal Investigator (PI)
Name: Joseph Bowman
Phone: 513-841-4127
Organization: NIOSH
Sub-Unit: DART
Funded By: NIOSH

Primary Goal Addressed

Secondary Goal Addressed


Attributed to Manufacturing


Project Description

Short Summary

This project will provide evidence-based recommendations for managing workplace EMF, especially those from AC electricity and wireless communications. Towards this end, NIOSH research will identify cost-effective methods of evaluating EMF exposures and preventing their possible health risks, especially cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and neurological effects. Improved methods for measuring compliance with exposure guidelines for power-frequency EMF will also be developed. New NIOSH documents and research updates will be published on the possible health risks from occupational EMF and how workplace exposures can be managed to protect the public health. This project is part of NIOSH's programs on engineering controls, exposure assessment, economics and authoritative recommendations, targeted especially to the manufacturing and telecommunications sectors.


The study's goals are: 1) conduct research to develop better methods for evaluating occupational EMF exposures and identify cost-effective interventions for reducing exposure; and 2) produce, disseminate and evaluate authoritative documents on managing workplace EMF.

Acute injuries from high EMF exposures will be prevented by developing better methods for assessing compliance with the ACGIH and IEEE exposure guidelines. The possible cancer risks from power-frequency EMF will be minimized by developing a system of control bands. For cell phones and other emerging wireless technologies, NIOSH will help the occupational health community interpret and apply the findings of the INTERPHONE epidemiologic study and other on-going research to protect worker health.

To improve compliance measurements for power-frequency EMF, NIOSH in collaboration with FDA has been developing methods for estimating the internal electric field dose from external exposure measurements. Following from these results, this new project will assess the accuracy of different methods for measuring compliance with IEEE's complicated system of dual limits on the internal dose and the external exposure. Using NIOSH's occupational sampling strategy, we can then develop a decision logic for employers, compliance officers, and occupational health professionals to select the appropriate method of determining the compliance of different EMF sources with the IEEE guidelines.

To manage the possible cancer risks from power-frequency EMF exposures that comply with the guidelines, this project will develop a system of control bands from a cost-effectiveness analysis. A previous NIOSH project conducted a quantitative risk assessment that estimated the monetary benefits of the cancers prevented by lower power-frequency magnetic field exposures. This new project will apply for NORA funds to evaluate the costs of control options for a sample of workplace EMF sources. By determining cost-effective controls for common sources, EMF control bands can then be constructed.

Finally, this project will monitor the INTERPHONE study's publications and other research on RF carcinogenesis in order to provide authoritative guidance on managing exposures to existing and emerging wireless technologies.

Based on this research and a companion project "Occupational EMF and brain cancer" (CAN 927ZBCK), we will prepare a NIOSH document on managing occupational exposures to power-frequency EMF and assist with an IEEE document on measuring EMF exposures. We will re-convene NIOSH's interdivisional EMF working group and work with the RF Interagency Working Group (RFIAWG) to disseminate public information on the possible cancer risks of cell phones and other wireless technologies.

In FY09, the project's objectives are:

• A peer review of the study protocol by EMF researchers, RFIAWG members, and representatives of the highly exposed sectors (manufacturing, utilities, and telecommunications).

• Complete and publish the method for estimating the internal electric field dose from occupational magnetic field sources from personal measurements and the FDA's computer models.

• Submit a NORA proposal to collect data for power-frequency EMF control bands.

• Submit a concept memo for a policy document on managing occupational exposures tot power-frequency EMF

• Complete the IEEE guidance document on measuring power-frequency EMF.

• Convene NIOSH's EMF working group to prepare public information materials in advance of the publication of INTERPHONE study's paper on cell phones and brain cancer.

• Work with the RF Interagency Working Group (RFIAWG) to coordinate NIOSH's new policies with other federal agencies (especially OSHA).


This project will collect data on the effectiveness of these interventions. The NORA proposal will include funds for surveys of stakeholders on the use and effectiveness of NIOSH recommendations. Other methods such as Internet searches and collecting sales data on the IEEE guidance document will be developed in the study protocol.

Mission Relevance

Electric and magnetic fields (EMF) from AC electric power and radio-frequency (RF) radiation have become widespread in U.S. workplaces at the same time some epidemiologic studies report associations with cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and other serious health effects. Since these findings have yet to be confirmed by animal or cellular studies, NIEHS classified power-frequency EMF as only a Possible Human Carcinogen (category 2B). After the 13-nation INTERPHONE study of cell phones and brain cancer publishes its findings, a cancer evaluation of RF EMF will be conducted.

In addition to the possible cancer risks, very high exposures to power-frequency EMF in a few utility and manufacturing occupations can cause acute neurological effects. High RF exposures in some communications, manufacturing, transportation and military occupations can injure workers through heating and burns. These acute EMF injuries are the basis for exposure guidelines published by ACGIH and the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

The potential disease burden from occupational EMF is substantial. A NIOSH risk assessment used DOE surveillance data on power-frequency magnetic fields to estimate their possible cancer burden in U.S. workers. If these cancer reports are due to a causal relationship, 7% of leukemias among U.S. workers (2,800 cases per year) are attributable to occupational MF, compared to 3% from ionizing radiation, benzene and ethylene oxide combined. Furthermore, 8% of worker brain cancers (1,700 cases/year) are possibly due to power-frequency MF. According to the most recent cell phone studies, brain tumors may have increased by about 40 % among long-term regular users.

From NIOSH's participation in the INTERPHONE study, we know that the sectors with the greatest exposures to RF EMF are services and manufacturing; with power-frequency fields, the utility and manufacturing sectors are the most impacted. However, all sectors have some exposures to EMF, creating potential public health problems even if an individual's disease risk is low.

To reduce the cancers attributable to occupational EMF and prevent additional disease from new wireless technologies, this study will develop and disseminate evidence-based recommendations to guide employers, workers, and occupational health professionals in managing workplace EMF. This guidance will be based on NIOSH's long history of occupational EMF research, which has made the Institute a respected authority in the U.S. and abroad.

This project addresses these NIOSH intermediate goals and activity/output goals:

Cancer, Reproductive, and Cardiovascular Disease Activity/Output Goal 1.1.5: Develop methods for quantitative cancer risk assessments, in support of authoritative recommendations for limiting occupational exposures.

Exposure Assessment Activity/Output 2.6.1: Completion of a new or improved method to measure or estimate levels of an important physical occupational health stressor such as non-ionizing radiation .

Engineering Control Activity/Output Goal 3.2.1: Improve adoption of evidence-based interventions, practices, policies, programs, and behaviors that reduce or prevent occupational injuries and illnesses, including business case models. (Relates to Manufacturing Strategic Goal 4.0.)

Engineering Control Activity/Output Goal 1.6.8: Reduce the incidence of serious occupational illnesses and injuries by 70% within the telecommunications industry by 2012.

Economics Intermediate Goal 1.4: Assess the benefits of prevention and the costs of occupational illness and injury to society at large, including the costs and utilization of health insurance, workers' compensation, Social Security, and other social insurance and welfare systems.

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